From the time I was a youngster, I think I’ve always known I would be the one someday sitting and pondering how to best help my aging parents. God blessed me with a mix of compassion, loyalty, organization skills and as I grew older, achievement of a degree in the medical field. Caring for parents came with a big mixed bag of emotions and unending daily changes of schedule. About a year ago, my Dad signed a bunch of checks and said, “I think I’m done with the paperwork.” If it helped him, taking that tedious task from him was no problem. Keeping meticulous records is a built in trait for me. As I watched my parents aging through the years, they seemed to remain so capable of independence, until one day they weren’t. It is sad to see that stripped away as I watch the circle of life come back around.
Just a month and a half ago, my 90-year-old father was celebrating Christmas with us. As I reflect now, would I have done anything different, had I known it was his last Christmas celebration with us on this earth? Would I have made it a point to be by his side the whole time, trying to commit the entire event to memory. Might I have doubled the amount of photos I took? How many times would I have told him how much I loved him? It is my belief there is a reason God doesn’t reveal times and dates of death to us beforehand. We should live every day as if it our last or the last day on earth of our loved one. Love covers it all and leaves no regrets. This parallels the Lord’s teaching of the need for us to be ready for His return someday. We should be ready every second of every day, not just when we think about it.
For my Dad, his decline happened so fast. We saw a slow decline for months but one day, it accelerated as if a Mercedes Benz on the autobahn. We had a wonderful home health nurse who saw and assessed Dad each week for almost 2 years and I remember just a few months prior to that telling her, we would have to rely on her to let us know when hospice was appropriate. Her words back, “I will Honey – it won’t be long.” And she was right, it was not long before he could no longer lift himself out of a chair, could walk very short distances, while suffering immense pain. We moved my parents to my house because I did not want my father to die alone, nor my mother to be alone and to keep a promise made long ago that I would never put him in a nursing home unless a danger to himself or others. With all the technology available to us today, unless dementia in a parent turns violent, there should be no reason they cannot be with their families instead of an institution. I’ve never understood why children ship their parents off to nursing homes, after all they sacrificed to raise them. Even if a child didn’t have the greatest relationships with parents growing up, it is our mandate by God to honor and show compassion, not only in the final years but at all times. I am immensely appreciative to my family for being my hands and legs during this time. Without them, I don’t believe I could have kept my promise to my dad. Family from far away can sometimes feel helpless but the support they show can mean so much when going through the experience of a dying parent.
In hindsight, the serious dementia was starting at our Christmas celebration. Dad would gaze out at everyone but not following all the activity going on. Occasionally, I would see a flicker of the Dad, I’ve always known, followed by a fleeting look of sadness. He knew. He knew, and I didn’t. I wish I would have so I could have put my arms around him to tell him all would be ok but God, being the expert over all things and knowing the number of the hairs on our head, did that for me. It is amazing to see God’s presence during a believer’s death.
I will never, for as long as I live, forget the miracle of Dad’s last communion. I watched it from the camera in the room because there was not room for all, and my big wheelchair is hard to maneuver in such tight quarters. I had been strong until I witnessed this and then the flood of tears of sorrow flowed. I watched my mother pour the tiniest drop followed by drop into my Dad’s mouth, waiting patiently for him to swallow. After communion their minister lingered for conversation with my mother and comfort for both. About 30-45 minutes after receiving the Lord’s supper, my Dad, literally woke up. No dementia, just smiles for us and joy at petting his little dog. The transformation was clearly the work of God. We had about an hour of our regular Dad back, however, little by little he slipped back to the shell of a man he had once been. Unable to talk or communicate but desiring too. After seeing that marvel of the power of the cup and bread, I now watch that video and cry tears of joy because, while I know that God is always with us, he allowed me to see a glimpse of His power and compassion. I will always be in awe when I see, feel, hear or just know all that God does for us.
My Dad stayed with us for a few more days, giving those far away, time for phone calls, even if just for Dad to hear their voices, and time for us to sit by his side. I would tell him I loved him and he would try to speak. I just squeezed his hand and told him that’s ok, he didn’t need to say it; I already knew how much he loved me. I kept assuring him that there was nothing else to worry about, I would take care of Mom and my brother would take care of all my sisters. He completed all his work on earth and when he saw Jesus’s hand, to take it. We played soothing Christian classic hymns in the background. It was in the early morning hours that God called for him. We were right there surrounding him, holding his hands for those last few breaths and I know my Dad died feeling loved, forgiven and blessed because his soul would be with God until we all receive our new bodies and reunite. For those who are followers of Christ, it is never “goodbye” but rather “see you later.”
It’s very difficult to go through the care and death of a parent where everything seems backward but yet life comes full circle. Things seem empty and void. I compartmentalize well and one box at a time, I take them out and feel the emotions inside. As I examine my boxes, I wish there were things I would have done better or different but my love for my father never wavered and where many people may see an empty rocking chair, I see a multitude of beautiful memories and a future where I will be free of my wheelchair to one day dance with my Dad in heaven.
Helping my parents age, is the greatest honor I’ve been allowed to fulfill.
Praise to God for his mercy and compassion!