She stayed perfectly still, watching me. Barb, who was in the same alcove with me, feeding her almost-silent Mom, watched also. Finally she asked to borrow the clippers when I was done with them. I gave her an alcohol swab to clean the clippers and she began to clip her Mom's nails. Soon Barb and I were laughing and joking about our Beauty Salon. It was wonderful to watch each one of Mom's nails take shape. I held up each of Mom's hands for her to admire as I finished, and she smiled and nodded. Somehow she understood what I was doing and why - to make her feel better about herself, to give her dignity. To give love to a helpless one who cannot speak for herself.
Each time I am with my Mom, my heart breaks. Being with her, I am entering into the mystery of why she has to suffer like this, I am suffering with her, sharing her suffering. There's no solution to any suffering. No way to explain why. All we can do is be with another.
Even a helpless Jesus didn't suffer alone. There are beautiful paintings by El Greco and Albrecht Durer, called "Throne of Mercy," showing God the Father holding a crucified Jesus on His lap, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovering near the Father's heart. The mystery of the Trinity is Three Persons, separate yet One - never acting alone. Both the Father and the Son also died in Christ to save us by their Love.
In our own lives we understand this truth: nothing can save another but love. God had to go all the way, to the extreme end of walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, to show His Love for us. By accepting our pain and sin and taking it into Himself, He transformed Death into Life. Even sin was transformed so that the power of Christ's love will overcome, in the end, all evil with Good. Even the evil of dementia.
Christ still walks through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with each of us. The power of His crucified love transcends time to be with us every day of our lives in every moment of every suffering that we undergo. Deaths, illness both physical and mental, job loss, separations, divorce - Christ walks with us.
And He invites us to suffer with Him on the cross. Somehow in some mysterious way, our sufferings and our sufferings with others, joined to His, aid in the redemption of the world. In His humanity, He could only suffer as one human being, so He invites all human beings to suffer with Him so that Christ can come to full stature - the Cosmic Risen Christ Who reconciles all and holds all things and beings together in Himself.
Crying inside, cutting my mother's fingernails, I hold all the suffering world in my heart. And I see the whole suffering world in her faded eyes. But in faith I can anticipate her glory and the world's glory. Love and suffering shared by millions will illuminate and save the world - it has already in, with, and through the crucified Christ.