Mom and Dad are in their new apartment at the assisted living facility. More than an apartment, it’s a holding area for their transition from life on earth to life everlasting. And yet I talk with them about this new stage of their life as if it’s something to be celebrated, as if they’re teenagers who’ve just moved from the family home to their own long-awaited place.
It’s a struggle to remain upbeat when you know you’re lying.
I get a tiny taste of what they are experiencing when my mom calls me every morning to ask about the growing list of medical appointments for my dad—physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, skilled nursing care, urology. She can’t keep it straight. She has her own list of appointments at the Center for Brain Health—brain scans, mostly, to measure how much her brain has been eaten away by the neuritis plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s.
“The calendar is filled up again,” she says. I hear her desperate tone as she asks, “When do you think we’re going to be finished with all of this?”
“I know it’s hard,” I say.
“When we came here I didn’t think it was going to be like this.”
Neither did I. One day my dad had trouble walking and the next my siblings and I were on a rushed and desperate search for a new place where our parents could live together safely.
I have nothing to offer my mom to ease her anxiety except my presence. Eventually she won’t realize what is happening, and I guess it won’t hurt her so much. I guess that day will be a blessing.
I’m ashamed to say this: everything within me wants to escape.
Last week, I did escape. My daughter and I had planned almost a year ago to travel to Haiti on a mission trip. With everything going on, I hadn’t been able to think about the trip until 12 days ago, the day before we left, when I was forced to finally pack our bags. I didn’t want to go.
It turned out to be what I needed. In Haiti, I escaped fully from the reality of my current life of care-taking. I wasn’t in charge, so I did what I was told, and I laughed and played between assignments. The calluses I’d grown to protect, my raw emotions, began to heal from disuse.
I have been home three days. My emotions are now closer to the surface, and I find myself welling up at awkward moments—when I wait at the red light, as I drop off my children at school, while I stir the vegetables I’m sautéing for dinner.
I am selfish. Everything within me wants to escape. Not so much the experience of losing my parents as the pain of it. I want to counteract the pain with feelings of passion and comfort. If I focus on observing myself objectively, I see a grown-up woman with a lot of responsibilities who is a vulnerable little girl underneath. She is looking for someone to take over, to hold her, to rock her to sleep and tell her everything is going to be okay. She needs a mother. If there is no mother available for her, she’ll take a substitute.
The Lord gave me a verse the day I packed for our trip to Haiti. I had found it in my Bible and written it in the margin. Throughout the week in Haiti, I decorated it with color and embellishment. And still, I did not see the message there for me.
I see it now, three days into my return to reality.
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13.
Be on your guard. I see now that there is danger in vulnerability when it is offered to anything or anyone other than God. By this, I don’t mean that I cannot trust another with my vulnerable places. What I mean is that I cannot seek escape through a full schedule or a glass of wine or another human being. I must stand firm in my faith, allowing My Father to bring me the comfort I crave. I have to trust that He alone can give me what I need to keep standing in the middle of pain and agony.
I want to escape. Everything within me desires it. I crave a savior. I am grateful that my God reminds me that I already have one.