I’ve had the unfortunate privilege of watching my mom and aunt care for my granddaddy for the past few years. He has dementia and it is progressively getting worse.
Last week, I was sitting with him and he was more confused than usual. If there is a usual. They had instructed me to keep him in his chair, as he had recently taken a fall and was in pain from a compression fracture. Suddenly, he informed me that he was going go to his room to lie down and take a nap.
‘A nap? Granddaddy, you don’t normally take naps.’ (Because if you get up and down too much you could fall, because if you sleep now you won’t sleep later, because mom told me to make sure you stay comfortably in your chair!)
‘Well, I appreciate your concern,’ he giggled, ‘but I’m not foolish about these things. If I want to lie down, I can lie down.’ Shaking his head in disbelief at my suggestion of what to do, or not to do.
The paradox of respecting my elders and obeying my mom perplexed me, so I did not respond. How could I respond? He’s the wisest man I know, and now he thinks I think him foolish!
He made his way to his room. I followed closely. He looked annoyed. He sat on the edge of his bed. I sat beside him. There we sat, me and the wisest man I know, on the edge of his bed, both feeling helpless. In fact, I was feeling a lot of things. I was feeling anxious about his safety, grateful for the time with him, angry that we couldn’t just talk, frustrated that I couldn’t make him understand….
So I tried to trigger a memory.
‘Granddaddy, do you know what you used to do?’
‘Every time we stayed all night here when we were little, you got up very early in the morning and made us sausage biscuits for all six grandbuddies. Sometimes we would put Karo syrup on them too.’
‘Is that right? Hmm’ he smiled.
‘You know what else? You used to sing to me.’
Now, it’s family legend that I was the worst baby in the history of the world. I cried for the first year of my life. My mom, dad, and aunts still remind me of it every time we have a family function. ‘It was a shrill cry, too, remember Janice, how shrill and unsettling it was?’ they’ll say. ‘Oh, I remember’ my mom always emphatically responds.
Apparently there were 3 things that
shut me up calmed me down:
1) being held,
2) a drive in the car, and
3) my Granddaddy singing louder than my cry.
‘What did I sing?’ he said, seeming genuinely interested.
‘You don’t remember?’ I replied, acting surprised. ‘Tra-lah-lah, tweedle lee dee-dee, it gives me a thrill’ I started. ‘to wake up in the morning on the mockingbird’
‘hill’ he finished, laughing.
So there I was trying to comfort the one who first comforted me, the irony washing over me like a wave, feeling humbled by the opportunity to participate in the care of this amazing man of God. Just as he had cared for me as an infant, consoling my desperate cry.
Offering care for others is perhaps one of the greatest, most intimate gifts we can give while in relationship with one another. The touch, the concern, the approach, the responsibility, the delicacy of the entire situation is a fragile, brutal gift. As a mother, I have treasure that gift. As a granddaughter who is grieving what used to be, it is harder to accept. It hurts and heals all at the same time.
Receiving care from others is a different animal all together. The humility we must endure to receive is something I have grown to greatly admire, yet not fully comprehend. As a healthy young woman, I have only felt glimpses of the humility it must take to receive physical care from others. And yet, in those glimpses, the enormity of it was almost too overwhelming. I had a hard time with it. It seemed so unnecessary. So Foolish.
Maybe this sentiment is the reason Peter recoiled at the thought of Jesus washing his feet. The removal of pride that brings about humility is a painful process. Offering ourselves completely to Christ for the cleansing only He can provide is a painful, wonderful, necessary thing. Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me…
Extend your foot, allow it to be cleansed with Living Water.
And if He decides to use someone to care for you, let them. That someone may need to learn a lesson from your gift. You might need to learn a lesson in giving it.