She stared at the photograph, confusion clouding her eyes. "He told me to sit and wait on the cement," she said. "And then his wife died and we were . . . together."
My 90-year old mother-in-law, her mind riddled with Alzheimer's, brushed a finger across the glass covering the picture of her and her husband on their wedding day 22 years ago. They had both lost a spouse to death, and that April day was the beginning of a new life for the two of them.
Due to her illness, we moved her to Oregon two years ago so we could care for her better. Papa, as Leonard was called, stayed in Arizona so his daughter could tend to him. Separating the two of them had been a gut-wrenching decision, but had worked out well. They were able to have weekly phone calls to stay in touch, as well as exchange cards, letters and snapshots. Their love stayed strong, as well as their commitment to the Lord. Over the past two months, however, his deafness and her declining ability to string together a sentence that made sense had stolen their ability to converse over the phone. Because of Papa's advanced age (99) and Mother's frail mental and physical condition, they were unable to travel and see each other.
"I think I want to see him. Can I?" She looked questioningly at my husband as we sat beside her this week.
John reached for her hand. "You'd have to go to heaven to do that, Mom. He passed on yesterday."
I watched her face for a reaction. There was none.
"Oh." She folded the hand towel that was resting on her lap. "I've been busy today."
"Mom?" I said. Her wrinkled face looked up at me. "Mom, what John is saying is that Papa died yesterday. He had a heart attack, and now he's in heaven."
A quick sheen ran across her faded eyes. She turned toward John, as if needing him to confirm what I had said.
"Yes, he's in heaven now," John said. "Just think--he's not crippled or deaf anymore. And he'll be there waiting for you when you get promoted."
Her fingers stilled and she sat quietly, a far-away look residing in her eyes. "I might go soon."
The three of us reminisced, recounting the life they'd shared together; the many trips they'd taken throughout the States, the weekly luncheons with close friends, involvement in their church back in Arizona, and always, their daily prayers for their family.
"You had 22 years of marriage together," I reminded her.
"It wasn't long enough," came her instant reply.
The three of us joined hands and took turns praying. John led, thanking the Father for Papa's life as a godly man. I followed, asking the Lord to continue to take good care of Mother and to bring her comfort. Mother's prayer was filled with thankfulness that God was always with her.
We gave her tender kisses and left her alone with her thoughts, a CD of hymns playing through her earphones.
When I went back to see her the following day, she had no memory of our conversation from the night before. Even when I mentioned "your husband, Leonard," she did not respond. How thankful John and I were that for those brief moments her mind had cleared enough to understand at least a little of what had transpired. God had parted the clouds in her mind so she was able to honor her husband's life with her memories and a prayer.