Stepping out of the car after my morning at the gym, I reveled in how nice it was outside. Our weather today was gloriously warm at 55º. Well, that’s warm for November 28th in Wisconsin. The slight breeze and the pleasant feeling of sunshine on my skin made me want to linger outside for just a little while. Perhaps a little bit of gardening. Momma was busy coloring at the kitchen table, so I grabbed my garden shears and an empty bin and chose a garden location just outside of the window where she was sitting. I could see her and she could see me – definitely a win-win!
I made a point of breathing deeply of that crisp autumn air as I worked at cutting back the perennials which had died back, tossing each handful and armload of garden debris into my gardening bin. It’s always nice to have the garden clean-out job taken care of before the snow flies. It’s a messier job after the spring thaw. As I breathed in that fresh air and methodically tidied the flowerbed, I could feel myself relaxing a bit.
A short time later, I lugged four full bins and a few miscellaneous 5-gallon pails of garden debris to the car and slid them into the back, then drove over to our city’s recycling site to add my share of garden waste to the city’s growing compost pile. I drove home with the feeling of contentment that comes from accomplishing a task.
If you know me well, you understand that the garden is my happy place. Taking care of Momma has replaced much of my time in the garden, so any time I get to spend in my garden is a real treat. Nowadays, gardening is done in snatches of time; an hour here, ten minutes there. Slowly but surely, one bucket of weeds and garden waste at a time, in one bed at a time (sometimes one corner of one flowerbed), things get accomplished.
Momma would be pleased to see how I’d spiffed up the area outside of the kitchen window. Or so I thought. Instead, as we sat at the kitchen table together this afternoon, Momma stared out the window with a look of concern on her face. I watched her eyes as she scanned the backyard. She couldn’t see all that I accomplished today as she looked out the window. Alzheimer’s has a way of removing the “filter” on the tongue, which causes my normally tactful and polite Momma to say things that sting a bit.
“Uggh!” said Momma as she clucked her tongue. “The yard is so ugly! Why don’t they just clean it up? It’s such a simple thing to just cut the dead stuff off and pick it up.”
And the loved one suffering from this horrible disease doesn’t ask the question or make the comment once or twice. Nope. Over and over and over again.
True confession. It was hard to be nice in my reply. When I had had enough of the question, mustering as much kindness in my voice as I could, I asked her to tell me which part of the garden was bugging her the most.
“Over there, by that fence,” replied Momma as she pointed at the leaves I had purposely raked into the garden as a winter mulch. She added, “Why can’t they just rake that all up? It looks SO ugly!”
Her words stung more than usual because I had tried so hard to tidy the yard up. Today her unfiltered words beat me down and made me feel like my efforts were never going to be enough.
It’s dark outside now, so the garden problem has gone away for the night. Now, our backdoor neighbor’s beautiful Christmas lights have replaced the untidy garden in her field of vision. Her complaints are replaced with appreciation for the beauty of the light display my neighbor creates for his wife and daughters.
Just a few moments ago, as she sat and looked at the pretty lights, Momma asked me if she could have more food. It wasn’t time for supper yet, but I got one of her little half-sandwiches out of the fridge and plated it up for her with a few potato chips and baby carrots on the side. You would think I had given her a steak dinner!
“Oh, thank you! This is perfect!” Momma gushed with genuine thanksgiving. “You know I love your little sandwiches. They are so delicious and just the right size.”
My hungry Momma’s heartfelt compliment brought a smile to my face and subtly reminded me that my efforts to bless her (even the small ones) really are doing just that, and that my failures to please her are only momentary. As we sit together at the kitchen table looking at the lights, my heart is refreshed as Galatians 6:9 comes to mind…the “good job” I needed to hear today.