When Grandpa was dying, he and Grandma moved into our house. I remember she kept the cookie jar full and never let a day go by without reprimanding, "Stop jumping! You're shaking the furniture!" When I was seven and Grandpa died, I had a nightmare related to a National Geographic special about monkeys. It showed mother monkeys carrying their dead babies on their backs, jiggling them to try to get them to move and be alive. I dreamt Grandma was carrying Grandpa on her back, jiggling him to try to waken him. I woke crying and ran to my father, who read me Scripture and prayed with me. I remember telling Grandma about my dream, and she held me and sang me some hymns, her voice quaking with age and emotion.
When I was fourteen, Grandma moved out of our house and into my aunt and uncle's. It was providential, really, as they were both in the medical profession and she ended up having appendicitis and then full-onslaught Alzheimer's.
When I was 16 or 17, I sat in the back seat with my youngest sister while Mom drove to meet my aunt half-way to pick up Grandma and bring her back to our house so my aunt and uncle could have a much-needed respite. My always-old Grandma looked even older, and she sat quiet in the front seat, absorbed in the picture books Rebecca had brought.
Then she broke the silence. "Sometimes I can't remember things," she said. "I can't remember the next word, or what I was saying in the first place." There was a controlled desperation in her announcement. "I just can't remember."
I remember the pause that followed. In that pause, I fluctuated between barely-contained humor and suppressed alarm.
Humor, because -- this is news? After you have been Queen of the Senile for so long? Come on, Grandma, you've been known to stomach drinking Ranch dressing because you thought it was milk and to try to down a denture tablet because you thought it was Alka-Seltzer.
But also Alarm, because -- you know about this? You are aware that things are not as they should be?
Then I heard my mother talking. "You haven't forgotten that the Lord loves you, have you?"
"Oh, no," my grandmother reassured. "I could never forget that."
I was swallowing hard in the backseat. The fact that my mother was being so serious and so pointed without a glib, "Oh, we all forget things" made me take note.
But it is what my mother said next that has stuck with me these last almost twenty years.
"Well," she said quietly. "Even if you do, even if you do forget, He never will."
I have thought of that often, especially lately. Our congregation has been watching one of her beloved elderly members as he has dealt with the daily blows of dementia, which finally led to him being moved a couple of hours away from this, his boyhood home, to family who can care for him. A friend wrote of her battle with cancer and the ensuing difficulties -- is this depression or just a rough spot in life?? -- and the conflict between life as it is and life as it should be. A friend tells me over the phone that she and her husband are considering divorce, and I don't even think to ask what will happen to their children, the children who look to their marriage to see a picture of Christ and His church. A friend blogs that he is leaving the Reformed faith for Catholicism.
Even to me these are hardly related cases. But they are all desperate. They are all difficult. In some cases, sin is the direct cause: we fall in our living. In others, sin is the indirect cause: we live in a fallen world.
I can't solve anyone's problem. There's no pithy proverb that will make the confusion, the hurt, the desperation, or the deception disappear.
My hope lies in this: HE will never forget. For Walter, He will carry him through these confusing times. I pray for peace for Walter and for clarity even in the confusion. For Andrea, He will sustain her through the valleys. I pray for joy for Andrea and for discernment of His gifts even in this trying time. For my college friend considering divorce and my activist friend leaving the faith, I pray urgently for the Lord's pull on their hearts, that He will show them the true way: how to have a God-honoring marriage that doesn't constantly drain, and how to see the Way that is the only Truth leading to Life.
I hope I never forget my mother's reminder. I hope I always remember.
But even if I don't, He will.