I've been away from email for a week and when I opened the inbox today I read of two older couples who were facing death with more faith, courage and grace than I've ever personally encountered. The thing about the following letter that I'm reproducing save for the names is that these are not sachrine sweet platitudes with no basis in reality. The walk this couple are now on has been ongoing for several years. And when I first met the man, a pastor, I thought he was of the insensitive and ignorant variety. I soon learned that his lack of socialization finesse was not indicative of his depth of character or an absence of a divine spark. He's just . . . different. And he's also wonderfully gifted at epistles that take you into their new world . . .
June 21, 2005
I’m sitting in a pretty predictable place, our sun room. It’s 16x20 and has three sides facing the mountains and pastoral views of cows, horses and our gardens. It’s a quiet place we built which has become B’s room. There’s the table and chairs, hospital bed, commode, Hoyer lift, book shelves, stereo, piano, one love seat and another overstuffed chair. B spends most of her time here. She can no longer walk or stand. Of course she is diapered and dependant on me or others for all her needs. With the lift I can lift her into the wheelchair and she takes most all her meals at the dining room table. We go out for walks in our part of the country and for the most part she ends up sleeping as she is now.
We’ve been able to get to church and worship at the grade school across the street. There gathers a group of Christians “starting a new church”. It is a mission plant by the Evangelical Free. Since we can’t get her in a car any more we are now “home bound”.
B is often confused and disoriented and knows it. She is very aware of her limitations and strange behaviors which over come her. She describes it as being in a prison. She can see herself as she was and is when all is well but also sees herself in her broken condition of body and mind.
Just a few minutes ago she brought up “how hard the road is in the ‘valley of the shadow of death’”. Indeed she prays daily to be able to go HOME and be with the Lord. She still prays for every member of the family by name and all the pastors in Montana, Idaho and Utah with Ontario and Elko thrown in. She prays for all the leaders and especially for those who are sick and on the e-mail prayer list for the American Baptist Churches of the Northwest.
She can no longer read or write. We listen often to the stereo, to my reading of inspirational material, Bible lessons and frequently she requests I play the piano or guitar while she sings recalling all the old hymns and new praise music. Another request comes about once a week, “teach me a new song”. She wants to keep learning.
I am her 23/7 caregiver. I often get a break to go for a 50 minute bike ride. In the month of May 77 hours were donated by persons from the Clearfield Community Church. For each hour given, I donate $10.00 toward a Scholarship set up in her name. It is designated toward an individual who has finished their BA/BS degree with intent to follow the call of God in ministry. Hospice provides 3 hours a week, respite care and 3 personal care visits per week. A nurse comes every week as well as a social worker and occasionally a chaplain.
Our neighbor shops for us and church families bring in meals on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. One of our close friends schedules all the visits at predetermined times of the day and week. These visits do house cleaning, construction, dishes, laundry or whatever I may have undone when they arrive. Some of the elderly come in pairs just to keep B company, while I work in the garden or mow or work around the house.
Our children visit and we’ve enjoyed the grandchildren in person and with e-pictures. There are daily family phone calls but not everyone calls every day. We receive cards, flowers and packages from loved ones around the world.
Count our blessings
Watch out for each other on this harsh journey toward death
Give witness of the goodness of God’s miracles to all who will listen
Participate in a small group which meets in our home every other Sunday evening
Laugh as much as possible
Cry until we can cry no more
Notice the flowers and beauty surrounding us
Hold up relationships of love
Sleep at the drop of a hat if possible
Tolerate and give thanks for others folding our “clothes”, working in our kitchen, cleaning every nook and cranny of our abode, changing of a diaper or getting us a drink of ice water.
We admit this letter is not “as upbeat” but it is full of praise and glory for God making all this time available to us to serve Him. Still this is hard, very hard!
The swelling in the brain continues to do its damage. Medicines are changed frequently trying to find a balance between rest and awareness.
Now is the time to recall the “Word of God hidden in our hearts”, now is the time to live letting God hold the lamp for our feet and even letting God carry us across uncharted territory beyond our comfort zone. Now is the time to rely upon the strength of God, the mercy of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the fruit given therein.
We have no questions of faith but lots of unanswered questions concerning timing, and length of journey. We have a certainty of the promises of God and are learning to “wait upon the Lord”.
Go ahead and ask. When will she die? Her body appears extremely healthy and she could live a long time. Nobody knows and neither she nor I care. We are committed to living life one moment at a time just like the last 43 years together (June 16th was our anniversary). Each moment we seek to live as “unto the Lord”. We still keep the Great Commission before us and have discovered someone has to stay close to home and not ignore our personal space to be discipled.