Mama’s Smile

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My daughter came home this morning from getting my mama up out of bed, bathed, and fed. (Dad pays her to be a care giver which is a huge blessing to us all.) She came in laughing and said, “Do you know what your mother said to me today?”

“No. What?”

“She said, ‘Go to h—.'”

“What?! I’m sorry. You know Grandma would never say that for real.”

“And she said, ‘I hate you.'”

“Oh, I’m sorry. You know she doesn’t mean that either. She would have never said anything like that when she was healthy.”

“I know,” Annie said. “I’m just tattling on her. Grandma also said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And I said, “Be nice.” And she said, ‘Okay.’ And then things went pretty well!”

And I think about a talk I just had with my youngest twenty-something son who recently moved in with my parents. It’s a comfort to know he’s sleeping there at night and available to help if needed. But yesterday he told me, “Yeah, it’s kind of hard to wake up hearing Grandma shouting, ‘I hate you! I hate you!’ and to go to sleep hearing her shouting, ‘I hate you! I hate you!’ I’ve never heard so much hate in my life.”

And I tried to explain again how she doesn’t mean it. It’s not her. It’s not anything I EVER heard her say when her mind was strong. She didn’t allow us kids to say we hated anyone and never said it herself. I told him that she’s confused and something is bothering her and it’s her way of crying– like a baby crying out when it has needs. She can’t explain what’s wrong anymore, so she shouts out harsh words.

But my heart hurts for her. I try singing to her. I try talking to her. I try holding her hand. We change her, feed her, give her something to drink. We give her Tylenol in case something is hurting that she can’t tell us about. We’ve even recently started giving her a mild anti-depressant.

And I’ve gotten used to the harsh words. They rarely phase me these days.

But what I struggle with more is another new loss on this Alzheimer’s journey.

Mama doesn’t smile anymore.

I don’t think I’ve seen her smile for a few months. And I’ve tried all my ways of connecting with her.

I sing our songs and she looks at me blankly. I tell her who I am and she looks at me blankly. I tell her I love her and she looks at me blankly.

Her eyes don’t sparkle anymore.

And I miss her beautiful smile.

And I remember the past few years when I’d say, “I’m Cheryl, Mama. It’s me.” And sometimes Mama’s eyes would light up and she’d smile and say, “Oh…Cheryl Lynn?”And I would feel remembered.

What a treasure it would be to hear that one more time. Or to see her smile again with shining eyes.

But I still cherish the little love pats. As I feed Mama, she often reaches out and very softly pats my arm. And sometimes she stares at my face and reaches out and strokes my cheek or whole face. And I feel seen for that moment. And maybe something in her is trying to communicate love.

And I wish somehow I could gather Mama in my arms and hug and kiss away her hurt and confusion–as she did for me when I was a child. When just her presence could make everything better. 

And I wonder more often why God allows dementia and Alzheimer’s. And I don’t know the answer.

But I do know that He is with us always. And that He gives strength and grace one day at a time. One hour at a time. One moment at a time.

And I know that the end of the story is good. Because Mama trusted in Jesus when her mind was healthy and gave her heart to Him. I know that He has her. Always.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NKJV)

And I can picture Jesus gathering Mama in His arms and hugging away all the pain and hurt. And I know that just His presence will make everything better. And someday I will see Mama’s beautiful smile again.










  1. What a touching article. I, unfortunately, know first hand the pain of watching someone disappear into the fog of alzheimers/dementia. It hurts when they no longer know who you are. I’m sorry you have to endure this.

  2. Oh, this one made me cry….I remember those days so vividly. I’m so sorry that you are in this difficult part of the journey but I am glad that you and your family are willing to be with your mom through it all. It is very hard and awful and a gift all at once. I’m sending up a prayer for you all. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here as they are my thoughts too……….

    1. Thank you, Laura. “It is very hard and awful and a gift all at once” is so well put. Thank you for your comment and especially for your prayer. God bless you.

  3. This hit home…the empty eyes…no smiles…I could reach my Mom with playing old hymns on the piano, but her attention was limited. Her words were garbled. We did have to place her in a secured “home” as she was getting out of the house and onto the farm-to-market road and waving down people. She was classified as toddler’s Alzheimer’s and she was just like a 2 year old, having to watch her as she was on the go and constantly getting into something, or hitting or biting the other residents and staff. I felt relief when she passed away, as I knew she was tired of the journey, and so were we. I didn’t feel a loss, as I’d been losing her in bits and pieces, then chunks…so I couldn’t grieve what I had already lost. It took me several years before I could remember her “before”… In looking back, at the last year, maybe she was blessed to not know what she was going through.

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