It was Christmas morning in the sick house. I’d been ill for days with no relief in sight and it looked like Mike had come down with this virus from hell as well. Dad was moved to memory care and was not doing well and I’d yet to go over to visit. We had to clear out the old apartment within a month but I could barely get out of bed. I did not send out Christmas cards, I did not finish my Christmas shopping, I had not made any meal preparations, and frankly had no desire to eat. I was watching the Nutcracker the night before and thought of calling my mother-in-law to tell her it was on when I remembered she was gone.
This was possibly the worst Christmas ever. I know for sure it was the worst one for Mike. My own mother made Christmas a nightmare until she disconnected from me for a blessed decade. Up to that point, I would go into the season wondering what sort of mayhem she would create. She never failed to disappoint.
As a result, I don’t have high expectations of the season. I don’t have children or grandchildren to lavish gifts and time on, the family I do have left is greatly diminished, and due to caregiving I have no spare time for volunteerism. The church I was attending decided to close, and even if I had a place for a Christmas Eve service (and there are plenty to choose from in this city of churches) I am too sick to participate.
These thoughts caused me to wonder if I could remember a good Christmas. I had to go back to my childhood when I was living with my grandparents. Christmas eve service at midnight and as we left each child would get a box of candy. There was always one really good piece of chocolate in that box. The night would be quiet and crisp and the car would be warm as we drove home. This was in the days before car seats and I could lie stretched out on the back seat looking up at the stars as Grandpa drove.
The next morning the tree was up and presents were under it. Grandma had been baking Christmas cookies for weeks and now we could have as many as we wanted. The house was filled with the aroma of food cooking. Mom had driven in from Detroit and we were all together. Grandma kept things on an even keel, but once she was diagnosed with cancer, things went downhill and Christmas was never the same.
This virus that I’ve been railing against is actually a gift. It’s made me stop to consider where I am in life. I’m coming toward the finish line. Who knows how many years we have, but I’m definitely past the half way mark. My mother-in-law is gone, and I suspect my father-in-law will die of a broken heart. He’s 95 with Alzheimer’s and can’t find his wife. My time as a caregiver is drawing to an end for now. It is time to plan on making good memories.
Happy New Year.
While we are in the midst of grieving for the loss of my mother-in-law, of moving my father-in-law to memory care, and of fighting off a ferocious virus, I've asked Liz Klas to write a guest post. I've seen her insights on Facebook and realize she has the soul of a writer. I wish I had a blog to steer you to, but so far she hasn't started one.
Cups of Water
by Elizabeth J. Klas
“Nothing seems tiresome or painful when you are working for a Master who pays so well; who rewards even a cup of cold water given for love of Him.” ~St. Dominic Savio
A “cup of water”, of course, is not just a cup of water, coffee or lemonade. A “cup of water” is anything that refreshes or revives another: a smile, a compliment, a joke, a helping hand or a cup of water. Our days most likely abound with these “cups of water”. We need to notice them, name them celebrate them. Why? Because the Lord does.
A "cup of water", a seemingly insignificant act of kindness offered in His name will not only be noticed by the King of Kings, but please Him enough to be rewarded. Ridiculous! Wonderful.
Notice it. Whether offered by you or by another, notice it; don't let it slip by. It is not just a “cup of water”; it is an act of kindness in which one person takes the time to consider the needs of another above their own. This pleases Him.
Name it. Your boss may be too busy to notice the cup of coffee you bring him every morning. He may be angry because you didn't add enough cream. Or perhaps he put your name in for employee of the month. His response matters little. Jesus names it a "cup of water", a chance taken to esteem and value another person as much as He does. This pleases Him.
Celebrate it. Every “cup of water”, whatever form it takes, is an opportunity to revive, refresh and love. “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed*”. This perspective suddenly transforms mundane tasks into purposeful opportunities. We feel energized, invigorated and thankful. This pleases Him.
Certainly some "cups of water" will be overlooked, taken advantage of or even misunderstood. This matters little because we know that Jesus acknowledges them as opportunities taken to demonstrate our love for Him, opportunities to do good and to please Him. So, notice them, name them, then celebrate them because “nothing seems tiresome or painful when you are working for a Master who pays so well; who rewards even a cup of cold water given for love of Him.”
*Mark 9:41, Mat 10:42; Prov. 11:25
There’s an expression I recall from the Old Testament. “And when he was full of years, he was gathered to his fathers.” It is such a poetic expression of death. I love the imagery of it. Being gathered into the arms of those who have loved you and gone on before. I find it beautiful.
Mom Kemper was full of years. Ninety five and a half, to be exact. Now she has been gathered to her mothers and fathers. She had a very smooth transition at home in her bed with her husband of seventy three years holding her hand, her son stroking her hair, and her daughter-in-law reading psalms sitting next to her. We were so blessed to be together as she passed.
We are deeply grieving. Dad doesn’t remember the experience and finds out over and over again, grieving anew each time. He calls in the middle of the night to tell us Mother has gone somewhere and do we know when she'll be back. It is heartbreaking.
Because of all a death entails with the addition of caring for a grieving dementia patient, this blog will be on hiatus. Prayers are always appreciated.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.