The Long-Awaited Encounter

by | May 12, 2014 | Priorities

It has been eight years since I last saw my mom. Much has happened to her during this time, including the rapid onset of the vicious condition known as Alzheimer’s. It was hard to try and take care of her from across the ocean. With the phone being my only tool, finding her the best help possible was difficult. I tried to convince her to move to Canada, but she insisted on wanting to stay in Belgium, her homeland. I had no other choice but to leave her in the care of compassionate strangers.

This year, however, the opportunity for my family and I to visit her in Belgium presented itself. We arrived at the nursing home where she is residing after 6:00 p.m. one evening, and rang at the door. No one answered our call. When a caring passer-by suggested we simply go on in, we did. But then we found ourselves completely mixed up in a maze of stairs and rooms and hallways more complicated than those found in amusement parks.

We kept on climbing the stairs and calling down each hallway, but to no avail. No one answered. I peered in a room at one point, but only the sad eyes of a total stranger stared back at me. Not wanting to scare anyone (I can be scary at times!), I kept on looking for my mother’s room.

Eventually someone stepped out of the only elevator in the building and guided us to my mom’s room, and it was with excitement that the four of us walked in, scanning the four beds for my mother’s familiar face. To our disappointment, they all looked like strangers! Had the gentleman made a mistake? But no, her name was written over the hallway door.

I began asking each of the patients in the room where I could find my mother, and two of them shrugged their heads. Unfortunately, this didn’t help me much. Finally I approached the fourth bed, the one by the door. The lady in this bed seemed to be sleeping peacefully. As I had already determined that the other three ladies were not my mom, there were only two logical conclusions: Either this was my mom, or a stranger laid in her bed. As I stared at the peaceful form, I couldn’t help asking myself, could this apparent stranger really be my mom?

Sudden the patient opened her eyes and looked up at us. Confusion was written over her face.

“Mom?” I asked. “Is that you?”

To my dismay, the patient responded with, “Who’s there?”

I most certainly had the wrong room! But instead of turning to leave, something deep within me urged me to persist in my quest.

“Mom,” I said, “It’s me, Robby.”

The patient narrowed her eyes and looked at me closer. “Robby?”

“Robby! From Canada! We came all the way from Canada just to be with you!”

Suddenly her face melted with excitement. “Robby!” She cried. “Now I recognize your voice! My son! You came just for me?”

“Yes, we all did.”

Tears swelled in her eyes as she grabbed my hand and held on tightly.

“You didn’t tell me you were coming! You are such a tease!” But there was perhaps the biggest smile that I have ever seen on her face. In fact she smiled for the entire week we were there. She was truly in an earthly heaven. Her son had come home.

Throughout the next seven days, God gave us many opportunities to make her laugh. One story she seemed to be especially fond of happened when I was barely two. Supposedly I was not very fond of a pair of green socks she had bought me, because she found me one day hiding behind a chair, muttering to myself. Apparently I was saying something like this: “I don’t like these socks. I don’t like them and I’m going to pee all over them!” And apparently, that’s exactly what I did. Then when I had finished hosing them down, I said, “Now I won’t have to wear them anymore!”

What an embarrassment for me to share this story. Believe me, this behaviour did NOT become a habit for me! But it made my mother laugh and laugh, and she told the story to everyone in the home. During this time of rejoicing, I felt like I had my mom back, out of the grasps of this dreadful disease. Temporarily at least.

Most of the time, however, she just enjoyed sitting with us, holding our hands, listening to us, and smiling. Most of the time her mind was far away, but when I squeezed her hand, she would always come back with a huge smile on her face. “What a beautiful family you have!” She would say over and over again.

If time could be frozen, I wish that it could have frozen while I was holding her hand and seeing her so happy. But time relentlessly ticks by without compassion, and all too soon, it was time to go.

Why hadn’t I recognized my mom immediately? Sad to say, the disease process has aged her prematurely. For one thing, she had always tinted her hair red, and even the last time I had seen her, she sported a head full of red hair. Now it is a splendid grey. Beautiful, but not a color I associate with my mom! The wrinkles were new, too, as was the hunched back and the aged manner in which she moved. Alzheimer’s has no mercy on its victims! But I still love her, and I wish I could see her every day.

Twenty years from now, I may very well find myself in the same condition. My mom used to be so gracious and full of life, and as I go over the family pictures, I can’t comprehend how a beautiful young girl in her twenties could have changed so drastically.

As I ponder this, I have to ask myself: Are we using our time wisely? How often don’t I find myself rushing in to fulfill all the various aspects of my job, and meanwhile, I am missing the most important aspects of life: To enjoy it to the fullest and to take the time to love my Maker and those around me? Twenty years from now I won’t remember much about why or what I rushed around for, but I will remember my loved ones. And hopefully they will remember me as well!

Life is to be lived to the fullest and this is only possible if we let the doors of our heart wide open to God’s inspiring guide, His Holy Spirit. Only through Him can we live without regrets. Only through Him can we live to our fullest potential: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV)

Instead of rushing and fussing over nothing, why don’t we stop in our tracks and consider the real meaning of being. Instead of labouring over regrets, let the eternal hope fill us with true meaning. May we become the only bibles some people will ever read. May our actions bring them closer to God!

“For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5 NIV)

“Excuse me sir, are you lost?”

“It all depends what you mean with the word ‘lost'”.

Rob Chaffart

Many of you have been asking me about my visit with my mom, and others would like to hear about the entire Europe trip that my family and I just returned from. In the following weeks I will be sharing with you what I have learned from this trip, thanks to God’s guidance. But first and foremost, I would like to dedicate this trip to my mom. Thank you, mama, for being the mom you have been and still are!

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