CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©
In the last years of his life, my father required a lot of care. He was blind and getting weak. He often fell, and like most older people, had many trips to the hospital and pharmacy. None of his children lived near him, and he refused to move to where any of us lived. My wife and I went to visit him about every six weeks, a twenty-five hour round-trip. We tried to stay long enough each time to get in groceries, put up curtain rods, take him to appointments, etc. But, of course, a few days every six weeks was not adequate to fill all his needs. Somebody had to fill in when we could not be there. Those tasks fell to neighbors and friends and folks from the church next door, even though he had never gone to church.
This bothered and embarrassed me. His neighbors and friends were old and scarcely more able than he. The church was small and its people were busy. When I would try to talk him into coming to live near us, I pointed out how much care others had to provide for him and how difficult it was for them. He would say, “Oh, they like to do those things for me.”
My father was not a selfish or self-centered or insensitive person. He was, however, the world’s most independent man. Normally, letting people do for him would be anathema. Staying at a distance from his children, however, helped preserve his independence. He knew we possessed the ability to move him to a nursing home, where he would lose almost all his independence. Neighbors and friends did not have that power. He preferred accepting their help to losing his independence entirely.
Even though Dad had always been the hard-headed, realistic type, he wanted to hang onto his independence so much that he was willing to delude himself. He did not want to accept help from neighbors and friends, but that was just the first rung on the stairway down to the dungeon of dependence. Staying on that first step was far preferable to going down farther. So he lied to himself. “Oh, they like to do those things for me.”
Those people did not like to do things for him. They took care of him because they were good people and someone had to do it. One woman in the church, well into her sixties, was especially kind to Dad. Her husband said, much to our chagrin, that the day we finally moved Dad out of town was the best day of his life, because he got his wife back. As long as Dad was next door, blind and falling, his wife was either doing something for him or worrying about him.
In Dad’s mind, however, he was a benefactor to all those people, allowing them to do things for him because it was so satisfying to them, giving up some of his independence to allow people to fulfill their need to take care of him. He was just a kindly old man… who caused a whole lot of people a whole lot of trouble! (Also, even at the age of ninety-six, he would never have described himself as an old man!)
I understood, even then, when I was in my sixties and relatively strong and healthy, how hard it must be for Dad to give up his independence, and how easy it must be for him to convince himself he was just befriending people by letting them do for him. As I get older, and my eyes are dimmer and my legs slower, I have more and more sympathy for my father.
Still, I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to lie to myself. The worst loss of independence, one to which we old people are especially prone, is loss of the truth. We’re not really independent if we’re deluding ourselves.
I knew a man whose father lived in a town fifty miles away. When his mother died, Jerry tried to get his father to move to our town. His father refused. So every weekend Jerry went to his father’s town and took him to the grocery, doctor appointments, etc. When his father finally went to a nursing home, he said to Jerry: “See, you didn’t think I could do it, but it worked out fine.” Jerry said to himself, “Yeah, it worked out fine, and I didn’t have a weekend for thirteen years.”
I’ve helped others all my life. When it’s my turn to be helped rather than to help, that’s okay. I also need to understand that people help me not because they like to, even if they do, but because I need the help, not because I’m helping them. I need to be a gracious, realistic, truthful accepter of what I need, and be thankful to those who provide it.
Now that I am old, it’s okay to accept help for what it is, something others do not for themselves and their own satisfaction, but for me. and be thankful.
I tweet as yooper1721.