At the end, the Alzheimer’s had left his mother a lost, old woman who would sit all day in her geriatric chair staring off into the distance. He would visit her at the church home and sit by her side, trying his best to lure the old light back into her eyes, hoping to see for just a moment the spark of recognition that would sometimes reappear out of the blue.
On their last day together she was particularly feeble, and the afternoon had been long with silence. He had turned sadly to leave when he felt her hand reach for his. When he looked back into her eyes, they were soft and alive, and he could see that his mother recognized him. He felt her hand tighten around his. She leaned close and said, in words just above a whisper, “There was a woman in the check-out line who thought you were the most beautiful baby.”
That was all. Soon her eyes went dull, and there was no elaboration, and he knew that none would come. The next morning, the call came from the home, and they told him that his mother had died in the night.
In the years that followed he thought often about his mother’s last words to him and about the woman in the check-out line. She was in his thoughts when he wrote, “Sometimes the most lasting memory is of the smallest kindness,” and again, “There is no effect more disproportionate to its cause than the pleasure bestowed by a small compliment.”
There was a woman once who took a moment to compliment a young mother on her baby. Did she ever think again of her kind gesture? Did she imagine that her words would be carried in another person’s memory for a lifetime? Did she guess that fifty years later, a dying old woman, searching her crippled memory for words to console a grieving son, would say to him, “There was a woman in the check-out line who thought you were the most beautiful baby.”
~~ Robert Brault