by: Marilyn Helms
One of my father’s last prayers was “Dear God, we may not have the strength we want, we may not have the mind we want, but we thank you for bringing us this far.” Rob and I had the privilege of sharing our home with my dad for the last 15 months of his life, and with my mom for her last 8 years. I learned from them that the end of life’s journey, like the end of a long road trip, can be rough. Comfortable seats gain hard edges and knobs, and our stiff legs forget how to move. We become argumentative and cranky. We’re anxious to arrive but uncertain that where we’ll be tomorrow will be as good as where we were yesterday.
And It Came To Pass
At 95 my mother, Margaret, was confident her heavenly home would far surpass this earthly one. But she feared the pain and length of the process of dying. What would it be like? She found strength in remembering her mother’s favorite Bible text: “And it came to pass.” As an immigrant, her mother, Suzanna, encountered both English and Christ later in life. She sweetly read the words “and it came to pass” as a promise from God. Suzanna’s trust in God’s supreme power and unfailing love interpreted that expression to mean all hardships we encounter along our way will eventually end. They come. And they pass.
The Struggle Is Real
My grandparents raised my parents to know and follow God. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” In her old age my mother took comfort in knowing that even in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus who loved her had earlier walked that path himself and was walking beside her to lead and guide.
All that being said, watching parents age is no proverbial walk in the park. My mother’s care was complicated by dementia caused by her brain not getting enough oxygen. She could be defensive and argumentative, and I think both of us felt like we were back in 1970 with me an over-reacting 16-year-old. On good days (okay, one good day), she said, “We make a good team.” And I held on to that like my life-preserver in a rip current.
During the last years of her life, I reminded myself often of my mother’s many years of caring for me—through months of illness in third grade with measles and pneumonia, on hot car trips from Illinois to Florida when she rode twisted backwards to read books to my brother and me fussing in the back seat to save us from my dad’s fulfilling his threat: “I will pull over and stop this car.” I thought of her for decades lovingly making nearly every dress I owned, including my wedding dress. During our last years together, I re-examined those and other mileposts commemorating all the things she had done for me. I remembered her kindest self and let that define the person sitting across the breakfast table at the end of the journey.
Giving Yields Blessings
The experience of caring for my parents taught me that when God calls us to give, He is, in fact, preparing to shower us with blessings. “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). We don’t need to be afraid to pour ourselves out for others in our family, church, and community. For we have a God who honors His promises to bless abundantly as we give.
Grateful For The Journey
As hard as the last years were, I am grateful we could go through them together. Otherwise I would not have seen so clearly my father’s grateful heart or my mother’s trust in Jesus. Today when I begin to take for granted the blessings God has given or start to worry about the needs of tomorrow, I think of my parents. For none of us knows how long the journey will be. But we can all be at peace knowing it is our faithful God who has brought us this far and who will bring to pass the joyful home-going of us all.