Walgreens, McRaes, Dillards Oh My!

My mother loved a store. It brought joy to her heart just to be in one. I’m not talking about the hardware store, but the standard department stores and drug stores. I’m not sure where this love for the store came into play since my mother grew up in the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home. It possibly originated back to her single days living in Atlanta, GA, when she worked and had some disposable income for the first time in her life. Perhaps she was introduced to the place of variety and convenience after she left the home at the age of 20. Whatever the reason, just entering a store, it seemed her brain would be like popcorn, full of ideas popping up. She would think of someone who needed something, whether they did or not. And then there was always a reason to buy another tube of lipstick, and she walked out with a fresh pack of juicy fruit gum or candy of some sort every time.

Back in her single days, some of the best stores in and around the Atlanta area were Woolworth’s and Rich’s. All through our growing up years, her excitement over a store was in the background of my memories. I think mother felt like going to the store could make everything better. Once we moved to Mississippi, she enjoyed McRaes, and it was a big disappointment when McRaes eventually closed.

One year near Christmas, I took my mother to a Walgreen‘s near her assisted living. I knew it would be challenging, but I thought giving her this joy was worth any challenge. By this time, my mother’s short-term memory was failing. Repetitive questions and conversation were how this manifested. In addition, her hearing and sight were quite limited, making her perception of her environment closed off and inaccurate.

 I arrived at my mother’s apartment and informed her we would soon leave, and while we were out, we’d go to Walgreen’s so she could Christmas shop. Her excitement showed as she said, “Oh boy,” and I assisted her in getting ready. She cheerfully shattered like a child. We soon walked the long halls slowly until we signed out and exited to the parking lot. She was happy as a bird in a newly blossomed tree. Hearing her chatter so joyfully pierced my heart every time. It made me sad for her to be this happy over a trip to a store. But her world was small now, her independence virtually gone. I had to focus on her joy.

Typically, on an outing, I’d take her to the Taco Bell drive-through and over to a duck pond where we’d sit in the car to eat and watch the ducks. On this day, after this, we went to Walgreens. I hurried around to open her car door and took the few minutes it would take to help her from the car, get her stabilized, to begin the first steps. Inside, a shopping cart gave her stability. The beautiful decorations of the season and the vastness of the store overwhelmed her. We took it slow as we strolled looking, and she was mesmerized by the inventory before her. I planned to purchase whatever she wanted, whether it made sense to me or not. As I assisted her, she would be captured with each item, almost as if she’d never seen it before. She selected each item and soon forget what she placed in the cart. We moved slowly, only making it through a couple of aisles before she was getting tired. I knew her energy would fail before her desire to leave, so I decided to leave her holding on to the cart near a place she could stand looking. Then I scurried around looking for a thing or two she’d mentioned. Quickly I found the items and turned the corner to be with her again. It was then I saw a frozen look of despair on her face. I gently approached her and hugged her. She leaned into my hug as she mentioned the beauty she was seeing. Did she have a few memories from days gone by? Maybe she realized how little this activity ever happens anymore. Perhaps she was happy to be in a store at Christmas. Whatever she was thinking, I distracted her, and her emotions transitioned back to the delight she’d had moments before.

Back in the car, and as I was backing out of the lot, my mother broke my heart in two when she said, “Valerie, you’re not taking me back, are you?” She asked me this every time I’d take her out, and she would become aware of the routine, the sense of conclusion to an outing, and heading back to a place that would separate us. This time, I prayed as tears filled my eyes, and I said, “No, mama, we’re going to look at the decorations in this neighborhood.” I acted like this was planned, but I could tell she perceived the area and knew it was near where she lived. Even as she understood she was on her way back to where she lived, she tried to be a trooper as we drove around the streets looking at the decorations.

This is the plight of watching parents age. Some parents are more alert than others and have different personalities. My mother just wanted to be with her family. It wasn’t possible, and she never understood why. Up to her death, she could come up with scenarios of how she could come live with any one of her children. Her short-term memory kept her from keeping facts in her head, and it was pitiful and heartbreaking.

When there was no struggle like this, the visit could be pure joy. Singing hymns together, reading her a children’s storybook, producing a video on the iPhone, a ride out of the assisted living, coloring pictures, eating a peanut butter sandwich with a real coke. These visits deposited some excellent memories for me.

I’m thankful mama is living her most perfect life now. No more struggle with how she wished things could be. I can only imagine that although she was grateful for her childhood in a Christian institution, she had an ideal life she lived inside her head, and only sometimes did life here match up with that scenario. But that is no longer the case. She is well and whole, and I know she is content and entirely at peace with life with Jesus, every longing fulfilled, and every unspoken hurt defeated. I’m thankful my mother is in heaven worshiping Jesus. I pray she is playing her violin and visiting with some wonderful friends she met in Atlanta who helped her see she needed a Savior to forgive her. Hopefully, there is a store, and if there is, she is buying things for everyone and a little something for herself, because as I said, my mother loved a store.

But if my mother could speak now, she would want every person reading about her to know Jesus. He’s the One who purchased her life on the cross, paid her sin debt, and made her able to be with Him when she died. She would want you to know Him. If you want to know Him, Click or tap on this safe link and learn how you can.