Most people look forward to their trips back home. They get to visit family members, stop at restaurants where they hung out as kids, laugh and share memories. That is not the experience I have when I go back home. That is also why building a strong family environment where Jesus fills the places and spaces of our daily lives is the foundation of our family’s mission.
Nevertheless, Jesus reminds us in the Fourth Commandment that as sons and daughters we are called to honor our fathers and our mothers, and I know that in doing so we are formed more closely into the person God created us to be.
I have always upheld the sanctity of life. From the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, God has a plan for each life He creates. I have been looking at this plan from so many viewpoints lately as I care for my aging and ill father. I look at life from my lens and see myself in the throes of living, of doing and going. The verbs for him are changing, and with a great deal of prayer, I am seeing life from his lens, and my heart aches.
None of us truly knows when our time here on earth will end. God numbers our days, but with my father, he is sitting, waiting and, when asked, his list of regrets is longer than an eager child’s Christmas list.
Loving someone with dementia forces you to look in the mirror and see your humanity, your strengths and then your weaknesses. You realize the wounds you carry will not be healed by the one you are caring for even though he or she may be your parent. Perhaps even without the diagnosis, they never would. There is surrender here. Not a surrender where I hold up my hands and give up, but a waving of a white flag that says, “I can’t do this on my own. I need You to lead me.” How beautiful this white flag must be to Jesus!
The parent-child relationship is changing, but the honor must not. Learning to have grace with others helps us to be merciful with ourselves, and I have a feeling a whole lot of mercy and grace will be necessary on this next part of my journey with my father.
The lens I am using right now is also pointing me toward my own children and the life we have created and continue to live. As I reflect on the activeness of my life right now, I realize that a life lived with gratitude and giving will carry through the seasons.
It is easy to let the activity cloud the necessity to stop, take time and breathe in the beauty of what is before us, what we have been given: our family gathering for dinner, children laughing and playing, deep discussions held around our kitchen island, children who seek prayer and give it abundantly to others, a home filled with love, a faith community who has supported and celebrated every milestone.
Growing up in a home that was not filled with love and where grateful hearts were not cultivated, it is painful for me to watch my father walk the path toward the end of life without this lens. Perhaps my upcoming visit is an opportunity to give him a new pair of glasses in which to see his life, for I know well the peace that flows from recognizing God’s presence in your life, even when in the midst of suffering and despair.
The journey of loving through a lifelong illness feels like you are facing an impending timer or finish line that you can’t see but must be prepared for. I think it also means choosing to see the good, to not let wounds lead your emotions but to actively choose to love through them, to let God’s mercy and love shine through each scab and scar. Caring for someone with dementia, or rather, for anyone who needs our selfless love, is another level of purification whereby we become formed more closely to the heart of Jesus.
This article first appeared at The Catholic Times.
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