As I write this, it’s Sunday morning here in metro Atlanta. I’m still in my pajamas, but pretty soon I’ll have to get up from the computer, pull some clean clothes out of the dryer, turn on the iron, and get ready to take Mom to church.
Church has been a source of comfort and gratitude for me since Mom developed dementia.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Literally — I was born while my dad was studying to become a priest, and spent my childhood attending weddings, funerals, and every kind of service in between. Mom was as devoted an Episcopalian as Dad, maybe more so.
When she moved to Atlanta, she left a thriving church community behind, so it was vital that we find her a religious home. She settled with me at Church of the Epiphany, a quirky, liberal Episcopal outpost between Atlanta and Decatur. One of the things I love about my church is that no-one there expects me to have this God thing figured out. Church is a place where I can take my doubts, my fears, my frustrations, and my cognitively confused mother, and feel like part of a community.
Mom knows the services by heart. She can still find the pages in the hymnal, and she loves to sing (off-key, but that has always been part of her charm). She is enchanted by all the children who come to the altar for communion. We have communion every Sunday, and children are welcome long before they understand the meaning of the sacrament. Which is a good thing, because I’m 55 and I don’t fully understand it myself.
I don’t actually understand much about the faith of my childhood, which has become, by default, the faith of my adulthood. It’s more a religious practice for me, a showing-up-and-going-through-the-motions that somehow connects me with something larger than myself (even if it’s only the community of other people going through the motions with me).
But I do know this: my quirky, eccentric church community has embraced my mother. They have made her life more meaningful than it ever could have been without them. They love her unconditionally. When we pause in the midst of every service to greet each other, they line up to hug her.
That makes my life as a caregiver sweeter than my church friends can imagine. Some of them probably think I’m brave and saintly to bring my poor elderly mother to services. Well, guess what: I may be a little brave, but I’m no saint. I don’t want to get out of my pajamas, this Sunday or any Sunday. If it weren’t for Mom, I’d probably skip church. Heck, last week we went to the Church of Waffle House.
But I’m going today, and again next Sunday and the Sunday after, if I can get my lazy self out of bed. Because at church, Mom knows where she is, what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. She knows that she is loved, and she has an outlet for all the love she wants to give other people. She may be deaf; she may not be able to hear the sermon or understand the announcements. But she’s part of a community and a tradition that existed long before her birth and will continue long after her death. She’s an Episcopalian. She’s a child of God. And that is enough.