Today was a very busy day. Along with searching for a dress for my son’s upcoming wedding and shopping for groceries, I spent several hours at a nursing/rehab facility in our town at the bedside of my sweet 91 year old mother who was there recovering after a fall at home that resulted in several broken ribs.
Mom has always lived on her own and has resisted every attempt I’ve made to get her to move in with me. I understand. She is independent, strong-willed, proud, and wary of being a burden to anyone. She has lived alone since my dad passed away 9 years ago.
I believe that by virtue of the fact she has survived several types of cancer, stroke, the death of her spouse, and over 9 decades of life, she has the right to live as she wishes. Her mind is as sharp as a tack. It is her fragile body that is failing.
We are currently looking into home health care for mom for when she is released from rehab. This is all new to us and we are praying for wisdom and direction to do what is best for her as she presses on towards a full century of living.
Mom’s life has not been easy these last few years. Her eyesight is very poor, her hearing is almost gone and she suffers from severe osteoarthritis that has her in constant pain. I feel such sadness sometimes when I see her struggling to walk with her walker or cringing in pain from a shoulder that is bone-on-bone, devoid of any cartilage. Mom is a believer and has expressed to us that she is ready to go and meet Jesus. She has questioned on more than one occasion why the Lord would choose to keep her here on this earth for so long and in such a state.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that question myself and I think I may have the answer: I think Mom has survived these 91 years partially for my benefit. God has a work to do in me that can’t happen until I am pressed to do hard things. Things I would never choose to do on my own. Things that will stretch and challenge me. Things I can only learn by taking care of this helpless human being who spent so many years taking care of me.
Another reason I believe God is allowing mom to linger here on this earth is that she has not finished her mission! Mom continues to talk to people about the Lord, to pray and read her Bible. She is an inspiration to us and many others due to her life of faithfulness and service to the Lord.
When I first began helping my mom out at home several years ago— I am ashamed to say it, but—I sometimes resented the growing list of things that had come to be my responsibility, like paying her bills, doing her shopping, changing her bed linens, driving her to endless doctor’s appointments. I saw them as a chore. An imposition. An inconvenience. Mom had been so strong and independent up until then and had never required much help from us. Now, it felt like I was spending half my life taking care of her needs. Although I have a brother in town who helps out, especially when things need fixing in her home, I knew that being her only daughter, the responsibility for mom fell largely upon me. There was no one else. I was it. That felt overwhelming at times.
As I drove to mom’s house each day I would pray, “Lord, give me patience today. Give me mercy and empathy for my mama. Help me to love her well.”
Over time, a funny thing happened. God began to change my resentment into joy and my impatience into mercy. He softened my heart and opened my eyes. He reminded me of the selfless life this beautiful woman of God had lived to make me into who I am today. Suddenly, I was helping my mom out of love rather than obligation or default.
As time went on, mom grew more and more frail—her eyesight worsening and her mobility decreasing. One day she was visiting with a friend who had come to see her and she fell, breaking several ribs. Praise the Lord her friend was there and called 911. She spent several days in the hospital and then was transferred to a rehab facility where she is making slow but steady progress.
God continues to teach me patience and grace, selflessness and empathy, as he forces me to do hard things. Yucky hard things that go along with taking care of old people. Hard things that involve putting other things—more fun things—on the back burner to sit at my mom’s bedside and keep her company. He is teaching me that love sometimes means brushing someone’s teeth or cutting up their food, combing their hair or rubbing lotion on their dry, chapped skin. As I look into her tired, misty eyes I am learning to see my sweet mama through his eyes of love.
I am thankful to God for the opportunity to love my mom in her final years as he works in my heart and life to make me more like him.
I wrote this post 5 years before my mom passed away. I had never published it. I felt led to do so now in hopes that it might help a fellow member of my generation who is taking care of elderly parents.