Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And at the other end of the spectrum...

Joining up with Bonnie over at Faith Barista today - this week's topic: something new you're learning in your relationship with Jesus...


Life is sometimes a series of contrasts, isn't it? We loved being with our grandson Griffin this week and while we were there, I spent some time with my almost-90-year-old mom who lives about a half hour further east.

Moving from our 5-year-old's world of imaginary friends and exuberant energy to the stark realities of age on a person's body, psyche, and spirit is a bit like trying to balance on a trampoline: you're never quite sure which way to bounce. So I try to enter both worlds in a spirit of humility and openness, wondering all the while what there is to learn about life and faith and our good God in the process.

So, some reflections on my visit with my which I learn lessons both painful and poignant, am reminded of our mortality, and celebrate a long-lived faith:

My brother and I want Mom to live independently as long as she possibly can - we met together with her all day last Saturday to reassure her of this. But let me tell you - it ain't easy. She has her own apartment in a 3-stage retirement community, and Tom and I spent several hours over the weekend trying to help make her place less cluttered, more welcoming and easier to navigate.

We did this because she has lost most of her vision to macular degeneration and a lot of her hearing to the advances of time. But she's lost far more than that. Since 2005, she has lost her husband of 64 years, her youngest son and a very special grandson-in-law, someone she had known and loved all of his life. Her remaining siblings live over an hour away and are in failing health. All but one of her oldest, long-term friends are now dead.

This is all to be 'expected,' of course. The natural progression of life to death is evident to all of us. Intellectually, that is. Emotionally? I don't think so. It's one thing to 'know' it with the thinking part of yourself. It's something else entirely when you actually live it.

So I pray constantly for compassion and empathy whenever I'm with her and when I connect with her in our daily phone conversations. I ask for this grace because I too-often find myself fervently wishing that I could revert to the child role in our relationship - something which has not been true of us for many years. So, yes - I go about the work of parenting my mom - but oh! - I don't like it very much.

I miss so much of who she used to be: vivacious, earthy, welcoming, hopeful. Flashes of these traits still remain, but in recent years they have begun to fade and morph a bit, mostly because she can no longer see well and is so much more uncertain about how others are responding to her when she can't read their faces.

My mother was my spiritual role model growing up. She was far from perfect - and she would be the first one to tell you that. But...she was also far more self-aware than most women of her generation, she was voraciously hungry to grow in the Lord, she read widely and deeply and she was the best 11th grade girls' Sunday school teacher you ever saw.

Many mornings, I would struggle to get myself out of bed and out the door for school - and she would have been up for a long while, reading her Bible, tracking her prayer list, laying out next week's lesson. And of course, tending to the needs of her husband and family, for she was a very traditional homemaker.

As she tries her darnedest to live within the steadily narrowing confines of her life, she wants to make the best of what remains of her life. But she is deeply lonely and far more insecure in her old age than I would ever have guessed she might be. I admire her tenacity and her refusal to give into despair. But I worry about her a lot, I wish we lived closer, I wonder what the next year or two will bring.

So...I continue to try to find my balance on that trampoline - enjoying my younger grandkids, trying not to embarrass my older grandkids, and wondering about what comes next for my mother. Yet even in the midst of my concerns about her, I celebrate who she is in my life. I thank God daily for her - for her passion for life, her hunger for God, her great sense of humor, her creative hospitality and her love of beauty. I celebrate these things even as they are fading away with the impact of age and frailty. And I try to trust in God's goodness and timing as this particular part of our life together continues to unfold.

In the process of putting one foot in front of another on this journey of long-goodbyes, I am learning more than I sometimes wish I were about aging, dying, death and separation. But I am also learning about God's faithfulness in the midst of it all, about the value of caring friends and family, about the power of our eternal hope. As the dividing line between now and forever comes ever closer, I thank God for these gifts and I take one more step into the unseeable, unknowable tomorrows still to come.