Daily Reflection
June 28th, 1999
Ruth Purtilo
Center for Health Policy and Ethics
Genesis 18:16-33
Matthew 8:18-22
In today's readings we touch base with a communicative, caring God.  It's a God like my mother, who loved to talk with her children, gave us every opportunity to be in her good graces, and never left us with a doubt as to whether or not she cared about us.  When she was in her 60's she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed and with "expressive aphasia."  In expressive aphasia a person knows what she/he wants to say but the words come out garbled.  One morning when she was trying unsuccessfully to tell me something, she stopped, sighed, and said as clear as day, "Honey, nobody knows!"  Startled, I replied, "Nobody knows what, mom?"  She made a garbled response and began to cry.  I believed that in that sudden moment of clear speech her profound loneliness from the condition that had radically changed her life had found a voice.

I didn't know what to say or do.  I, who had been a physical therapist and had worked with people suffering from stroke, felt stricken with guilt.  My own mother, and I couldn't help!  Now she seemed to feel abandoned, maybe even by God.  I was convinced that if I had only been more faithful in my own spiritual life I would probably know what to do to comfort her in this terrible moment.  I sputtered, hardly realizing what I was saying, "God knows.  And God cares that this is so hard, mom."  She didn't look convinced.  I added lamely, "That's what you always told me!  I learned that from you!"

All her life my mother kept a journal.  None of us knew that until she died.  Before her funeral, my sister and I discovered a drawer full of spiral notebooks chronicling her life journey from the time she was a young woman.  The confusion of language following her stroke was nowhere more apparent than in the journal entries, which she continued almost every day until the end.  Among the nonsense syllables and unrecognizable letters were occasional word groupings: Dad (her husband) garden, Brownie (the dog) bone happy, Betty (her home health aide) good, doctor not salt, bird sing.  On a day near her last, she had printed in large letters and underlined, "God know care."  I turned the page.  Same message.  Next page, same message!  On the fourth she scribbled, "God care me."  The fifth, and last entry, was in Betty's handwriting.  When we asked Betty about it she said our mother had the notebook open when Betty came into the room.  She motioned to Betty to take the book and pen and then dictated slowly but in a loud, clear voice "God good love knows me Ruth dad Brownie Betty ."  That night she was taken, for the last time, to the hospital.

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