We are now going to concentrate on Mom's later life and the Alzheimer's that she had for more than a dozen years.
One of the saddest lines in Scripture comes after Our Lord has told the Rich Young Man to sell what he has, give the money to the poor, and come follow Him — this was how the Rich Young Man was to procure heaven. The next line says of the Rich Young Man, "He went away sad".
He walked away from Our Lord sad because he had many possessions. The story of the Rich Young Man teaches us that this life is about emptying ourselves in order to find happiness. This emptying falls under the virtue of fortitude which comes in two varieties: endurance and daring. We sometimes have to sacrifice ourselves and attack an evil — empty ourselves in advancing the good. This is the fortitude of daring. But the greater of the two kinds of fortitude is endurance: when we have to suffer something inflicted upon us which we can then offer for some greater good.
Alzheimer's afficts the body and it afflicts the mind. But what I saw through time is that despite this, Mom's soul became greater. I could give many, many examples, but I am only going to give just a few.
Mom was five years into having Alzheimer's when I said to her, "Mom, you're the best mom in the world." I sort of expected Mom to say something like, "Pete, you're the best son in the world." Instead, after I said that she was the greatest mom in the world, she asked, "Who came in second?" Could there have been a greater response?
After another five years when Mom couldn't speak, couldn't eat, couldn't walk and a bunch of other couldn't's, I was talking to her about how I was sad. I told her that I was blue because all my siblings were in Virginia for the funeral of Anne's husband Warren, and I wished that I could be there with them. I expected some sign of sympathy from Mom. She turned, looked right at me, and she laughed. It was once again the perfect response. From that time on, I never felt slighted or disappointed or neglected when I couldn't go somewhere or do something. I found great contentment just being with Mom. It became my greatest joy to hear her laugh, see her smile, hold her hand and to be able to hug her a hundred times a day.