Mom, I watched your life. What I saw everyday growing up, and then caring for you, spoke volumes. You lived the life you sang about! You so allowed Christ to live large in you, to love and give and extend grace through you. You learned to trust Him at all times, trusted Him in and for all things. You stood on the Word of God and knew the power of prayer. I remember hearing you share about caring for your son, Phillip, who had been born with a host of physical and mental challenges. You always credited prayer and the Lord for helping you. “Sometimes,” you’d say to another mother facing similar challenges, “I’d have to pray for the strength to make it from one minute to the next. . . God always answered.”
I remember a period when I had nightmares, and would wake up crying and screaming. You’d sit on my bed, cradle me in your arms and pray. Once I’d calmed down, you’d read to me from the bible and then lay the bible on my pillow, reminding me that God was with me and that His Word would comfort me and bring me peace. Each night you’d do the same thing until the nightmares ceased. Prayer has become a bedrock in my life because of your example and your belief that God is faithful to honor His Word when we pray.
I saw how you responded when wounded by others—especially those with whom you worshiped and served. When they hurt you by something they said to or about you, when they fought against you, you continue to go week after week after week, never retaliating, never speaking against them. I’d see you cry, but I also heard you pray for them, then love them just the same. You didn’t give up; you didn’t quit; you didn’t resort to their tactics. You taught me what it meant to allow the Lord to fight your battles, entrust even your enemies to His hands. You taught me to turn the other cheek and to persevere in the face of opposition.
You taught me to see through eyes of love into the hearts of men; to search for the good, to search for the gift in everyone. Taught me to draw out that gift, to help others know their worth and significance. Taught me what it means to walk in forgiveness and humility. Taught me to worship, to pray, to give even when it’s not reciprocated. You gave so much of yourself to others; you were truly a drink offering poured out before the Lord. You drew out the best in people. Anyone who was blessed to be in your presence, if only for a moment, was the better as a result. In sickness, even in death, that was your greatest gift.
And you did everything with such elegance, such style, such grace! I was always proud to say, “Yes, Phyllis Gaston is my mother!” I wanted to be just like you.
I remember that day in 1995 when I got the call. It was Picture Day, and I had just taken my freshman English class down to the auditorium to be photographed for the yearbook. Mrs. Lowe, the school secretary, scurried in. “You have a phone call!” I knew it was serious; she would never call me way from my students to take a phone call. “You need to get to the hospital as soon as you can,” my sister said.
I rushed to the Bethesda North and geriatric specialist explained in detail his findings from the battery of tests they’d administered. The diagnosis: Alzheimer’s Disease. We knew then you could no longer live alone. I always knew, even before the diagnosis, that you’d be with me. It just seemed natural. But now that it was a reality, I was frightened. I didn’t know that I could do it – not that I didn’t want to do it – but I didn’t know I could do it and do it well! But you’d taught me well: Trust God. Ask Him for strength to get you from one moment to the next. He is always present. He always hears and answers. When you don’t know, ask. Do what you know to do and leave the rest to the Lord. You can do all things through Christ Who strengthens you. In your weakness He is made strong.
I know the last ten years have not been easy for you; they’ve not been easy for either of us. I know that there were so many days when you just didn’t know what was happening to you. I’d watch you try to make sense of it, watch you grasp for a memory, search to find a simple word, hear you plead to return to your home. But in the challenging moments, you never lost faith. You would whisper, “Lord, have mercy” or when you got a little confused, “Lord, please help me.” He did. I’d stand in the hallway and look at you when you were unaware, praying to God, singing hymns of praise even in the Alzheimer’s. You continued to trust God to carry you. He did. I know He kept you, preserved you! Doctors warned me of the stages of the disease, what I could expect, what I should watch for. You never exhibited those “usual” behaviors, the typical progression, which is just another testimony to God’s grace at work in your life. I remember taking you to a new doctor. As he examined you, you were congenial, loquacious self, laughing and joking. “Are you married?” you asked him.
“Why? You have someone for me?”
“Well, my daughter’s not married . . . She is a good girl.” You looked in my direction and proceeded to run down my resume as if you were my personal Match.com. I just shook my head.
“Are you sure you have Alzheimer’s?” he laughed. “I think you’ve been misdiagnosed.” I often thought the same thing.
People have been commending me as if I’ve done some great thing in taking care of you. But we both know that there were days – more than I’d like to admit – that I became frustrated, impatient, angry (more at what the disease was stealing from you than angry with you). There were days when I said to the Lord, “I don’t think I can do this anymore!” He’d remind me that His grace is sufficient. Remind me of the great opportunity He had placed before me. I remember His words to me: “Deborah, I trust you to trust Me.” Yes, there are things I could have done, wish I’d done differently. I made a lot of mistakes with you. Thank you for looking beyond my faults, for understanding we were both traversing unknown territory. Thank you for ever encouraging me, never judging me, always forgiving me, always loving me.
(To be continued. . .)