Beve's been on the phone with his dad this morning. The confused elderly man lies in a hospital bed, uncertain of where he is, what he's supposed to be doing, and when he can catch a ferry back to Bremerton--the town where he grew up, became a basketball legend, but hasn't lived in almost seventy years (just so you know, it doesn't take a ferry to reach Bremerton from where Grampie lives). Beve says, "Why would you need to go to Bremerton?" "Oh, I guess I meant Spokane." Grampie's never even lived in Spokane, though I guess he's been there a few hundred times in his life. There's an urgency about his desire to leave--but he can't even understand why. Grampie's wife has been getting frantic phone calls from him as early as 3:30 in the morning. And she's almost 90, so definitely needs her sleep!
And I talked to my mom the other day, and she told me some realities about her life now. For instance, she can no longer tell time and isn't even sure what the round thing on her wrist is for, but she puts it on every morning--like clock-work--because she's been wearing a watch for oh, about 70 years. And she can't identify things by how they look. Oddly, Mom can still read, so if she reads something, she knows what it is, but show her a picture, and she's lost. For example, when she goes down to eat, and a waiter brings a tray around of breakfast choices, she has to ask--demand--him to tell her what's on the tray. He'll say, "Just look," and that does her no good. "What do you see?" I ask. "There's a yellow one and an orange one, maybe a brown one." I figure the yellow is eggs, but orange food? Maybe it's a glass of orange juice. Brown bacon? I ask, "If I say the word eggs, do you know what they look like? What color they are?" "They're eggs," she answers, a little huffy, but I'm pretty sure she doesn't have a clue.
These diminished parents of ours make my heart ache. These are very smart people, Beve's dad, my mom. Teachers, both of them. And this disease--it's unbearable. Oddly, some doctor at the hospital where Grampie has been for a week, told his wife that Grampie doesn't have Alzheimers or dementia. But Beve told her, "It doesn't matter what he says. We know." This doc comes in for a couple minutes, and Grampie's lucid. He's not the one who gets a dozen phone calls in a single hour, as I do sometimes. Doesn't hear him trying to figure things out, over and over and over--like using his cell-phone he always carries but can't answer, or get lost in his own home. I don't know why doctors are so quick to make these judgments without talking to the family. But in the end, as Beve says, it doesn't matter what they call it. It's families who have the responsibility with their elderly parents, husbands or wives, siblings. No matter where they live--Mom in an assisted living home, Grampie with his wife in a retirement complex--we have to be there to help.
It can be arduous. Grampie lives three hours, and lots of water, away from us. And the Beve will have to make that trip repeatedly this fall. I can feel it. But he wouldn't do less. He loves his dad. Would do anything for him, for both of them. And I live even farther away from my mom--7 hours drive. I mostly help on the end of the phone, but the time is coming, and perhaps now is, when I'll have to spend more time there. Help my sister help her.
The thing is, they're our parents. They did for us, for more years than are left for us to care for them. There is no paying back to parents. Not really. My dad always said, "Pay us back by giving to your own children." And we've followed that wisdom. But now is the time we turn around, dig in for whatever this 'haul' will be with them. Help the ending of their days be graceful, dignified and full of love--even if they lose the ability to understand that love.
It's Ephesians 6 about children honoring their parents. It's John 4 about our love coming from God, extending to each other. Whether the parent has been the best dad in the world, as Beve believes about his father, or an always difficult one, like my mom, we love them as we love Christ. In giving, and doing, and sacrificing our lives for them, we give a sacrifice of praise to God. No matter how hard it is, no matter what they become--how far from their 'real' selves they already are. Love is from God, and he who loves is born of God, and knows God. The end.