Throughout her life, my mom found great comfort in prayer. She prayed throughout the day, asking God for help with all of her problems.
When I had a problem as a teenager, she would recommend that I pray also. This did not sit well with me. I was struggling with my belief in God, and I wanted human help. When she told me to pray, I felt like she was passing the buck.
My mom also comforted herself with dreams of salvation in heaven, where she said everything would be peaceful and pleasant, and life would be eternal, as long as you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior.
This always seemed too simple and, frankly, wrong-headed to me.
“What if you’re a serial murderer?” I’d ask. “As long as you believe in Christ, you’re saved?”
“Yes,” she’d say. “But no one who believes in Christ would be a murderer.”
“What if you’re not a Christian?” I’d ask. “You won’t be saved, even if you’re a good person?”
“No,” she’d say. And then she’d look very sad.
By the time I reached my twenties, our conflict got more intense. This caused her great distress.
“I guess I won’t be seeing you in heaven,” she’d say. And then she’d cry.
Eventually, I stopped raising the issue, but she would bring it up again and again. So I finally gave in to head off this avenue of discussion.
“Of course I accept Jesus Christ as my savior,” I’d say. “And I’ll see you in heaven.”
This seemed to satisfy her, and she’d let the subject drop.
But these days, Alzheimer’s is changing everything. My mom is losing track of God, and I’m trying to help her pick up the traces.
“Did you pray today?” I ask when she’s crying on the other end of the telephone, and nothing I say can help her.
“I forgot,” she sometimes says. Other times, she says, “I can’t pray.”
“Then let’s pray together,” I say. And I go from daughter to pastor, prayer partner, spiritual advisor, as we invoke God over the telephone lines. I ask God to be with my mom, to comfort her, to let her know she’s not alone. It seems to give her some relief, but she can’t do it on her own.
And when my mom talks about death these days, it’s not about everlasting life in heaven.
“I’m going to die soon,” she says, “and I’m scared.”
“Why are you scared?” I ask.
“I don’t want to be alone,” she says.
“You won’t be alone,” I say. “You’ll be in heaven, and you’ll see your family.”
“I will?” she asks, as if she’d never spent all those decades dreaming of heaven.
“Yes,” I say. She accepts it, but she seems to have doubts.
I never thought my mom would forget about heaven. And that I’d be the one reminding her.