Acts of Service, Part 2 ~ Take Care of my Sheep

It’s Spring Break—a time when many families head off to sunny climates and fun-filled adventures.  With less than three months before I travel to Spain, I am staying put and working toward that goal.  But I have very vivid memories of my Spring Break trip last year.

It wasn’t exactly a fun-filled adventure. Yet it was an important next step on my journey to healing in my family relationships. I was away from home caring for my ailing father.  Considering what I went through with my mother, as mentioned in “Walking My Mother Home”, it felt like déjà vu.

CaregivingServing My Stepmother

My stepmother had been my father’s only caregiver the last few years and needed a break.  In recent months my father had significantly deteriorated, but they opted to keep him at home as long as possible.  Weeks shy of his 94th birthday, he spent most of his day in bed, used a walker to get around, his eyesight was waning, and his hearing was limited too.  Thankfully he was still pretty lucid though.

My father was a very proud man.  He didn’t want any help and fought desperately to keep his sanity and his dignity.  He was also mean-spirited at times, inconsiderate of others and had a strong need to be in control.  On top of that I was never very close to my father.  So one week of caregiving for him sounded like a recipe for disaster.

However, I had grown closer to my stepmother over the last few years and wanted her to get some time away.  She deserved it—not only because of his deterioration, but because I knew how hard my father was to live with in general.  This was my gift to her.  (My sister-in-law also made the decision easier for me by graciously offering her home to my son for the week.)

Helping HandsServing My Father

When my father woke up the morning after I arrived, my stepmother was already gone.  He knew I was coming, but nonetheless he acted surprised to hear that I was going to be his caregiver for the week—and he wasn’t happy about it.  That day was the worst.

My father’s anger surfaced right away and he said things I’m sure he later forgot he said.  (I guess that is one benefit of old age.)  It shook me up a bit—triggering the little girl in me and reminding me of how he used to scold and criticize me growing up.  Thankfully I was able to recognize what was going on inside of me and stood my ground with him.  He didn’t much like it.

It was in sharp contrast to caring for my mother.  She had suffered a major stroke and couldn’t talk.  I think that was part of the gift God gave me while caring for her.  With her schizophrenia, my previous visits were so emotional for me—never knowing what would come out of her mouth.  God had taken her voice and replaced it with eyes that spoke volumes in love and gratitude.

After the first day of butting heads and testing the water, my father started to accept my caregiver role for the week.  I knew his time was short so I embraced his storytelling a little bit more (the same ones I’d heard numerous times before).  This time though they didn’t feel the same.  My conversations were more deliberate and felt more significant.

My father and stepmother reunited at the end of the week.

My father and stepmother reunited at the end of the week.

A Change of Heart

Over the week, my father’s attitude towards me changed.  He expressed his gratitude for my taking care of him.  He told me how proud he was of the manuscript for “Walking My Mother Home” and his stories even helped me with the final edits for the publisher.

My father passed away three months later.  I know this time with him helped me to let go and get more closure in our relationship.  Although he never mentioned it, I think the letter I sent him about forgiveness on Father’s Day the year before (excerpts recently posted in “It’s Not Too Late to Forgive”), made a difference.  He was softening.  He was preparing to say goodbye.

The Unexpected Gift

It’s funny how I never really considered myself much of a caregiver—even with my immediate family—yet I ended up giving some respite to both of my parents at the end of their lives.  In return I received the gift of healing and restoration in our relationships.

On your road to your final destination, take time to care for others.

On your road to your final destination, take time to care for others.

Serving both of my parents in this way reminds me of the scripture where Jesus tells Peter (shortly after Jesus’ resurrection) to “take care of my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

You never know where God is going to lead you—in what kind of serving capacity.  I encourage you to be prepared to serve your parents while you still can—even if, like me, you don’t think you can do it.  It may be the gift you both need to let go and make peace with the past.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you Ardis. I hear your heart & know God is heading me in this direction w/my mom. The broken ice to a new beginning happened over a year ago & today He’s given me a new heart in the healing of those years the locust devoured. Healing has already begun & I’m going with it!

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    • Terri, Glad to hear you are embracing your healing and where God is leading you. He is making you strong. Take it one step at a time and watch God do His work. ❤ Ardis

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  2. Nice!…I have tears in my eyes in the hopes that I could possibly have this gift with my parents – thanks for blazing the trail and sharing!

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    • Linda, thanks for your encouraging words. I know your tears won’t be wasted and that God will give you the desires of your heart with your parents. Praying for God’s still small voice to show you the path to healing in a beautiful way. ❤ Ardis

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  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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