The frail hands lay soft upon the pillow, her thin body curled on her side. Her light breathing told me she was still with us. The pain medication for the rheumatoid arthritis kept her sleeping around the clock. She woke only for tiny meals and more pain relief. She had good blood pressure, never needed medicine, and always enjoyed herbal supplements. How long does it take a strong heart to die, an even stronger will to give in?
As a teenager, I couldn’t watch with my dad the two years it took cancer to eat away his life. I rarely ventured into his bedroom, couldn’t take him lunch, wouldn’t rub his feet. His sick room horrified me. Now fifty years later I have another chance. I am in uncharted territory with my elderly mom. Am I caring for her well enough? Is it enough to bring her lunch every day? Will she fall before I come back tomorrow? Does she need a home health-care nurse or a nursing home, or will she die quietly in her bed?
Mom’s faith in Christ is strong, but she isn’t a saint. Though she prayed for her grandchildren through the decades, she alienated her children, using her strong will to dictate how we should believe. Now I found myself forgiving her as she walked bowed and feeble to the table. Struggling in family relations, never feeling as if I belonged, I struggle, too, in relationship with God. I don’t pray like I used to. The last two decades, devotions absent, I have groaned my way through each day, each year. Why can’t I get it right? I stumble toward the Celestial City.
God’s job is Eternal Father, strong to save, as the Navy hymn declares. My job is to listen when Jesus reaches down to me and the Holy Spirit whispers, “I’m here.” Sometimes I must cling to the rock with my fingertips while the storm lashes me over and over. Watching my parent die feels like this. Her aged body is doing the next thing—shutting down. I feel inadequate, and in fact, am helpless. I need God more than ever to help me be more gracious in my late middle age. It takes courage to learn to be a caregiving daughter.
Faith also takes courage. I bow from strain and bend my heart. These are hard and holy lessons.
God holds us when He’s silent. He holds our loved ones, too. Help me ask for nothing but guidance. Help me hear Your whisper of what to do next. Help me navigate these scary waters of old age.
And so, I go with token lunch in hand and sit by mom’s bedside. The daughter now the parent. Mom is willing to go forward into the unknown because her Father knows the way through, knows the way home.
“In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me Ps. 120:1.”