Memory

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by Jeff Munroe

I could handle the questions repeated endlessly
like we were in Groundhog Day: Who are you?
Where do you live now? When did you become my
son? You told me a man had been kind enough to
give you a room in his house and when I said that
man was your husband you laughed and laughed.
You kept your good nature and smile as your world
was reduced – first to the apartment, then a room,
then just a chair. In a rare moment of clarity you
looked around and said, “So this is the way it’s
going to be.” No, it wasn’t. It got worse. Confusion
yielded to terror. Words became moans. Your
head was a weight too heavy to bear, your skin was
on fire, your muscles rigid, your eyes endlessly
searched for something, anything familiar. You
forgot to eat, then breathe. There was no point to
any of this. You just suffered. For senseless days,
weeks, months. Who are you? I wondered. Where
do you live now? When did you become my
mother? Like an overdue guest, death finally
arrived, and at your funeral people said the images
of suffering would fade and I would be left with
positive memories. But what I’m left with, besides
the God-awful fear that this will someday happen
to me, is the sight of you slumped in that
wheelchair, incoherent, uncomprehending, my
mother yet not my mother in any way I want to
believe. You couldn’t remember, I can’t forget.
What is memory, anyway? A blessing? A curse?

 

Jeff Munroe is Vice President of Operations and Advancement at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.

Comments 4

  1. Thank you Jeff for a look into the son you are and how much you loved the mom you grew up with. My prayer is that some of what you wrote will help me in the days ahead.

  2. Clear and powerful Jeff. Thank you.

    The memories
    and the pain of them linger
    until we too enter our own sometimes terrifying decline
    and serve as examples to the next generation
    of the ending of days.

  3. Thank you for writing honestly about the questions, the pain, the seeming meaninglessness of suffering. You have weathered a hard hard loss and my heart goes out to you.

    As I’m sure it does for others, your reflection taps into many memories and pangs of grief for me. My father died in 2011 after 18 months battling cancer. His father died in 2012 after Parkinson’s crippled his body but left his strong mind trapped inside, while my mom’s father died in 2013 after Alzheimer’s drained his memory but left strength in his body for years beyond. My husband’s last grandparent also died that same spring. Four beloved patriarchs of our family gone within a 2 year span.

    These heartaches have been soothed over the past several years of seeking emotional and spiritual healing, yet they will remain a part of my experience and perspective until I too see God face to face.

    Grace and peace to you Jeff in your grief and walk with God.

  4. Hi Jeff. A prayer for your heart and mind this morning as I remember my own scenes I can’t forget. The phrase ‘death with dignity’ makes me want to scream…there’s often a lot of indignity that goes on before those final moments. Hell and death are enemies, and sometimes the lines between seem blurred.

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