Mama Lil’s Grace

For 10 years, Mama Lil lay in a bed. Slight, restless movements and incomprehensible utterings characterized her life. In the early years of her demise, she would be placed in a wheelchair and taken to a large room to be among other people. I doubt she knew the difference between being alone and being with others.

She was alone in her mind, deteriorating with vascular dementia day by day. When I visited, I spoke with her as if she understood every word … and perhaps she did. She simply could not respond.

She was Mama Lil to me, Mama to my mother and Lillian to her long-departed husband, Laurence. My mother was among her caregivers, working as the nursing supervisor in the facility in which Mama Lil resided. My mama let others tend to Mama Lil, but every morning and every evening, she entered her room to tell her she loved her. Mama was one piece of Mama Lil’s grace.

I remember a time when my two older brothers visited with their wives, their young toddlers in hand. The toddlers sat on the end of Mama Lil’s bed, and they began to babble away … all three of them. I laughed because in some strange way, it seemed clear to me that Mama Lil was responding to the little girl and boy in a language none of the rest of us could understand.

There were pauses while one was gibbering away, then “answers” in another sort of jabbering. It was a precious and deeply profound encounter to observe. Those two toddlers, now approaching 40, were another piece of Mama Lil’s grace.

All of those who took care of Mama Lil, providing baths, food, gentle exercise and verbal expressions of her humanity were critical parts of her grace. Though some might label Mama Lil as “gone,” she was never treated that way. Taught by my mother, the geriatric nurse, I learned at her feet and service that every person, regardless of their physical state, is worthy of care and compassion. She demonstrated that by calling every one of her patients by name and training her staff to do the same.

I often think about grace these days. My own experiences with the grace of others have touched my life in gentle yet thoughtful ways. A card, a phone call, an invitation to lunch, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on – all of these are parts of the grace I am experiencing.

Contrast that with the friends of Job, the Old Testament righteous man who was tormented by pain and suffering at the hands of Satan, but only with the permission of God. Job’s friends sat silently with him for seven days after he lost his wealth, his health and his family. Perhaps they should have stayed silent.

When they spoke, these “friends” pointed fingers, throwing painful accusations and judgment toward Job, who sat in torturous physical, emotional and spiritual pain. These three friends were unquenchable in their desire to blame Job for his situation, attacks they thought made them look righteous and innocent. They were not grace-filled to Job, and their cruelty added to his agony.

When Mama Lil passed away, she entered an eternal state of grace, seeing her savior face to face, freed from the prison of her earthly body. Yet she experienced grace on this earth, too, in the love and care she received from the hands, feet and hearts of others. No one “cast her away” but instead valued her life as it was.

Friends, life is too short to repeatedly fail to show grace to others. Do not cast away those who need your touch. Do not judge. Embrace them with grace. What a difference it will make.

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