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Thanking from the heart, Alzheimer’s-style

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When I visited my mother in the nursing home a few years ago while she still had more access to speech, I was privileged to watch her happiness as she ate her first meal after several days on a liquid diet necessitated by stomach flu. She began with repeated thanks to staff who brought her the tray, then she bowed her head for grace, enthusiastically reciting a familiar German prayer from her childhood, now translated into English:

“Come Lord Jesus, be our guest
And bless that which thou hast… hast…”

She paused, searching for the next word, and slipped into German:

beschenkt? bescherret? [graced us with]”

But no words fit.

So, with a small sigh of frustration, she gave up the challenge and prayed in her own words:

“Lord, I’m so excited about this food,
I can’t even find the right words for my prayer…
but you know what I mean!”

Then she concluded with a flourish:

“And I know all things
work together for good
for them that love the Lord!

After that, Mom ate her simple meal of clear soup, bland pasta, and orange jello with great relish as though it were a banquet. And it pleased me to think that the angels were dancing in the heavens as they presented her heartfelt prayer to that Ancient One: the Hearer of All Things, who smiled kindly and accepted it with gladness.

Two years passed, and my mother could no longer speak formal prayers. But she still sometimes folded her hands and murmured “Thank you, thank you, and thanks again” to all who came her way bearing food or medicine or best of all, quick hugs and kisses, which she returned enthusiastically. Sometimes she accompanied her thanks with a hearty whistle which, I’m sure, speeded up the angels’ dancing and broadened the smile of the Hearer of All Things.

—Leona Dueck Penner is a Winnipeg writer, and attends Charleswood Mennonite Church. Her mother died in May 2007.

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