We moved Bernice into assisted living over Memorial Day weekend. In many ways, it has been more of a relief for David and I, and as the weekend progressed and we balanced moving with her care, we were positive that we made the right decision. It was time, she needed more than we could offer, and, I think, she was ready for it. She has done surprisingly well so far. David went back to Atlanta, and I stayed behind, boxing up and sorting through her things.
At first, I was a woman on a mission, I had to make this house livable as quickly as possible. I boxed up and threw out things she had accumulated over the years, things that David assured me had no sentimental value. And then I moved further into the house. I spent a full day cleaning and sorting through one of the bedrooms. Discovering family heirlooms, Bibles from the 1950s, and other family keepsakes. I began to understand the order in which she had originally set up the room and began to understand her.
I looked through a Bible she had been given for her 33rd birthday, and read a note she had penned inside. I found her daughter’s things, items that Bernice had kept after Ayme had died. And I understood, I understood why these things, things that would mean nothing to others, were stowed away. And I set Ayme’s things aside for David and I to keep with us.
I noticed how she lovingly cherished her children’s things. And how “Mama” had become a name she had adored. As the night wound on, I reached the closet and found boxes of her husbands things. She had lovingly boxed up his things, his notes, his favorite books, favorite shoes, and had written loving notes about the items. And I understood. I understood that she had lost a man she loved dearly, that she had cherished his things because they were apart of him, but I also understood, that she was still young when he died, and needed to move on with her life.
It almost felt like it was her goodbye to him. To box up his things and tuck them away. Almost like her own private memorial for him. And I understood. I understood her in that moment.
I’ve moved on to other rooms, and I have found more of her personal things. As I sat next to a bookcase, pulling book, after book, after book, off the shelf and into the “sell” stack. I noticed an author that I had loved when I was a girl. Bernice had two shelves filled with books from Janette Oke. And I sat there for a long while, recalling my own memories, and, for the first time, grieving Bernice.
I’ve mentioned before that I have never known Bernice outside of dementia. In many ways, our relationship has been very strange. And very hard for me. I want to know this woman that David adores, but the woman he knows, isn’t the woman I know. And grieving her has felt more like grieving a stranger than a relative or friend. But as I flipped through her things and sorted her items, doing my best to be respectful of the family, I found myself, finally, getting to know Bernice.
I realized that her and I were very similar, that I would have also adored her. Her faith, her kindness, the love she showed for her family, it is all to be admired, and I finally had a glimpse of that. I found that I would have also adored Ayme, and mourned Ayme, and I found that I understood Bernice so much better because of our shared experience.
I have found myself wishing I was older, that I had come into the world earlier, maybe then I could have known her. Better yet, to have been loved by her as she has loved her own children. And maybe that is what I will grieve, the relationship we never had. The friendship we never had. The loss of a mother I could have had.
I hold onto the hope, as does she, that we will all be reunited through Christ. And I know that in many ways she is ready to move on, to be reunited with her own family, and I understand. I may never know her in this life, know her love, or friendship, but I do hold onto the hope that, one day, we will all be a family together and very good friends.