I remember an amusing story my mother told about her neighbors.
Mrs. Bennett was confined to a bed in her dining room. From bed, she phoned Miss Lyda Virginia Parker to come to the rescue of her husband, who had fallen and couldnt get up. Miss Parker, who was quite old, called my dad and mom, who were only in their mid-60s. They all converged on the Bennett house to find that the old man had fallen with his back arched over the seat of a dining room chair.
The paramedics were called and soon appeared at the door. Miss Parker, who still regularly taught acting in New York City, took center stage. She politely introduced all the participants to the medics and asked their names in return, making sure no one was left out.
Picture four old people, four paramedics and Mr. Bennett, who lay uncomplaining across the chair, a whiskey bottle on the table.
My mother, Mary Jane Chronister, a normally restrained person, laughed until she cried while repeating the story of Miss Lyda Virginias good manners to anyone who would listen. We all listened and asked for more, delighted with Moms enjoyment.
My mother doesnt laugh anymore. She doesnt speak either. She doesnt even smile. Over the last four years, her speech has deteriorated from missing words to garbled words, from a repeated eh-duh-duh to something less. Frontotemporal dementia is the diagnosis. With her narrowed speech has come narrow focus, narrow behavior and an unchanging facial expression. Last August she went to live in a nursing home.
My mother continues to communicate, though in ever more limited ways. She hugs her husband and children and makes a sound that we take for I love you. In beautiful handwriting but cryptic words she hands out notes that say Dont to ride. The church to the Saturday evening. When we manage to get her to church, she avidly follows the service and takes communion.
Doctors say Mom will live for a long time. She has a strong, healthy body. The only disease is in the frontal lobes of her brain. What can my mother Mary Jane do with her limited mind, limited speech and long life, I ask?
If she cant go through her mind, she can go through her heart is the pungent answer I receive, not from doctors but in the home of my spiritual mother, Mother Meera. This answer is for our entire family. We must all go through our hearts now.
It is Mother Meera who has taught me to value the hearts silence. In the 10 years that I have been visiting her in a small German village, I have heard her voice only a few times on the telephone. But conversation is not what I seek from Mother Meera. Silence and light are her gifts. The touch of her fingers on my head and the gaze of her eyes into mine have taught me that silence leads to vastness, not narrowness, and to inner freedom despite outer limitation.
A while back, I introduced my uncommunicative mother Mary Jane to a photo of my silent Mother Meera. I added a quote from Mother Meeras book Answers: You must be calm. Nothing must frighten or shake you. To be like that you have to turn your whole concentration toward God.
Mom read the words and ran her finger over Mothers face. Beautiful, she said clearly.
Sonia Linebaugh was New Bay Times associate editor from 1993-1997.