Winter Comes: Reflections on Winter Years of Life
My sister, Connie Lynn Bolinger, died May 22, 2011, and I have been going through many things she wrote about caring for our mother during the years 1986 until Mother’s death in 2008. I think that many will identify with Connie’s emotions at remembering the good and bad times with our mother, watching her slip slowly away into another world that Connie and I were able only infrequently to enter. Remembering the old house, I was touched by the recollection of Mom standing in the doorway on winter mornings even when my brother David and I were in high school until we turned the corner waving to her. Something my sister wrote I found in one of the boxes of her papers, and those images came back to me.
Mom in 1980
Mother would always stand at the opened door of our house in Indiana, and watch me as I walked to school. Rounding the corner, I would turn and wave to her. Smiling, she would wave back, blow a kiss, and signal me to keep my coat buttoned. When I was seven years old, it was reassuring to know she would always be there. Years earlier Mom had defied all medical odds against her when, at the age of 32, she had the largest neurofibroma in Mayo Clinic history removed. Surgery left her with paralysis and a convulsive disorder. She was diagnosed as terminal, was given about 18 months to live, and told she would never walk again. Fierce independence, fueled by an unparalleled determination, motivated her to dismiss the surgeon’s pessimistic prognosis. She bellowed that she had three children to raise, and dying just was not in her scheduled plans.
With grueling therapy, and otherworldly strength given by God, Mother was able to walk again. Despite severely reduced usage of her right side, she never missed a day cleaning house and preparing meals. She was grateful to be alive, and never ceased thanking God for the provision of His strength in that season of her life. When Dad died in 1986, I knew Mom could not live alone. She came to live with me in Nashville, and thus began my journey of caring for and ministering to her. In 1994, Mother was diagnosed with Chronic Dementia, but it did not rear its ugly head until 1997, when she began to exhibit paranoia and skewed judgment. She would place favorite knick-knacks and family photos in hefty bags and hide them under her bed, behind her dresser – any place that would throw off imagined “intruders” whom she believed were absconding with her treasures. As Mother’s symptoms worsened, I realized her needs were beyond what I could provide. The winter of my Mother’s life has come, and as of this year, she resides in a nursing facility.
I visit her each evening, engaging her in conversation, and making her feel that what she says still has meaning. Too many times I have witnessed the elderly being invalidated. People can debate all they want over “personhood theories” and quality of life issues. But, when my mother relives a memory, replete with bright-eyed animation, I remember that she is still there under all her medications – under the tangled mess of invasive brain tentacles, and medical terminologies. Mother still sees me as being seven years old. And every night from her bed she watches me as I leave her room. Each time I round the corner, I turn and wave to her, and she still smiles, saying “You button your coat – it’s a cold Winter.” It is difficult to see her so frail now, for I will always think of Mother as strong and determined in the summer of her life, and carry in my heart tender memories of rounding corners with smiles, waves, and blowing kisses.
God bless you, Mom.