Mama didn’t touch me often. When she did, I hated the smell of bleach on her hands. I longed for tender touches and attention, but she was busy with her bleach.
I see her now, when I look in the mirror, and I feel closer to her than when she lived. Some of her attributes irritated me in my teens, but now they are comfortable old friends inside my own personality. She wanted tidiness and orderliness, just as I do. But, also like me, she couldn’t pull it off. While raising six daughters, she often displayed frustration, especially while our dad traveled for work.
Now my five sisters love to hear me imitate some of Mama’s characteristic complaints. “When I die, when I kick the bucket, this house won’t be fit for the neighbors to come over and view my remains!” She chased the elusive dream of a perfect house that could always stay clean and organized.
Having grown up in the Great Depression, she found it impossible to throw away anything. One kitchen cabinet near the floor was a miraculous mystery of frustration. Opening it always produced an avalanche of plastic tumbling onto the floor. Every Cool Whip bowl we’d ever bought stayed in there, along with containers of every possible size. Dozens of lids resided there as well, in every color. What was the mystery? Never, ever, could a single lid be found to fit any of the bottoms.
I’m sorry now I didn’t help her more, but we approached everything in opposite ways. She wanted each task done with slow and meticulous precision. Like my dad, though, I tended to work with rapid-fire speed as if every moment required a race to a finish line.
If Mother had never developed Alzheimer’s disease, I don’t know if we would’ve ever grown close. When she did, I moved in with her and Dad to help them. I posted a “Moving Sale” sign outside my home in Central Florida. This helped me discard most of my possessions so I could move into the in-law apartment inside their home in Panama City.
For two years, Mother and I grew closer than my heart had ever dreamed possible. I remember priceless times of giggling and cuddling in bed with her. One time she fell down, unhurt, and I tried to help her get up, but my tricky knee made me ineffective. Our hysterical laughter at our failed attempts didn’t help, either. Dad wasn’t home, so I sat down with her and said, “Mama, we’re as useless as two fish flopping on the deck of a boat. Let’s just sit here ‘til Daddy gets home.”
She had often told us, “I love all six of my girls,” and, “All my girls are smart and pretty.” I heard her tell other people, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any of my girls, but I wouldn’t give a dime a dozen for any more.”
I longed to feel special, and not loved just as part of a group. I told her about this longing when she was still in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. I teased her, “I’ve always wanted to be someone’s favorite. Couldn’t you say I’m your favorite just for now?”
She repeated what she had insisted all our lives, “I love all my girls the same.”
“But each of your other girls still has a husband to make her his favorite. Can’t I just be your favorite for a little while?”
She thought for a moment and said, “Well, I never had a sister. You could be my sister.” A few years later, in a nursing home, when she could no longer respond, I loved to whisper into her ear, “It’s me, your only sister.”
She and Dad often said she requested he only give her girl babies, since she had grown up with four brothers. One time I asked her what she would’ve done if she’d had a boy. “Just love ‘im, I guess.”
I told her I had wanted a boy and was grateful to have one, but still could never figure out how to understand men. I said, “What do you think makes them tick?”
Shaking her head, she answered, “I don’t know, but somethin’s not right.”
The two years of helping care for my mother were two of the happiest of my life. Even when she hid my purse and I had to replace all my licenses and cards, she never felt like a burden. Helping her with hygiene and accidents honored and satisfied me. God took the darkness of disease and turned it into a gift to give me the deepest desires of my heart. I had never even considered moving back to our hometown, but now it’s almost a paradise to me. As He has done countless times, our dear Lord created beauty from ashes.
Mama gave me many tender touches during those two years of living together. We became best friends and intimate confidants. I had begun to try to learn to dance, and it surprised me what a good partner she could be. I remember standing while embracing and rocking back and forth to music with her. I wondered if it touched some memories of her rocking her babies so many decades before.
The best gift of touch Mama ever gave me? My longing to be somebody’s favorite drove me to Jesus. As a child I heard He loved the world, and that seemed like a huge group in which to be overlooked. When He called me back to Himself, though, thirty-four years ago, He did a miracle in my heart.
He made me feel loved as His number one favorite, even while I knew He loves us all equally. Just as He gave me those two years feeling like Mom’s favorite, He has given me thirty-four years of knowing He would’ve died for just me. He would’ve done it even if He knew I’d be the only one to come to Him. It’s unexplainable how He touches my heart this way.
Only Jesus has a love big enough and perfect enough to make each of us His favorite. Every morning, if I sing to Him, He slips into my heart a missing puzzle piece that makes me whole. It’s a touch like no other. It pushes out all longings, all dissatisfactions and discontent. This missing puzzle piece of love and peace makes life abundant and complete. His filling me up enables me to overflow in service to others.
I don’t know all the specifics of what He has planned for me in heaven, but if He can touch me this way in our imperfect world, I can’t wait to see Him face to face. The Bible speaks of Him upholding me with His righteous right hand. Other times it says He takes hold of my right hand.
That sounds like a dance to me. He has used dance lessons to teach me how to let Him lead in life, and the joyful beauty and freedom it brings. Whatever else we do in heaven, I hope for at least one waltz with Jesus…or, maybe with Mama.
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