“Honor your father and mother…” Exodus 20:12
My mom passed away in May of 2010 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
The struggle had been painful and difficult for her and I know that she is now in Heaven where there is no more pain and she is no longer struggling to control her movements, she’s no longer falling, and she is at peace. I wish I could say the same for myself.
Remember the story about pursuing my passion; I did take that job as a teacher and it made all the difference in the world to my son. He finished school and his anger issues, while not completely gone, are controllable.
And, he has become the man I knew he could be. I did what I needed to do to take care of him and to be sure that he was okay. But in so doing, I made choices regarding my mom that I would take back if I could.
We sold our big house with the mom room when I took that teaching job and moved her to an assisted living facility. The day we moved her I told her, “Mom, just let me get AJ taken care of and then I will concentrate all my energy on you.”
There are days I wish I’d never said that and those words still haunt me even now, four years after her death because I’m not sure I kept that promise. At least not in the way that she wanted or expected.
But, where my mom was and is concerned, I tend to ignore the voice of God I hear inside and just react. I don’t stop to pray, weigh the consequences of the action or even consider how anyone else may be affected. I just do.
That, too, resulted from a promise. This one to my dad not long before he died when he made me promise that I would take care of mom after he was gone. Seemed an easy request. He was the healthy one and she was sick. He would easily outlive her, right?
Then my dad died suddenly and I was left with this big promise to the man I adored. I couldn’t break it no matter what it meant to my husband, our relationship, our children, my career or me. And trust me, it took a toll on all those areas.
In the fall of 2006, my mom took the fall that would be the beginning of the end for her. She broke her femur completely in two and it had to be bolted back together. Because of the Parkinson’s tremors, the bone didn’t heal properly and my mom never really gained full use of her legs again. She could take short walks from room to room, but was confined to a wheelchair pretty much all of her waking hours. That fall was extremely hard on my family and on my brother who lives in Texas. He spent a good deal of time and money being in Florida to help me with mom so I could work, and a couple of times, we prepared to lose her as the doctors told us she just wasn’t doing well and that most of the problem was depression. Once again, I did what I always did when she got like this; I uprooted and changed my life so she would be taken care of.
Right before Christmas of 2006, Dave and I moved into a new house we couldn’t afford but that had plenty of room for mom and moved our married son and his wife into the house we had built for ourselves and could afford. Confusing, huh! On December 20, 2006, we moved mom into the house and into her wing complete with a bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. The perfect little apartment! And, on the day after Christmas, just as my brother was getting ready to leave to go home, she fell again. This time with all of us in the next room! That should have been an omen, but it wasn’t. I just quit my job and stayed home with her convinced that my being there would prevent anything else from happening.
Within the course of the next six months, my mom fell five more times, began hallucinating and had more urinary tract infections than I can remember. In June, 2007, our doctor told us we had to move her to a nursing home because she was too much for me to handle and if we didn’t I was going to be in worse shape than she was.
What a blow!
I had given up a career I loved, the one I had only begun 5 years earlier, had no prospects and was living in a house that was way above the means of my husband’s state worker salary. But we moved her, cashed in her savings and I went to work at the local community college as an adjunct instructor.
You may notice that during all this there is no mention of God in my words. That’s because for those months I turned my back on Him. I was angry and upset that He would allow this to happen to me. I was trying to honor my mom. I was keeping my promise to my dad and yet things just weren’t working out like I thought they would.
Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see why things weren’t working out, but in those days, weeks and months, all I could see was that I wasn’t important to God. I didn’t matter to Him and so I quit talking to Him and consequently, He quit talking to me. That’s how it works, you know. We stop talking and listening and so our Father becomes quiet too. He’s still there, and He still loves us, but He allows us to wallow in our mire until we cry out:
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” Revelation 4:8b
And when after almost two years of struggle I did that, He welcomed me yet again into His waiting arms to love me and to make right the mistakes I had humanly made. That’s not to say that there were no consequences for the actions and steps I took outside His will but I was right with my maker and that was all that mattered.
I will always be grateful for the last three years I had with my mom. I had only promised to take care of her because my daddy asked me to do so. She and I had never been close before his death but I would do anything to make him happy and this was what would make him happy. I’ve often wondered if he knew that there would come a time when I would take care of her because I wanted to not for him.
See, that’s what those last three years were. They were my chance to get to know my mom and to build a relationship with her that would protect my memories of her and would help me to move on when she was gone.
Not a day went by during this stage of her life when I didn’t see her. I either went by the nursing home in the morning on my way to work or in the afternoon on my way home and she was at my home with my family every weekend and every holiday.
My sons have precious memories of their grandmother that will stay with them forever and her presence is a constant in our home.
That my friend is a God thing.
He opened my heart to love my mom in a way I never had before and He built a bridge to her that I had never before had. His grace shone all around her during this time and despite the pain and frustration I know she felt, she never complained. She was kind to all who met her, loved those who even paid a little bit of attention to her and taught any who cared to learn by her actions that God’s grace is enough. It was for her, even on the days when she couldn’t remember my name and saw orange chickens under the bed. Even then she would tell me that she knew God was there. She read her Bible until the end of her life and she sang me church songs all the time.
What I wouldn’t give for one more day to hear her voice, to see her face, to share Saturday morning breakfast with her. Maybe I could have tried to keep her alive when she took that last fall in May 2010, but she had been begging me for weeks to let her go home and so I did.
I sat with her for 10 days in hospice while her body shut down and she finally went to be with God. Those days were so precious and I am so glad we had them. I got to know her even more during those long hours as I read her favorite book ”A Gift From the Sea” to her. It was one of those things I had never understood – her fascination with that book. But in the hours that I sat beside her and read it to her, I finally saw what she must have seen in that book and it clicked. All the ways I am like her, all the ways she inspired me to be who I am and how she loved me with Godfidence so that I would be able to be the woman He called me to be even if that wasn’t the woman she wanted me to be.
In the end I did follow God’s law and honor my mom. I miss her terribly and talk to her everyday. I also know that she imparted to me the knowledge I needed and then God took her home because that’s who He is. He gives us what we need, when we need it and then He moves us and the person or situation on.
As Anne Morrow Lindbergh says it in “Gift from the Sea”:
“A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country-dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face-to-face, now back-to-back — it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.” –
Sunset on my favorite stretch of beach