For four years now I have been the primary caregiver for my mom. I have worked to get her settled into her independent living apartment. I have taken her to appointments with her doctors and I have run to the pharmacy for her medicine and to Wal-Mart for the finch socks she likes to hang outside on her porch. I have sat with her many Saturday nights watching Lawrence Welk and the British comedies that she loves. I have also made many trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night when she has struggled for breathe or has fallen. I have watched as her health has continued to ebb away bit by bit.
My mother suffers from COPD brought on by a lifetime of smoking as well as severe arthritis in her back and a scarred artery attached to her heart. I do not fully understand all the complexities of her health situation but I know that all this together is something she can never really recover from and will only get worse over time.
In the past two weeks things have gotten worse.
It began with her falling. One such fall landed her in the ER with a cut on her head and the need to get staples. Not a week later she was back in the hospital due to severe pain. That hospital kept her for a few days and discharged her to a long-term health care facility. Not two days later, mom was back in the emergency room of a different hospital due to extreme pain. It is a hard thing to hear your eighty-four year old mother scream out in pain while powerless to do anything. After a series of tests it was determined that mom had some stones causing blockage in her bile duct. Due to the frailty of her health the doctors decided on a two-step process. For the first step they went in her side and inserted a valve in order to drain out the backed-up fluid. Today, for the second step they went in and dislodged the stones. This second procedure seems to have worked. Hopefully, mom will now begin to improve.
As I reflect on these recent occurrences I have realized that there are some spiritual lessons to be found within the journey of these past two weeks.
1. The beauty of the Jesus Prayer. A number of nights my mother was in severe pain. She had taken some medicine but the pain remained. As a way to ease the pain and also help her breathing we began to say the Jesus Prayer together. Breathing in we would say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…” and breathing out we would say, “…have mercy on me a sinner.” This prayer helped to ease her pain and her fear while also helping to ease her into slumber. The prayer helped to ease my own heart also. One night I continued the prayer for her in her dark room for a good while after she had drifted off. Later when the pain had intensified mom shifted the prayer to, “Thank you Jesus. I love you.” I found this shift to be very meaningful.
2. The beauty of human touch. In the moments of mom’s intense pain one thing that seemed to help ease her was human touch. Whether it was holding hands, rubbing her back or stroking her hair these simple acts brought some needed ease to mom. In the midst of her pain I noticed that mom kept reaching out to grasp the hands of others. There is a comforting power and grace in human touch.
3. The beauty of trusting God. These family emergencies never arrive at a good time. When mom entered the hospital for the second time I was scheduled to attend a national campus ministry conference for which I was part of the presenting team. It worked out that my oldest brother was able to arrange to come home for the week to stay with my mother yet I was still torn in the thought of leaving at such a time. The comment of a friend helped to ease my heart. “Your brother needs this time with your mother.” was what she said. God’s ways are not our ways and God’s Spirit moves as he so chooses. This comment helped me to realize that God is here in the very uncertainty of this situation for my mother, for me and also for my brother. It is important to let God be God and also to let God be God for others as he so chooses and as they need. Sometimes it is just not about me.
4. The beauty of Church. Throughout this experience the beauty and value of Church has been on full display. Prayers being offered from all over the diocese and around the nation … priest friends calling to offer support and visiting my mother … parishioners offering advise and support … parish nurses providing invaluable service and advice … doctors and health-care professionals who happen to be Catholic taking an extra care for mom. Church has been present throughout and has been a great witness to my brothers and I. Church is at its best in moments of pain and comfort and we have seen this.
The journey is not over but it is comforting to know that it is never walked alone and God is present.