In September 2000 I was a 33 year old mom to 3 young boys. My grandma, pictured here with my mom, died after 2 weeks of an acute illness. She was the woman who knew me best; the person who prayed for me every day without fail. My heart was shattered. Exactly a month later my mom had a stroke that disabled her so severely we moved her 400 miles away from her home because she could no longer live alone. I found myself in what is called the “Sandwich Generation” (definition: a generation of people, typically in their thirties or forties, responsible for bringing up their own children, while caring for their aging parents.)
Prior to this, my mom and I had done the difficult work of fixing our broken relationship. She went through her own faith journey and submitted her life to Christ on a Walk to Emmaus in 1997. I had wrestled with God over my issues of unforgiveness and we slowly began to move beyond our past towards a sweeter future.
We had 3 great years together, free of strain and conflict, before the stroke resulted in Jacquin and I taking care of her. When the shock of her brain injury and grandma’s death wore off, and the reality of the personal cost to our family set in, I was left with a lot of anger, frustration and resentment. Once again, we were taking care of mom, only this time without my grandma’s support. Her behavior and personality changed, making it difficult to have a mother/daughter relationship. I convinced myself she was making a withdrawal in the “emotional love bank” that she really hadn’t deposited very much into. The dusty memories of taking care of a drunken mother returned and with those memories came a flood of negative emotions.
One exhausting night, as I held my sleeping baby, God began to break through my grief, heartache, selfishness and judgement. I had been telling Him how I didn’t remember my mom loving me the way I loved the baby I was holding. I told him how I knew my grandma had really loved me selflessly, and that if it was her I was being asked to care for I’d be delighted to do it. “But my mom? Her? Really Lord? How can I possibly do this? I’d rather be caring for grandma!” How could He ask me to take care of the woman who I felt I was an inconvenience to most of my childhood?
What I write here is the heart conversation He and I had that night. It was not an audible conversation, it was a rush of knowledge and emotion that the Holy Spirit planted into my heart. I’m attaching conversational words to it, so you can get a picture of what it was about:
Do you see this baby you’re holding? Imagine this baby someday being an adult who is frail and can’t take care of himself anymore. And imagine that you don’t get to be the one who will be here to take care of him when he needs it most, left to rely on someone else for everything. How would you want him to be treated? What kind of compassion do you hope your elderly son will get from their own child when you’re not here to love them? You don’t feel like your mom made the amount of love deposits for the kind of withdrawal that’s required today. You’re telling me her love bank is overdrawn. But her mother, your beloved grandma, made more than enough deposits to cover
that. So, instead of you taking care of your mom, I’m asking you to do your best to take care of your grandma’s baby, the one she’s not here to take care of herself.
God knew what would work for me to get the message. It was gentle, but direct. On the heels of her death, I could relate to having an opportunity to make my grandma proud and do one more thing for her. I would like to say that after this moment of exhortation from God I was the perfect daughter to a disabled mom, but that’s far from my truth. I can’t even say “I did the best I could”. I can say things improved with my shift of focus.
In the following years, as my marriage fell apart and I became a single mother, I found myself much more compassionate to the difficulty of parenting alone and my judgmental spirit took a back seat to reality. I understood the blessing mom gave me by allowing me time with my grandparents, because I longed for my own kids to have grandparents in their life that would sweep in and clean up the mess their parents made. I realized my kids weren’t an inconvenience, as I had mistakenly felt I was to my mom. In contrast, I just didn’t have anything left to give them and would have welcomed someone else stepping in to give me a break. Mom shared with me how painful it was to watch my affections and loyalty transfer to my grandma, but she felt she was in no shape to guide me morally and spiritually herself.
She felt the best thing she could do was give me access to Jesus, through my grandparents.
In the last few months of her life, she lost most of her ability to communicate. In contrast, I did not. For weeks I sat at her bedside telling her how sorry I was that I hadn’t been more understanding. I finally realized that my biggest regrets in our relationship were not the detailed offenses I believed she had committed against me, the ones I had once recorded in my mind and repeated often with my lips. My biggest regret, at her bedside vigil, was that I didn’t have the grace to allow her to be human, to make mistakes as a mom. In my immature, early years, I expected her to be perfect and have all the “right” and godly answers. Now, I sat wishing I could go back to my 20-30 something self and tell her she should back off trying to fix the woman in front of me and focus more on what was right and wonderful about her.
This past May, just 10 weeks before mom passed away, I went to the nursing home to check on her after I got my own kids settled for the evening. I chatted with her for a few minutes before embarking on our routine- I sang a few songs, read our devotional and said prayers. Because she was unable to pray out loud for herself, I tried to remember to pray for all the things she did when she could talk. As I tucked her fluffy, blue blanket up under her chin and kissed her goodnight on the forehead she whispered, “You’re a good mother.” At first I thought she was talking about me mothering my own kids. The look on her face told me that she was thanking me for mothering her, as her own mother would have done, had she been given the gift to be there.
In that moment I remembered my conversation with God 15 years ago. And that’s when I knew I could love her with more authenticity in her final days. My heart bank was full, it had plenty of reserves from the many years we’d had together post-stroke. I matured and came to appreciate her for who she was and what she could do: telling me I looked pretty every time I saw her, scratching my back with her one good hand, giving Bingo games all her concentration to collect trinkets from the gift store for the grandkids, listening with understanding to my single-mom woes, praying for her children and grandchildren. God, in His sweet wisdom, allowed me a few months with my mom when we weren’t arguing, and He made it more fulfilling than it was a burden. Our relationship started well, the middle was very messy, but it ended more beautifully than I could have hoped. Only a very big God can do what the selfish human heart cannot. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
When you care for your parents in their final days,
I pray you find joy in loving and nurturing them
as you would, if you could, for your own child.
~God’s Joy, Michelle Deavenport