God’s unconditional love in the precious present and a lesson in Alzheimer’s disease.
By Cecilia M Romero, parishioner St. Joseph Maronite Church, GA.
“I am the living bread which came down from Heaven “ John 6:51
On the several occasions that I would pay a visit to the Convent Our Mother of the Light in Dartmouth MA, I would experience the precious present of God’s unconditional love with my dear Sisters. Just walking through the imposing front door I would always sense the profound peace in the silence of home the Sister’s share with Our Lord Jesus. Those visits have always been a good time for me to recharge my spiritual batteries as I would reconnect with God through the daily loving fellowship of Divine Liturgy, prayer, Adoration, and silence shared with our Sisters. I also would enjoy community time of meals, walks on the grounds, outings and even helping out in the many tasks during the rhythm of the day.
Always a joy to visit my Sisters and so hard to leave and return to Georgia, where I would do my best to keep that same sense of peace and connectedness with God in my own home and daily life. That peace has been a challenge to maintain these past months after hurricane Maria. I currently have living with me several relatives from three to eighty three years of age and, mind you, five generations trying to get along under one small roof is no easy task.
I am constantly amazed how even as Mami’s Alzheimer’s disease continues to progress, one constant experience we are living with her is the true presence of God’s unconditional love in the precious present. Days and weeks pass, one notices that Mami’s short term memory is slowly fading. No longer can she remember what we take for granted such as: what she ate, did she bathe, what day is it, who called and what medicines are needed for daily survival. Those who have loved ones who suffer from this disease know that when these symptoms appear it is time to step in and take over these tasks. I have long since become Mami’s memory bank. From daily tasks to personal, financial and medical events, I am now in charge, with help of my Aunt Aurea, to care for Mami. Such tasks can at many times become overwhelming as one continues to juggle the challenges of work, family and personal relationships. However, it is Mami’s living the in constant precious present of God’s unconditional love that keeps us in balance.
The other evening Mami’s sun-downing was intense as she woke me up crying as to why I had not told her about her mother’s death. As I groggily opened my eyes in the middle of the night trying to understand her, I realized she was having a difficult moment. I listened to her patiently as I was being accused of mortal sin for not telling her of the death of her own mother gone almost 40 years ago. It is during these times of darkness that even without asking in a prayer, the Holy Spirit intervenes and in a flash I remembered a true incident in my Mami’s life.
When my grandmother Mercedes passed away, Mami had intense doubts to know if she was in Heaven. In her grief Mami struggled with this doubt for months as she prayed many rosaries to Our Lady asking for a sign. As all children, she just needed to know her mother’s whereabouts. After a very long time God answered her prayers.
One night in a dream, Mami’s mother Mercedes came to her dressed in a soft pink flowing dress carrying a large basket full of loaves of bread. Her mother appeared very happy and young. Mami was filled with great joy and asked her mother if she was in Heaven. Her mother responded, Yes. Mami then asked if she could see Father God. To which her mother replied, I can see Him but I am not as close as Adelaida. Then the dream ends.
I remember the story well as on many family occasions Mami would share it with me and her sisters. My aunts interpreted the dream as a good sign from Heaven. They would comment that grandmother’s carrying the basket of bread meant that even in Heaven she was helping others as she did in her life on earth. They then would spend the rest of the afternoon sharing many stories of my grandmother’s sacrifice for her children and the poor in Yauco, Puerto Rico. “ Mama, Mercedes Santi, is a saint who lived a difficult life of poverty and sharing what little the family had with the poor beggars in town who would come every Saturday to be fed a bowl of rice, beans and boiled eggs”, my aunts would comment. No matter how much housework she had in caring for her husband and seven children, she always made time in the evenings to visit the sick. As the afternoons wore on more and more memories would be shared of my saintly grandmother. It was in these conversations that we also found out that Adelaida had been a childhood friend of Mercedes. We were happy to know that Mercedes was still helping us from Heaven as she had lived a life a true charity here on earth.
That night in the darkness of her confused state I began to console my Mami and telling her over and over the dream God had given her a beautiful message assuring her that Mama Mercedes was in Heaven. That when she thinks of her Mama, she knows Mama Mercedes is praying for her and waiting with joy for all of us in Heaven. This knowledge calmed down Mami as she began to repeat over and over again about her Mama’s charity and love to others.
It is in these intense moments we are reminded that we are all one body in Christ. A communion of saints in this world and the next helping each other in our pilgrimage to Heaven. Each praying for one another asking God for the graces we need to continue on our journey. As I fell asleep that night I asked my grandmother to continue to pray for us as we journey on in the mission of love caring for Mami. I also thank our Sisters for their continued prayers for my family.