A Promise Kept

In 2003 Mom's life was cut short by one of the many dreaded brain diseases popping up daily. Yesterday my parents would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and I'm sure Dad raised a glass in Mom's honor. The following piece was written in 2002 for another posting and I share it with you now.

A Promise Kept

"Love is said to evaporate if it's not mutual, if the other person doesn't communicate, if they don't carry their share of the load, if it's not physical. When I hear the litany of essentials for a happy marriage, I count off what my beloved can no longer contribute and contemplate how truly mysterious love is. I was preparing dinner recently when the voice of a renowned radio preacher announced something that startled me. He said an authoritative study indicated that when terminal illness strikes a mate, seven out of ten American spouses split. And since husbands leave home far more frequently than wives do in such circumstances, what must the numbers be for them? Nine out of ten? Just when they're needed most...I thought to myself, How could they do such a thing? Maybe they're having a love affair. With themselves. Indeed, love is a mysterious thing."

From: A Promise Kept
The Story of an Unforgettable Love
by Robertson McQuilkin

If you haven't heard of the above book, please allow me to tell you about it. Dr. Robertson McQuilkin was a professor at Columbia Bible College and Seminary. His wife, Muriel, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 55, and Dr. McQuilkin has written several books detailing that journey. This book is about keeping that promise during sickness and health.

How rare! My generation is missing the boat. Many people my age don't know what it is to serve others or to think of someone else's needs above their own. Our children will not have the benefit of watching their parents grow older and deeper together. They are robbed of knowing what it means to be committed through thick and thin, for better or worse.

For Christmas, I purchased Dr. McQuilkin's book for my Dad in hopes that he will find encouragement there. As the days go by, my mom looks more frail than the month before. Some days her speech is so poor that we have to ask her to repeat several times over, what she is trying to say. It frustrates her and it frustrates my Dad. Not always and not everyday. But some days are really difficult.

Mom wears a referee whistle around her neck 24 hours a day. Since her falling is more frequent now and and we don't always hear her cries for help, we have devised a way that she can alert us in an emergency. I know this will only be temporary, but for as long as is possible, we want to give her the dignity of her last shred of independence, which is confined to the bathroom.

Her disease is progressing, which is indicative by its name (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy). My Dad speaks to her in positive ways, making positive plans, and positive dreams. But at night, when Mom has gone off to get ready for bed, Dad thinks out loud and I hear the sadness in his voice..and the wondering of what step is next in this maze of "she might experience this...or that could happen."

Today, January 14, 2002, Mom and Dad have been married 18,980 days! That breaks down to 52 years. Through 52 years my mother bore ten children, they lost one child in infancy and raised nine. They have been on the roller coaster and merry-go-round of parenting for many years. My parents have married off most their children and gained as many more. A son-in-laws untimely death at 36 shook them to the core. An infant grandchild's death, seven months later was almost more than they could bear. Their retirement years consisted of traveling and simply enjoying all the things they could not afford or time didn't allow doing in their earlier years together. Now, in the prime of their golden years, my mom is greatly impaired and those options have ended abruptly.

Yet, Dad is singing and Mom is smiling. He still takes her on a date now and then, and I see an extra sparkle in her eye on those little outings. Dad buys Mom pretty things for Christmas and she cries. A sweet tooth runs through our family and occasionally they'll share a special something just for them.

I work in a local restaurant where many customers know my folks. Many of the women near my parent’s ages come to me and tell me how good my father is to my mother. They fear that if the same happened to them, their husbands couldn't or wouldn't handle it well at all, or be so kind. Do you know that I have been hearing these kinds of stories about my father all my life?

My Dad is not a super-hero. He doesn't always do it well. He loses his patience and sometimes gets short with Mom. But Dad loves Mom and Mom loves Dad and they both know it. They are committed to each other. They still share the same bedroom and the same bed. They converse and they laugh. This commitment is more than just staying in the marriage. It's choosing to show love daily even after all these years. I'm sure Dad doesn't always feel like doing the things he does. Even yesterday when I came in from work Dad was on his knees, cutting Mom's toenails. Other days begin with Dad helping Mom with the most private hygiene of all. That's not the way we really want to start our day, is it? But that's marriage. That's 52 years of love proving itself.

October 2001, I came back to Michigan to help my Dad keep some form of his active life going. He knows he can go out now to play bridge or golf, and that someone is here with Mom in the event she needs help. At times though, I wonder what I'm doing. I am 47 years old and living back with my parents, whom I haven't lived with for 28 years. No sooner had my sons grown up and now I'm sort of "parenting" again. Then I remind myself that I came to serve my parents, and share Jesus' love with them.

Six months ago, I never imagined that I would be living back at home assisting my father, "the caregiver." Now, I can't imagine being anywhere else. I am blessed. I have been given the privilege of being placed in the most intimate part of my parent's life...their day-to-day love affair with each other.

A Promise Kept.