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Finally, the Sacred Silence

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I wanted to pray with my mother. After a half day in airports and on planes, I had returned for another visit to see her, another four days of watching her being cared for by the most loving and skilled hands, of watching her be bathed and changed and dressed. As I fed her at meals, I couldn't help but think of the many, many times she had fed me and my five brothers and sisters when we were her babies.

At an earlier visit last spring, I had prayed the rosary with her and had been delighted that she had some sense of what we were doing. But in the months afterwards and several more visits, there had been no response to prayer. That part was gone, and one more tiny filament of my mother's life force seemed to have dropped away.

When I called home, I talked to my husband, Jim, and then held the phone up to my mother's ear. After 32 years of our marriage, his voice was familiar to her and warm and loving. Her face had lit up in silent recognition. As I held the phone, I could hear Jim talking to her. "Rosemary, we pray for you every morning. We pray like this: 'Our Father, who art in heaven'..." My mother lifted her head knowingly and listened to the familiar words but then her gaze shifted to the blank walls and her eyes dimmed. He finished his prayer for her, his gift, and I hung up the phone.

On my visits to my mother, I tried to keep her stimulated, talking to her, telling her about my children, and other family members, telling family stories. She probably didn't comprehend much and in her mostly wordless state, it was hard to gauge a response, but I had the sense that my familiar voice brought a comfort to her.

I held up a photo of her younger sister, Betty, but her eyes were uncomprehending. I looked through her mail basket and read old cards and letters that had come into her, offering a running commentary on each card and note.

I noticed a stack of music, lyrics to old songs, on a lower shelf of her table. I leafed through them and knew many of them so I closed the door to her room and began to sing. My mother has always loved music from opera to Big Band and as we grew up, our house was filled with Broadway musicals. On this day, I am amazed at how many songs from "her era" I know and love.

I went through page after page of songs. If she smiled, I sang them several times. For three days, our time was shaped by music, strolls through the complex in a wheelchair and her regular naps. Each day I sang and talked to her.

When I sang "Oh, Them Golden Slippers" I reminded her that it was a favorite of the string bands in the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, a quirky event held only in Philadelphia, where she and my father had lived for nearly 40 years. I pantomimed the Mummers Strut and sang the music loudly, using her bathrobe as the headpiece for my "costume" that day in her room. My silliness might have made her laugh a year ago but now she just watched in silence.

Finally, on the fourth day, my music slowed and I sat quietly next to her bed. I knew that the silence was sacred, too. I had wanted to enter more deeply into her mind through prayer and music, but maybe that time had passed. Perhaps now I accompany her simply by sharing her silence, sitting with her and loving her, deeply, as she has loved me for so many decades.

Bless me, Lord, and help me to be with my mother in her silence. May I encounter you here in this sacred silence with her as you.

-- Maureen McCann Waldron
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