by Michele Morin
I heard her footsteps on the stairs one night, jolting me out of a sound sleep and into the familiar world of worry.
Step, click, pause.
The foot, the cane, the balance check.
Exhaling in the dark of my room, I realized . . . no. I had been dreaming. She wasn’t living in my home anymore.
She was walking in safety now, through hallways with sturdy rails, and assisted by M.A.s and C.N.A.s and an alphabet soup of helpers who tended to her every need.
The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done
For weeks, I rehearsed the words I would use when the day came:
“Mum, you know that it’s getting harder and more risky for you to be walking around the house. Your eyesight is getting dimmer, your balance and strength less reliable. You cry every day over the walk to the bathroom. It’s time for us to find a safer place for you with people who can care for you.”
Will this decision ever stop feeling like a thing that needs forgiveness?
When Mum passed away in May of 2017, God, in His mercy, gifted a peaceful and painless passage. In the year since then, I’m thankful that the memory of hard days and relational tension has been swallowed up in healing and forgiveness. Having made that point very clear, I will also confess that Mum’s final days were a wilderness of self-doubt, second guessing, and impossible choices.
I used to say that homeschooling my children was the hardest thing I had ever done, but then came five years of being a caregiver and:
- arguing against irrational choices (No, Mum, people with glaucoma cannot cancel their eye doctor appointments)
- attempting to meet unreasonable demands (Mum, we just had hot dogs two nights ago. I can’t feed the family hot dogs every night)
- defending boundaries and clinging to reasonable parameters of sane living (Ple-e-e-ease don’t put your fingers in the serving dishes) . . .
I thought I had identified my new “hardest thing.” I was wrong.
As hard as it had been to say yes to my mother’s request to live with us;
As exhausting as it was to insist that she make good choices and then shift gears for the same kinds of conversations with four teen and tween sons;
As discouraging as it was to clean up the same bathroom catastrophes on a daily basis—none of this compared to the process of moving her to a nursing home.
As Mum raged and refused, the paperwork process halted and jolted over ground that I thought I had already covered.
With her acquiescence came a slow smolder, and I could see that she did not believe that she was in any real danger in our home—any more than she believed me when I told her that her 3 a.m. movie marathons were waking me up.
“You can’t hear that TV through two closed doors!”
“Oh, yes, Mum. I can. Believe me, I can.”
Rebuilding the Desolate Places
At some point in that season, a friend unearthed and shared some old pictures of my family. I was in my twenties, my sister was visiting from Alaska, and my mum was just about the age I am today. She was smiling—the kind of smile that lingers after a good hard laugh. Those occasions became fewer as her days of caring for my dad came to a close. The day he died, she bundled up his worldly goods and shipped them out along with any expectation of happiness beyond the radius of her chair and the nearest television screen.
When Mum asked to come and live with us, I imagined, briefly, that somehow this would redeem our relationship; that God would use Mum’s final years as a sort of rebuilding of the desolate places that Isaiah wrote about when he predicted a way of salvation from ruin through a Messiah who said:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me
Because the LORD has anointed Me . . .
To comfort all who mourn . . .
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD,
That He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1, 2, 3
That was not to be, at least not on this planet.
Yet, since Mum’s passing, God has been at work in other ways. I have been in the process of sifting through the ashes of loss, trusting Him to reveal the beauty, to give meaning to the years of mourning.
In the wilderness of Mum’s nursing home season, I found that trusting God for “the oil of joy” helped smooth my relationships with nursing home administrators whose frequent messages felt like calls from a school principal about a naughty child.
I am continually trusting for the “garment of praise” to protect my mind from the false guilt that measured every day and every minute between visits as if I could prove myself worthy of God’s love by winning the dutiful daughter award.
Righteousness Springs Forth
On this first anniversary of my mother’s death, I am trusting for strong roots in ultimate Truth, because I know that there is a younger generation learning from my husband and me what it means to value life, and that it is possible to respect a person as a bearer of the image of God when that likeness has become obscured by anger, bitterness, and dementia.
God is always in the process of transforming my immediate and demanding “whys” into “hows” so that my most urgent plea becomes, “LORD, how can this whole experience be transformed so that you are glorified in it?” And, of course, even a year after Mum’s passing, I do not see the answer yet, but as Isaiah trusted and wrote about a salvation that he did not fully experience on this earth, I am also learning the wisdom of waiting:
“For as the earth brings forth its bud,
And the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”
Lord, let it be so.
A version of this post first appeared at Blessed but Stressed, a community of caregivers and faithful lovers of their families.
Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who blogs at Living Our Days. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. She is active in educational ministries with her local church and her writing has appeared at SheLoves Magazine, The Mudroom, (in)courage, and elsewhere. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy, finds joy in sitting around a table surrounded by women with open Bibles, and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.