The Kindness of Strangers

By Karen Brode

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled as I sat in my car hoping the rain would let up. It seemed to come in alternating waves of intensity. I thought if I could just catch one of those times when it wasn’t hammering down on the car, I could make a run for it.

It wasn’t just about the rain, though. I was extremely afraid of lightning. When I saw it flash, I could count, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, and estimate if the storm was getting further away.

Really, though, the truth was, I simply didn’t want to be there, no matter what the weather was doing. I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather not be than at the nursing home where my mother lived. As it turned out, no one else wanted to go there, either. There wasn’t anyone but me to do what had to be done. They had all scattered to the four winds after she went to live at the home. They wanted nothing to do with her.

Finally, the rain let up enough that I decided to run for it. I ducked my head and ran. It seemed long ago when Mother and I had sat on the front porch of the nursing home, but it was just last summer. I tried to imagine that we were just sitting out on her front porch at her house. She liked nothing better than to sit on her front porch in the twilight. This was a little better than staying inside the nursing home.

During that visit, I had brought my Bible to read to her. I searched through the pages to find something appropriate to read to a woman who had lost everything.

I began, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

“I shall not want!” She almost shouted. She would never have done that before Alzheimer’s. She was so quiet. It just killed me to see her that way. I guess it was good that she was in her Alzheimer’s World because she did not hear my sobbing as I turned away.

When I looked back at her, I saw her sitting in her wheelchair dressed in some other old woman’s clothes. Her beautiful silver hair was cut at chin length. I wondered what she would be like if she hadn’t turned into this facsimile of herself. But it was no use to wonder that.

In the beginning, it had upset me to see her in someone else’s clothes and to spot other people wearing the dresses I had bought for her. After awhile, I realized that there was no way to keep up with clothes, and I should just be grateful she was dressed.

I made it safely to that memorable porch out of the rain. I shook my umbrella off and left it outside. I had forfeited my lunch hour from work earlier that day so I could just go home when my time at the nursing home was over. I wanted to sit quietly in my house and not have to think about any of it.

She was usually in the cafeteria when I arrived, but when I looked in, she wasn’t there. One of the nurses said she was asleep in her room. I walked into her room and watched her sleep. The thunder clapped in the distance. I told myself that nothing could ever be as bad as this. Nothing for the rest of my life could hurt as bad. I put my hand on her hand as I stood by her bed. I didn’t mean to cry, but the tears came unbidden.

The door to her room opened. I turned to see a woman in a business suit. Her hair was professionally coifed. I wiped at my eyes and she came to stand beside me. She explained she was from the State of Texas. They were doing a routine check of the nursing home. She saw my tears and put her arm around me as I cried some more.

“My mother has been in the nursing home over ten years,” I said. “She used to have Sunday dinners at her house, and the table would be full of family members, but now. No one else in the family will help. ” My voice broke off.

She nodded. “It’s not right, but this is usually what happens. Usually just one person ends up doing all the work.” Then she hugged me again and left the room to continue her rounds.

After she was gone, I leaned down and kissed Mother’s forehead. “Momma, I love you.”

_____________________________

Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

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