Sister Connie is a doer; a fixer. She is action-oriented and motivated by results. While all three of us continue to believe in Momma’s intellectual capacity and we want to foster a meaningful quality of life for Momma, Connie is the one who relentlessly never gives up.
Sometimes I think her efforts are wasted and I feel tired by her refusal to accept what I think is inevitable decline. But the other day as I watched Connie’s enthusiastic mission with Momma, I gained a new perspective.
Momma hasn’t touched her computer for three years. The piles on her desk have been ignored for nearly as long. I can’t even remember the last time I saw Momma go into her office. And yet, several times a week, Momma says “I think I’ll check my email today,” or “I’m going to clean up my desk today” or “today is the day I’m going to start writing again.”
My silent response stifles the crazy rage I feel inside me when I hear her say these things. I feel such negative emotions because I know Momma will not do any of those things. This conflict of realities feels like lightening hitting my emotions. I’m not saying Momma is lying because I am certain that she believes what she says. What I am saying is that these comments magnify the dichotomy of Momma’s existence. And I’m saying that I don’t know how to respond in the cracks between the contrast.
I know Momma truly believes her intentions when she speaks them; I also know Momma has no idea that three years have passed since she even pressed the power button on her computer.
Momma sees herself as being able to do interesting, creative, and intellectually stimulating things. The appropriate response from me would be to encourage her. But I can’t; I just can’t. I can’t find the strength inside me to become enthusiastic about plans that I know cannot be carried out. It feels too much like welcoming failure.
But Connie is different. Connie doesn’t hear what she doesn’t want to hear. She isn’t deterred by conflict or contrast, but rather is inspired by challenges. Last week Connie gave Momma a laptop computer. They spent several hours together working to learn how to use it. Connie was slow, repetitive, kind, and heroically patient. Momma kept at it, finding patience with herself even in the fact of confusion. I was skeptic and pessimistic.
In the end, Momma didn’t learn anything. Nor did she produce or accomplish anything. Connie left and Momma went to bed. In the days that followed, however, I experienced a slowly evolving epiphany:
Momma talked for days about the wonderful visit she’d had with Connie. She didn’t even know when Connie had been there, or what they had done, but “oh my! We sure had fun!”
Momma loved it, even though she didn’t know what “it” was. And the memory, though slippery and shapeless, was lasting.
I began to understand that it was never about Connie teaching Momma a new skill. No, it was much more than that. Connie gave Momma respect, tapped into her dignity, and connected with the qualities in Momma that we all hold dear. And the results fit into a different dynamic – not the one prescribed by the rest of us as “normal”. There came a shift in my understanding as I realized that our purpose shouldn’t be to help Momma fit into the world better or to cling to skills and tasks from the past, but rather our goals should be aimed at quality of life. And this quality must be defined by Momma, not by our perspective from within the confines of a functioning social order.
Connie may not have gotten the results she originally intended, but the results that emerged from her efforts were so much better! What I learned is that although we can’t really know what it is like to be in Momma’s world, we can at least meet her where she is and let her take the lead.
We have to forfeit our own limited expectations in order to release the limits on Momma’s life.
Sister Connie didn’t fix Momma’s life last week, but her efforts resulted in unleashed joy that motivated me to step outside of myself and look at Momma again with new eyes.