“I came down from heaven and I danced on earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth.”*
MY FATHER DIED ABOUT 33 YEARS AGO. He and my mother were dancing when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died mid-dance. The song “Lord of the Dance” no doubt contributed to the comforting image I had of Dad dancing his way into heaven. Even though the family knew Dad had some heart problems, his death shocked us.
The same was not so with my mother. My mother died in December 2010. A once vivacious and loving woman, Mom slowly became less and less of herself due to dementia. More than 10 years before her death, my brothers and I noticed Mom becoming more forgetful. She’d repeat herself two or three times in a simple phone call.
When she moved from the family home where she’d lived for more than 40 years into a retirement community apartment, she became disoriented, unable to easily find her belongings. After a bill or two went unpaid, I took over her finances. When she forgot my birthday in 2006, there was no denying the illness was progressing. Later that year, following a difficult hospitalization with pancreatitis and gallbladder removal, Mom spiraled downward.
By the fall of 2006, Mom didn’t recognize herself in photos, didn’t know that my father had died, and thought that my husband was my “gentleman friend.” By the spring of 2007, when a great-grandson was born, she could comment about the baby’s hands and feet but called him by my oldest brother’s name. She would continue to recognize me for another year or so but soon called me by the name of a favorite cousin of hers. She became less and less verbal.
Vivacious and loving life
I was with Mom during the final moments before she died. I held her hand and told her again her own history. Born in Cloverport, Tennessee, her Southern Baptist upbringing, graduation from Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., marriage during WWII, raising her family, serving as church secretary, births of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I reminded her of her vivacious and loving life before dementia robbed her of so much. I told her of her children’s great love for her, even as she breathed her last breath.
Every visit I made since the summer of 2006 brought with it a measure of heartbreak and sorrow as the mother I knew slowly slipped away. I mourned her passing bit by bit in her last years. So, at her death, the mourning was nearly completed rather than just beginning, as it was in my father’s death.
A dance image comforts me. I imagine Dad was waiting for Mom, welcoming her to the other side of God’s commonwealth, where they finished the dance that was interrupted so many years ago, a dance that continues now for all time.
Linda Post Bushkofsky, executive director of Women of the ELCA, is the daughter of Richard W. and Printa Bernice Johnson Post. This post first ran in December 2010. Dates have been updated.
*Lord of the Dance lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group; Songwriter: Ronan Hardiman