‘In the Garden’ and Mom’s final words


NOVEMBER 27, 2022 7:00 AM

My mother was the only one of her six siblings to go to college. Although she didn’t get past the second year, having married my father and then given birth to me 13 months later, she remained curious about the world, and continued to take classes as time would permit.

My father was a Presbyterian minister. He felt it was best for congregations to hear different pastors, so we moved every 5 to 6 years to another church. Mom was much loved by every congregation, adapting to moves from New Jersey to California, back to three different towns in Pennsylvania, onward to upstate New York and back to New Jersey again.

When she was in her 70s, Mom began to show signs of dementia. At first, she would laugh off something she said that didn’t sound right, but eventually, she no longer spoke. She and my father had been living in a lovely retirement home that included an Alzheimer’s unit. After she transitioned there, I would go to visit her, taking her into the all-purpose room where the piano was. I sat and and played the hymns she loved so much. Mom could no longer sing the words, but some of the other residents would gather around to sing while Mom made the sound of the melody.

Eventually, Mom did not respond at all. When she was no longer able to sit in a chair to listen to the piano, I sat by her bed and sang the hymns, one after another. One day, near the end of Mom’s life, my cousin, Mary Lou, came to sing the hymns with me. After 45 minutes, I told Mom I could see that she was getting tired, so Mary Lou and I would say goodbye. Then I said: “Mom, the last hymn we sang was one of your favorites — ‘In the Garden.’ I sang it at Aunt Ann’s funeral, and someday, I will sing it at yours.”

Mom opened her eyes, looked at me and said, “I ain’t dead yet,” and then closed them again. Mary Lou and I looked at each other, amazed at what we had heard. If Mary Lou hadn’t been there, I would have wondered if I had dreamed it all.

But it was real. Mom would never use the word “ain’t” except as a joke. It made me wonder how much was going on in her brain during all the years she was in the Alzheimer’s unit. I did sing “In the Garden” for Mom at her funeral after telling our story to the 400 people who were there. Today, I talk to her from time to time. I believe she hears me, and I know I will see her again someday.

Jacki Hunt is a wife, mother, grandmother, church musician, storyteller and real estate agent. This column is coordinated by www.learningtolivewhatsyourstory.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

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