Recently I felt the strong wave of role reversal crashing deep inside my soul. Those places which both feel deeply and register permanently. Recording strong recollections of smell and taste. Powerful auditory memories and vivid visual mental snapshots. Memories of life, food and family washed bittersweetly over me.
In a moment I became the parent and she, in her diminished mobility, a child. Unable to cook anything for herself except on good days, toast. She is dependent on the love of caregivers. And today, her first born child.
I was visiting my mother and father at their mountain home, a veritable time capsule of years of family celebrations. Helping my mother transition through a challenging time in her journey on this rugged road marked by dementia. This is our new normal.I was there to help, in love. But as is nearly always the way, I was changed in the serving.
I could tell you much about that. And this. This disease. My eyes have been pried wide-open to the strange hallmarks of Dementia. What it does to a body and soul. To the fabric of a family. But equally amazing are the odd subtleties of how joy erupts in the most ordinary of places.
My mother recently latched onto a morning ritual of scrambled eggs. And while I was visiting I would indulge her need for consistency and routine. I would scrape the spoon slowly and thoughtfully across the skillet. Adding cheese or milk. Or both. Lightly adding salt. Laying the bacon slices beside the steamy mound. Then I would ascend the stairs leading me to mother in her chair. And present her with a piping hot plate full of fluffy yellow clouds.
On the ever-present tray.
The tray replaces the table. The tray is a concrete metaphor for change. It represents reduced mobility and a shift in traditions. Coming to a table once properly set has nearly been replaced by trays on larger rolling trays or on laps.
But this too will prove worthy of celebration. She is home. We will find joy in the tray.
Both new-ish to her current routine and yet a well-loved tradition in my family, this breakfast dish digs down deeply, picking away at the memories of my childhood.
While I stood hovering over the stove, my nostrils signalled to my olfactory senses which in turn spoke to my heart weep. And yet, now was the time to remain steady and stoic and to serve.
The kitchen is truly the soul of the home. Here we recall. Here we remember. Here we prepare to celebrate: life, love and family.
She is the child now. And I the mother. I had learned under her tutelage how to scramble properly. There was no real table now at which to feast on this staple of my childhood. One recently re-embraced by Momma.
There in a three month stay at a skilled nursing facility, otherwise known as a nursing home. Otherwise known as a place which offered her daily scrambled eggs. She fell in love with the comfort of this simple food.
I could tell you more about the significance of leaving her beloved wheat toast and fruit. Her shift into the institutionalized offering of scrambled eggs and bacon was another outward sign of change.
But what marked the biggest paradigm shift was my serving her on a tray. In her chair. A tray had become her new normal. And I was there to catch up to her.
What brought her joy in the receiving, brought me even more in the offering. I said, momma do you know who taught me how to scramble eggs, in response to her raving about this most ordinary of culinary dishes. You did. She did not recall.
Dementia comes with a heavy dosing of confused and blank stares. The look has a haunting pleading in its soulful stares. Some pieces are missing. Not everything is wholly understood.
But what was clear. And what is clear. And what I had the joy of learning is this: celebrations happen around beautiful substitutes for a traditional table. And childlike satisfaction in the simplest of traditions deeply satisfy the hungry soul.
Today in our worship service, I was reminded again of the holy and wholly satisfying, simple transaction which lies in the moments of taking communion. The sacraments are simple. And yet the sacred moment changes us, again and again.Take, eat. These are the gifts given for you. Take, drink. The tiny wine soaked biscuit hit my tongue and I was wholly satisfied. Renewed. Restored.
Serving my mother. Satisfying her simple request renewed me and quenched a place of drought I did not know I bore. When I am served communion, away from the table by lay people at standing stations, I leave in a cloud of holy hush. Often I cannot even sense the ache, until it is soothed by the balm of the sacraments. I return to my seat keenly aware of the power of God’s hand. A wafer, the wine and the mystery of this holy transaction.
The celebration of the Eucharist.
God’s presence is often most keenly felt in the simple ordinary. In these moments where we focus on the most basic elements. A tray. A chair. A simple dish of steamy goodness. A wafer. Droplets of wine. Even and most especially a manager.
God delights in the simple. He reaches us through the ordinary moments and objects of our lives. And yet it is worthy of thanks and praise. And of a celebration
And I am learning to celebrate and delight in the simple too.
Thanksgiving will be a bit grander and more elaborate this year at Woodland Heights. We are choosing to attend to detail, tradition and a bit more formality than, say any given Monday. And it is good to feast and pull out the finery.
Mother will take her lift down the stairwell. And use her walker to come to the table. Where she will be surrounded by family.Life is fragile and tender. And lives can shatter and break. And we truly have much for which to be thankful.
Some days we celebrate simply. And others we shall simply celebrate all that we have graciously been given.
We will take, eat. And as we are served and serve we will give thanks. For families and friends and gifts from God. And for trays and chairs and all the simple things.
For soon we will celebrate the simplest and greatest of gifts. A baby in a manger.
“Simplicity is the Glory of Expression.” ~~ Walt Whitman
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~~ Leonardo daVinci