The Last Leg



My Mom fell down yesterday. No one saw it happen, but when she winced while they were getting her dressed, they spotted the fresh bruising, all down her flank. Everyone wondered what had happened. Who knows?

I was in telephone contact with the nurse and the staff and in text contact with my son the MD. I answered all of his questions. Yes, she can bear weight. No, she was never unconscious. No, the doctor has not returned our FAX.

And so we waited it out.

I had to make some hard choices during that long night. If she broke something, would I authorize surgical treatment? No, I decided. I would not. At age 95, with only fitful eyesight, hearing and balance, and no working memory, surgery would wreak havoc with her diminishing brain cells. It would not improve either the length or the quality of her life.

So I decided. And I wept.

Today, when I went to see her, to assure myself that nothing had been broken, I carefully hugged and kissed her and said, “Oh, Mama, I am so sorry you fell down!”

“I did?” she asked, with an extremely puzzled look on her lovely face. “I have no memory of that happening.”

She was right. She has no memory. Of anything.


I remember—and still see—her beauty, her laughter, her deep commitment to her husband, her family, her faith, her church. I remember her curious intelligence, her careful reading of complicated texts, her fearlessness about asking hard questions, her care for her neighbors, her creativity in our home. I remember her simple and exquisite centerpieces when we welcomed friends to our table. I remember her early morning prayer times, bent over the Sunday school curriculum and remembering each of her students by name.

I remember so much fun! Weeks in a beachside apartment somewhere in southern California—never fancy, but sufficient for a family of five, with easy access to that great Pacific Ocean, which she loved so much. One of my favorite photographs shows her, mouth agape, face filled with wide-eyed, wonder-fear, barreling toward shore atop a boogie board.

I remember the stories of her childhood, the family’s move from British Columbia to Los Angeles when mom was barely two years old—grandparents, aunts and uncles all coming along to build new homes in the USA. She rode the streetcars all over town, or took roller skates to get to a friend’s house across the neighborhood, or hoofed it to the local movie theater for the Saturday morning matinees.

I remember how frightened she was of her father’s drunkenness and how she stood up tall as a 7-year-old and assumed the mantle of protectress and care-giver for her mother and younger siblings. I remember how she loved being dropped off at that old church downtown, and how the women there folded her in and called out her gifts. I remember how she met my father there, the skinny young man with the good mind and the fabulous skills on the piano.

I remember the stories of my birth, in a hospital in the middle of a great park in San Diego and how they proudly took me to their little home in Pacific Beach. I remember how carefully she sewed dresses for me from the time I was about four until I got married. I remember the automobile accident when I was six that could have killed us all, but her swift thinking and good reflexes turned us away from the speeding car in the nick of time.

None of these things remain in my mother’s memory. Not one piece of it. Every once in a while, she will surprise me with a name from the past, or a small detail of a story. But most of the time, there is only now—right this very minute.

Thankfully, music remains. We often sing old gospel tunes or big band songs. “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do,” “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Zippety-Do-Dah,” are current favorites.

And, best of all, her faith remains. Such strong faith. “Are you a Christian?” she asks me regularly. “Yes,” I always reply. “I am a Christian.” “I am, too,” she says, proudly, strongly, clear as a bell. “The Lord has been good, hasn’t he?”

Yes, yes, YES, Mama. The Lord has been good. He gave me to you.

Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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  1. When you write of your mama my thoughts go to mine who passed earlier this year from dementia. She was 78, unable to put together sentences of meaning for the past few years. Maybe she’d say my sister’s name. I never knew her to be a music fan but what remained was the old church songs and her faith. Those are what ignited a spark in her that brought comfort to us, and I’m sure, to her. Bless you as you sift through the memories together.

    • pastordt says:

      Wow, Debby. 78 is WAY too young for this dreadful process to happen. I am so sorry for your loss, and grateful with you for the pieces that remained. Blessings to you.

  2. Oh, these sweet, sweet memories you shared brought tears to my eyes, Diana. Indeed, what an amazing that with all your mother has forgotten, she still is profoundly aware of her faith. Truly astounding!
    Blessings to you and to your Mom!

  3. Joy Howard says:

    To be a memory-keeper, to hold family memories. . . Whoa. I am struck by the weight and the honor. You have moved into an elder position where your body, mind, & soul holds the memories of a family.

    • pastordt says:

      Well, Joy – you have put it perfectly — a weight and an honor. Thanks for your kindness and your insight.

  4. I hope when I get to this age that I will have kids that love like you do.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Brought tears to my eyes. So beautifully written.

  6. Lynn D. Morrissey says:

    Oh Diana… with every telling of your precious mama’s memories and every heartbreaking rendering of her forgetting, I hear the passion and poignancy of a devoted daughter who is both breaking and healing her heart every time she shares. What a beautiful mother she is, Diana. And what a beautiful daughter you were at four and now. I’m so sorry she fell. That is so frightening. I’m so sorry for the wincing pain. I’m glad the memory of it doesn’t linger for her, but the memory of Jesus does. And how I empathize with these difficult decisions you are making. We had to make them for my father. We always sought his wishes when he was cognizant–but there were times he wasn’t. It’s so, so hard. Sending much love, Lynn

  7. Helen Burns Helene Burns says:

    Thank you for this gift from your personal story with your Mom… it is so very heartwarming and a little heartbreaking at the same time. How blessed you are to have her in your life and how blessed she is to have you. May every moment you share with her on this side of eternity continue to fill each of your hearts with joy and peace. Much love… Helen xo

    • pastordt says:

      Yes, it is always a bit of both – heartwarming and heartbreaking. That’s what this particular journey is like. Thanks for your kind words and your love, Helene. You are so kind.

  8. pastordt says:

    Thank you, Morag.

  9. You are a beautiful witness to your mother’s story, both then and now. My husband’s grandmother exists in this same present space, and I am thankful for her kind caregiver that allows her to remain in her home of more than 50 years. May the Lord remain close to you both.

  10. Sandy Hay says:

    It’s So Sweet to Trust in Jesus just started “playing ” in my head. And you both do 💜

  11. The tenderness you hold towards your mother as you walk through this stage is beautiful.

  12. It’s a heavy weight to carry the burden of memory for another person, to be their advocate, and to keep them in your heart at all the ages they have been. You’re doing this with such joy and strength, and, as usual, I’m encouraged on my own journey because of the trail of breadcrumbs that you’ve left for me here.

  13. So tender and so beautiful, Diana. Thank you for allowing us into this story with your mom.


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