Mondays With Mother: An Alzheimer's Story

In 2002 my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It is a hard road, and we live it one day at a time. This is a chronicle of her disease and my Monday visits with her.

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Name: Anne Robertson
Location: Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
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Monday, December 13, 2004

The First Noel

There are about 18 who eat lunch in Mother's neighborhood, all with some degree of memory impairment, and today when I went it was no different. Dot began demanding her dessert even before the salad was served. Eleanor talked loudly to no one in particular about subjects known only to her. Russell sat quietly, looking down at his plate, missing his wife, across from Frances, who missed her, too. Carl was with his wife at another table, and she was reminding him that he was a mess and couldn’t do anything right. "Pick up your fork, Carl. You eat with a fork!" His hearing aid was off.

The staff was busily about the business of serving lunch... "Fish or chicken?" "We haven’t made dessert yet, Dot." "Would you like a salad, Joan?" "Here’s your cranberry juice." "The dessert isn’t ready yet, Dot." "Here are your lunch medications." "Why don’t you eat your lunch first, Dot."

One of the aides turned on some Christmas music. The golden tones of Bing Crosby melted through the room. "I’m dreaming of a White Christmas," he sang, but no one took much notice. "Can I have my dessert now?" Dot asked again, not twenty seconds after the last time. "I want my dessert." The orchestra cranked up for Sleigh Ride. "You don’t like me do you," said Eleanor, loudly, to no one in particular. "What’s coming on that shelf?" Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer played through the speakers, but even his brilliant red nose couldn’t cut through the fog. "I want my dessert."

And then it happened. Rudolph had just gone down in history and the next song came on. "The first Noel, the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay..." The room grew quiet. "In fields where they lay keeping their sheep" Someone began to hum, "on a cold winter’s night that was so deep." Others joined in, "Noel, Noel." Eleanor sang out the chorus, Mother joined in, "Noel! Noel!" Russell looked up from his lap, Carl’s wife stopped her scolding. Soon they were all singing, and even Dot forgot about her dessert for a moment, "Born is the King of Israel!" rang out The Birches Luncheon Chorus.

Then the song was over. "Where’s my dessert?" "You just ate it, Dot." "Use your napkin, Carl." As soon as the last strains were gone, the moment was forgotten, as all previous moments are in such a world. But it happened, nonetheless. For a brief moment, God came to lunch at The Birches to give a Christmas message. It wasn’t Bing Crosby that stirred their hearts. It wasn’t the child memories of Rudolph. It was the birth of the King of Israel that made even the crankiest resident sit up and sing like an angel. "Noel! Noel!"

And so it is with us. We flail around in our cranky busy-ness, wanting what we don’t have, criticizing those around us, caught up in preparations, trying to be patient, hoping to get everything finished. Then God shows up. Maybe not in the way we expected. Maybe as a baby in a manger. Maybe in the words of a friend. Maybe in a song on the radio that makes us sit up and take notice of what we have forgotten in the memory impairment of the Christmas rush. It isn’t about all of that...not the tree, not the presents, not the feast. It is about Noel, the baby announced to shepherds lying in fields with their sheep by a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God. "Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel! Born is the King of Israel!" It’s enough to make you forget dessert.


Anonymous Dave Verdick said...

Stumbled across this searching on the history of "The First Noel." What a wonderful story! God bless you and your mother.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard you reading this story on NPR and was truly touched. I found myself suddenly overwhelmed with the true "Spirit of Christmas". Thank you for sharing and God bless.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Gail Rae said...

So this is the NPR post! Excellent!
I'm moved to say that, of all Christmas hymns playing on radios, Muzak, etc., the one I am always moved to sing to is "The First Noel". Just thinking of it gives me pleasure chills as I write. Truly an Inspired Hymn. God must love this one.

6:14 PM  

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