Her big blue eyes light up when we walk into the room. Tumble, fumble, run into the room is more like it. My two year old spills out of my arms, a wriggly and adorable ball of energy. He squeals, “Mimi!” as his little feet pitter-patter the hardwood floor, arms reaching out to grab his great-grandmother by the handful and cover her legs in sloppy toddler kisses. My four year old beams up at her as his small hands grip the side of her wheelchair. He is older now and although he is excited to see his precious Mimi, his questioning eyes and quiet smile reveal his heart’s awareness that something has changed. He looks back at me, earnest little eyes searching my face as if asking, “Mommy, is everything okay?” And though the tears will come, in this moment I smile and nod. I lean gently down to kiss her soft salt and pepper hair. She sees me. But she doesn’t see me. She sees a woman with two small children and she politely smiles and comments on how handsome they are. “Well,” I say, “we are all yours! Would you like to visit?”
She is happy to see us, to see the boys. I struggle with the brakes on the wheelchair while my toddler waves to each person in the dining hall. Some wave back. Others simply stare. Taking hold of her frail arms I tuck her elbows in to her sides so that we can safely pass through the outer doors. Once outside, inside voices and hands-to-ourselves quickly turn to boys running as fast as they can, laughing and racing and playing tag on a large patch of grass. She wants to be in the sun. I position her wheelchair so that she can watch the littles at play. She smiles and laughs and claps her hands. The boys take turns running to her side. “I love you Mimi!” they say. And of course she loves them too. She doesn’t need to remember their names to know, without a doubt, that she loves them and that they are oh-so important to her.
The visit stretches on into the warming day. It is hot and sticky and bellies are hungry now, but we stay a few minutes more. As we visit, I notice her words and sounds string into actual sentences. For the first time in months we are having a conversation. We talk about the beauty of the patio garden where we sit and about the children. Reaching over to pat my leg she says, “They are such sweet, good, smart boys. You are doing a good job Brie-Brie.”
Wait. That’s me. That is my name. That is what she has called me since the day I was born. I can’t hold the tears back now. They spill from the deepest place where hope and pain battle eachother relentlessly. They are hot on my face as I realize she is seeing me, and knowing me, and visiting with me. I am breathless and in awe of the gift of this moment. Her hand reaches my cheek, her thumb resting there just below the lashes of my closed eyes. “Oh don’t cry, don’t cry. You know I love you. I always loved you. Don’t cry.” she whispers. But tears now flow from her deep places too.
And then she is gone again. Words are jumbling together, children are fussing and fighting and it’s time to go. It’s time to go home. Her room is covered in family pictures, cherished moments tacked up on the drab beige walls. Carefully setting the brakes, I position her shiny new wheelchair in the center of the room. She wants to sit in front of her television. We wave our goodbyes and wait at the locked door for the attendant to buzz us out of the memory care unit.
The ride home is long. It gifts to me time to think and to pray. It gives me time to grieve the loss of what used to be, to give over my pain, sadness and fear to the only One who can truly comfort me. God graciously gave me the gift of a moment, a new memory with my Mimi, of seeing and being seen, of loving and being loved by her. Such a sweet gift that I will cherish the rest of my days. What a gift! And what a gracious Giver!