My father has Alzheimer’s. He has gone from a man who practiced law and had multiple degrees and read difficult theological material for pleasure, to a soul who needs help with basic everyday care. It is a hard thing to witness, but what has been revealed in the course of his suffering, is the depth of his marriage. My mother journeys to the home where he receives care almost every day, to sit with him at meals and assist, and brush his teeth. Some days it takes 30 minutes or more to get him to spit the tooth paste out. Most of her days spent driving to be with him for meals, and home again to manage the rest of their lives, bills, errands and appointments. Sometimes he talks. Most of the time, he is silent.
But the love is still there. Love is what keeps that place from being a place of despair. Absent people coming in to love those who are there, it would be a very sad place. It is still sad, but the sadness is bearable because people come into the home to be with those they love, to be present. Honestly, when people come, one does see everyone almost leap in their seat, some of them looking, hoping whoever is coming, is coming for them, out of love for them. Last week he celebrated his birthday, and there were lots of people who came to see a man in a wheelchair who cannot talk much, and to celebrate his life even as he is dying by pieces, to show that they would drop everything and journey to see just him for him.
It is a hard long walk, but again, it is only temporary even though it at times feels so very final. Why are we having to suffer this for our father? Why is she having to suffer this for her husband? Why is he having to suffer this at all?
Part of the answer (and it is by no means all, and it is still hard to bear), is to allow us to see in sharp relief, love in action, love in reality, how love blunts even the harshest of realities, suffering and death and redeems them. We often question God when we are reminded personally of how the whole world is fallen. It would seem amazing that we could forget such an obvious thing, when we look at the news and hear about tragedy after tragedy, horror after horror, death after death, but it hits home when it hits the heart. My father’s condition is one of forgetting, oddly enough, his disease reminds the rest of us not to forget our own mortality. Then we begin to see the weight of sin, as we understand that the singular pain we feel at watching or enduring our own suffering, is multiplied exponentially across nation and across time. We are a people in great pain, lost in the dessert, crying out “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken us?” because we cannot imagine a God who is love allowing pain to continue, because we forget all the time that God is love and He has never forsaken us, it is us that have and continue to poorly love Him.
We have to remember, God did not allow this pain to be permanent and that we are made for something more perfect than here. The great wounds of here cannot reach deeply enough into us (unless we let them) to keep us from trying each morning, to live out our lives as we would in Heaven with our words, our deeds and our thoughts. Christ came. Jesus came and taught and suffered and died that we would come to know how to live past pain, how to live fully alive and free from sin. He gave us the keys to his heart, He offers every day to unlock ours. But we need wakeup calls to shake ourselves out of our everyday stupor, to recognize that to make it to Heaven, we must be deliberate. We must be disciples. We must be willing to stand out and that means by doing the everyday with deliberate love. We must choose to take up our cross and follow Him. We are called to be people of hope and know, the awfulness is temporary, even if the suffering in the moment seems unbearable. Every day my mother chooses to drive over. Even though he forgets, she does not. Their marriage becomes more luminous to the rest of the world, until it is inescapable to see save to all who refuse to look.
In hearing about the everyday of my mother’s routine, it struck me that this is what Mother Teresa meant by doing little things with great love. Little things are often overlooked as meaningless, repetitive, tedious and sometimes unnecessary, by the world. My father would not always know if my mom did not go every day or have someone go to be with him when she cannot, but God knows the why of her going and what a gift it is. Every act of love we do in the world, is an act of defiance and of truth, revealing our ultimate goal and our ultimate reason for having been created in the first place. We were created to love, by the One who is love. Every act of love we do in the world is a bit of the bricks and mortar of Heaven revealed on Earth.
Copyright 2013 Sherry Antonetti