In 2006, my mother had a brain aneurysm. Since then she . . . Wait. I am getting ahead of myself. I need to back up.
Growing up, my mother was a very strong figure in my life. She set the spiritual barometer for our whole family. She was a strong, stubborn, outspoken, energetic, and talented lady. She was a great leader who, in the perception of those around us, was fearless. She would stand up to anyone, yet had the deepest kindness for those in need. She grew up being shoved from strange house to strange house, her father or mother hardly around at all, learning to fend for herself. This contributed to her strong will and her “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude, yet it also explained her tenderness toward the “down and out.” She was very beautiful. All my life I had to put up with jokes from my friends about my mother, as they were all entranced by her beauty. It drove me crazy. She loved to shop for clothes, was a very hard worker, and enjoyed more wine than most Christians would be comfortable with!
I would say that our relationship was incredibly deep and dynamic. She was the spiritual mentor who taught me all about Christ, prayer, and the Bible. I would describe her relationship with God as real and emotionally engaged. She was always in a wrestling match with Him. Her heart for evangelism inspires me to this day. She was very involved in the Christian Women’s Club. She was known for her ability to train speakers to give their testimony. She was good. She was very good. Mom and I had our battles, both theological and personal. She was an Arminian who could not stand the Calvinist conversation. She would get so angry with me for believing the way I do about unconditional election. She just could not see a reason why we should evangelize if unconditional election were true.
We had some “knock down drag outs” (as she would call them) over Sunday breakfast at the Patton household over this issue. I was a wayward son, and the tears she shed trying to control me are in my own eyes now as I think of what I must have put her through. Yet she was always there for me. She paid for the wedding ring I got Kristie, even though she was not too pleased I was getting married. She picked up the bills I could not pay during seminary, even though I was a Calvinist! She encouraged me every day, even though much of her encouragement was discouraging. She just said what was on her mind. She used to say to me, “Son, you are a good teacher, but you are not a good pastor.” This hurt and frustrated me to no end (even though there is a lot of truth to it). Oftentimes, our relationship came down to two people who loved each other very much, but were both strong willed.
I loved my mom very deeply but I was always in trouble with her. Always! Most of the time I did not know why. While a pastor at Stonebriar, I tried to make sure I talked to her every day. However, if I missed a day, somehow this translated as I did not really love her. I could never understand. I did not get it. I suppose it is just women. But I was learning to “handle” her. When she was mad at me and gave me the guilt trip for my “lack of concern” about her, I would just share my problems. “I am so sorry mom. Kristie and I are just having problems, I can’t figure out how to handle this issue at work, and Katelynn has been so hard lately.” At this point she would crumble to my manipulation and swoop in as the savior. “What can I do?” or “Here is what you need to do…” was always her answer as she forgot that she was mad at me. I was getting good at it. Then 2006 came.
On February 18, 2006, a couple of months before my mother’s 57th birthday, I got a call from my sister. “Michael,” said her distressed voice, when I answered the phone with a bite of cereal in my mouth. “Something has happened to mom.”
Today, I am sitting in a little office nook writing this from my parents’ house. Mom is here. She is within hearing distance, in her normal place in front of a 60″ screen watching Runaway Bride (a show she watches over and over). She switches between the couch (where she has to sleep) to an electronic reclining leather chair. I sit with her often, but can’t stand to watch those movies that many times. I have been living with my parents for the last few weeks and Kristie, my wife, is at home with our four kids about six miles away. I am here because I am the only one who can lift mom. She can’t move, talk, eat, or go to the bathroom. Well, let me restate that. Mom had an aneurysm and a stroke in 2006, and she lost 60 percent of her mobility (paralyzed on her left side), about 60 percent of her vision, and 99 percent of her verbal communication. We have to change her “diaper” and feed her. She is completely dependent on others. Someone has to be with her at all times to adjust her, change her movie, feed her, or put her in her wheelchair and take her on an adventure.
Her only good leg was broken in a car accident a couple of months ago. Now she cannot even help when she needs to be changed. Not only does she urinate in her chair, she often has bowel movements without mention. I have to be here because she needs to be deadlifted in order to be cleaned and changed. She has gained about seventy pounds since 2006, and I am the only one in the family strong enough to lift her. I have to give her a bath which was some tough ice for me to break personally (still working on this one).
She has drastically changed in appearance. We don’t really know how much she understands. She is certainly a different mom. I often laugh and jest with her and other family members, “Well, at least she is never mad at me anymore.” Indeed, this is a different mom. She is my second mom. She is kind, gentle, fun, and can laugh. But her mentality, in so many ways, is like that of a child. In 2006, a good portion of her frontal lobe was removed. The doctor who performed the surgery said hers was the worst ruptured aneurysm he had seen in 35 years. She had many strokes following the surgery due to the blood on her brain. This took away much of whatever was left after the aneurysm.
When we were introduced to the “new” mom, we had no idea she was new. Our hopes were that after her 9 months of recovery in the hospital and at rehab in Arkansas, she would have changed very little. We hoped she could just get back to business as usual. But as months turned into years, we began to discover that God had, from our perspective, taken our mom and given us back someone different. Her long term memory seems to be mostly intact. She seems to be very lucid regarding past events. So the hard drive works pretty well. It is the RAM and the operating system that are different. What I mean by this is that she does not seem to function in the same ways. For one, all she wants to do is watch Richard Gere movies. She continually calls on us to take her to Quail Creek, the neighborhood we grew up in. When she knows we are going, she gets dramatically excited and slaps her knee over and over. She can get mad at us but (thankfully) she forgets why she was mad after about ten minutes. Her speech is filled only with a few words and phrases. “You consider all things,” “Those were the days, my friend,” “Woo Woo!” “Hey hey,” and “Richard Gere” make up most of her vocabulary. We have to interpret these phrases based on the situation. Little has changed over the last six years.
I have a new mom. This mom loves everyone. Her personality is very kind and gracious. She hugs everyone. She is never mad at me. She is so appreciative of the smallest things. And she is content to sit in a chair and watch movies. While there are glimmers of the old mom, the reality is that my old mom died on Feb. 18, 2006 and we were robbed of our bereavement. Mourning delayed has turned into mourning denied.
Today, I have a dilemma. I love and miss my old mom. She was our rock. I miss her smile, her tenaciousness, her inspiration, her wisdom, and even her stubbornness. I look forward to seeing her again at the resurrection. Yet I am confused. What happens to my new mom at the resurrection? I love this new mom. There is so much about her that I would miss were she taken from us. Were she to die, I would finally be able to mourn my old mom, but I would also mourn this new mom. They are both so loved yet so different. Oh, how this affects my understanding of death, the soul, the afterlife, and my understanding of personhood. I guess what I wonder most these days is Which mom will I have in the resurrection?