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What Mama Remembers

Though Alzheimer's disease has ravaged her memories, there is One she never forgets.

It's Sunday morning, and once again I'm experiencing the miracle of the Resurrection. The otherworldly aura surrounding my mother as she lifts her hands in praise and worship radiates from a world where there's no such thing as Alzheimer's. Where laughter, love, and hope are the language of the heart, portrayed not in spoken words but in the glow of eyes on fire with the sure knowledge of heaven.

It begins the minute I walk through my parents' front door each week to find her seated, as usual, dozing on the sofa. I startle her with my kiss.

"Oh! Hi, honey," she says. "What are you doing out on such a cold day?" (Unlike myself—more-than-warm-enough these days—she's usually chilly.)

"Hi, Mom. It's not cold out. It's a beautiful day. I came to get you ready for church." I hug her then, scratching her back, before settling into my roles as fashion designer, make-up artist, and hairdresser. It isn't long before she asks the question: "Donna, is my mom dead?"

I've heard the stories many times in my life, of soldiers, mortally wounded on the battlefield, crying out for Mama with their final breath. And I ask myself, What is it about the relationship between children and mothers that causes us to intuitively call for them in times of our most profound need? Though the physical connection to our moms is cut at birth, I believe the spiritual umbilical cord is never severed.

Nowhere has that truth been more evident to me than while standing helplessly in the wings, watching my mother struggle in the clutches of the dreaded "A" word.

The question began about a year ago. Although I answer over and over, to Mom it's a brand new inquiry every day, every hour, sometimes every five minutes.

Because of Jesus

When doctors first diagnosed Mom, I settled firmly into denial, out to prove the experts wrong. Not my mother, my best friend. Please God, no, I would silently cry out.

We'd gone "garage-saling" that day, as was our custom on many Saturday mornings. She saw the purse and just had to have it. "It'll be perfect for fall," she'd said.

Some women like shoes, some jewelry. Mom liked purses. When I was a little girl, I remember us kids digging through her many purses with her, trying to come up with enough loose change to buy a dollar's worth of gas so we could all go to the beach, or on a picnic, or for a ride in the country. We usually struck it rich.

That day, two hours and a few garage-sale bargains later, I dropped her off at home. "Don't forget your purse, Mom," I'd said as I loaded her with her goodies.

"My purse?"

"Yes. Here it is."

"Oh, that's not my purse. It must be yours."

I went home and cried.

That night I determined to make her a heritage scrapbook. So she'd always remember.

I spent the following months in intensive interviews—across the kitchen table, in the car, on the phone. She loved talking about the "old days," retelling family stories and childhood exploits. I experienced her first love, the joys and heartaches inevitable with rearing five children (I'm the oldest), and the agony of two divorces before she found her true knight in shining armor—my stepdad, Don.

Four short years later, I've watched her more recent memories fall away like fragile petals off a dying rose, dropping to the ground, one by one. But on Sunday mornings, my real mother comes out to play again. The rose is in full bloom, lovelier than ever, with an aroma of new life that must be envied by the angels. For as she sings, with the joyful abandon of a little child, every word of every song is a heartfelt offering to her King. She raises her hands, willing her Heavenly Father to pick her up, to carry her through one more week. And as she clutches her breast in worship and adoration, her hazel eyes once again sparkle like diamonds.

On the way home, she'll ask the question again about her mom. I believe that her mind knows it's dying and seeks reassurance.

"Yes, Mom. Grandma is with Jesus now," I'll say. "She went home 40 years ago, and she's waiting there for us."

"I hope so, Donna. I want to see her again."

"You will, Mom. You can count on it."

"Because of Jesus," she says. "What do people do without Jesus?"

These days, Mom no longer carries a purse. She wouldn't know what to do with one. She doesn't remember what happened two minutes ago. Oh, but she remembers Jesus. She remembers he loves her. And she remembers she loves him.

That's a miracle I experience each week. And it makes my heart sing in the midst of my sorrow.

Donna Frisinger is a freelance writer who lives in Indiana.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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