Last Minute Gold
I sat next to my Maw Maw, holding her soft hand, running my fingers along the bones rendered crooked by arthritis. No one’s hands had ever been kinder to me in my life – they’d caressed my sleepy head as a child, they’d cradled my crying frame as a teenager and they’d waved me on hopefully during every challenge I’d faced. How was it possible that those kind, beautiful hands were now trembling with fear as Maw Maw struggled through the thick, confusing fog of Alzheimer’s? How could I endure watching the woman whose unwavering love unlocked the world for me, now writhe in a mental prison where no one could reach her anymore?
Her memory became chaotic only a few years before. What began as simple short-term memory loss, eventually shifted to full-blown confusion and forgetfulness of even her closest loved ones and most important events. Over time, she had to be supervised during even mundane daily activities, from using the toilet to sitting on the back porch. She became further lost into her own mind until, at last, the vibrant, feisty Cajun lady who could whip up a mean pot of gumbo in one hand and starch iron my Paw Paw’s work-shirts in the other, was reduced to a quiet, fearful child who spent most of her few waking hours in a daze of confusion.
As painful as this slow withering of my grandmother was to observe, it became unbearable after tragedy struck our family and my little sister died of cancer. If Maw Maw was lost and fearful before, she became almost hysterical with grief after losing her beloved granddaughter. It was as if her brain, unable to find a proper place to put such horrific news, just decided to take the lazy way out and put the initial brunt of it on a repetitive loop in her mind.
While I sat holding her hand, I watched her recall over and over again that my sister had died. Each time she recalled it, a fresh wave of searing pain poured over her and she wailed in agony.
“No! No! No!” she shouted again and again, eyes wild with pain and face streaked with fresh tears.
Everything in me wanted to run away from the scene as she remembered, wept and forgot. Remembered, wept and forgot. Only to, as if living in some kind of Hitchcockian nightmare, remember all over again.
After I returned to my home, over a thousand miles away from hers, my husband and I committed to fasting and praying. At the top of my list of concerns to bring before the Lord was my fierce and beautiful Maw Maw.
Lord, have mercy and unlock her mind from this prison of Alzheimer’s so that she can taste freedom again before she leaves this world.
I prayed this aloud, on humble knees, alongside my husband, hoping the Lord would hear and give my Maw Maw her very own miracle.
Only a few weeks later, I began receiving reports from relatives that Maw Maw was behaving differently. Apparently, she’d awoken one morning, dressed and cleaned herself and sat waiting to tell my Paw Paw about the amazing thing that had happened to her.
More than a little shocked that she was dressed and speaking sensibly, Paw Paw was eager to hear what she had to say.
“An angel came and unlocked my mind, Don,” she matter-of-factly said. “An angel came down and touched my mind and I can think clearly again.”
The events that unfolded in the weeks following this angelic visitation were nothing short of miraculous. Not only did Maw Maw recover her mental faculties, her memories and the ability to take care of most of her own physical needs, she began a mission to make what I’ve come to call soul corrections.
She began with making sure her husband, my wonderful Paw Paw, knew how much she loved him and just exactly how he’d been the best thing that had ever happened to her. Then, she wrote letters to loved ones she’d been unable to contact in years. The preacher and congregants at a church she’d left and held a grudge against for decades – she asked Paw Paw to search out their phone numbers. She confessed any wrongs she could recall doing. She made a road trip to visit her son and grandkids. She watched sports and ate at restaurants and laughed on the back porch with my cousins. She piddled around the house and went to the Dollar Store and read the paper for the first time in years, relishing every page.
Old memories were shared. Tears were shed. Peace was made. The prison which had been holding the vibrant, feisty Cajun lady from south Louisiana had indeed been unlocked and she was fierce and strong and fully herself once again.
I’d been hearing these stories secondhand but she’d been so busy with these soul corrections, I hadn’t been able to have a conversation with her myself. I was eager to hear in her own words of the miracle that had been delivered straight from heaven to her door.
On my birthday, after a long day of celebrating with my family, I took a hot shower and wondered about Maw Maw. My husband and I shared the same wedding anniversary as she and my Paw Paw, which was coming up in just a few days. I figured I’d give them both a call then.
As I was toweling off, I heard my phone beep, signaling that I’d missed a call and received a voicemail. I read the number on the screen and smiled. It was Maw Maw.
I pushed play on the recording and her raspy voice filled my ears and my heart. That voice had encouraged me and scolded me and comforted me and prayed for me so much in my life that it had become one of the running voices in my head. I closed my eyes and listened. Her voice, her hands, her spirit were embedded in the fabric of me.
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you,” she sang. “You look like a monkey, and you smeeeeeeelllll like one too!” She giggled.
“Happy birthday, Ambie. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
I’ve listened to that recording probably a hundred times since that day. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time I heard Maw Maw’s voice this side of heaven. She passed on from this world, surrounded by love, only a few days later.
The Lord answered my prayer exactly. Maw Maw was unlocked from her mental captivity. She was returned to herself and then to the rest of us as well. She had the opportunity to make those soul corrections and to do what she always did best – give her love away. She left this world on a high note and the Lord, in his loving goodness, allowed her to leave me with a precious gift. Her last words to me, said with the same unwavering affection she’d spoken them all my life were the simple words that unlock everything anyway – I love you. I love you. I love you.