(A Letter from My Friend Jeff. Shared with his permission.)
Our parents – your father and my mother – live in a twilight. When I was told, “you can grow up to be anything,” I doubt very much if that voice of encouragement was thinking confined to a bed and thrice-weekly dialysis, or lost in a mere-world where memory fails and minds betray us. Yet, both of us bear witness.
We celebrate an invaluable life, even so. Not valueless, but quite the opposite: a life so full of value that we cannot calculate it in human terms. This is how God sees such life – so highly valued that only the life of God, sent as man, was its equal, and something not to be measured. God challenges us to see life the same way: of incalculable value and worthy of sacrifice.
Your service is duty, but it is honor, too. You honor your father and mother. That’s what we’re instructed. It doesn’t add: so long as it’s easy. Nor does it weigh the value to others of their lives. It only places the value on their position; their title.
Your duty to your father (and mother) is honorable. It demonstrates to your children and your siblings what you value. I know you would do this even if you had no siblings or children. It is why this act is honorable.
I feel such tugs of regret that I tried to bring my mom to Arizona only to have her reject my home and move back to Texas. She wanted to be close to her friends. (Her friends are all gone or dead themselves. Such is the curse of longevity.) Now I am 1,000 miles away and she cannot move further than a bed to a dialysis chair. And I cannot forsake my own family to tend to her.
I feel guilt and regret, but I would do nothing differently even if I’d known the outcome of all those decisions. (I left home and Texas for a reason. Those still stand after 45 years.)
Your dad is lost, mostly, and visits with his grace and wit occasionally. My mom is lost, mostly to time and distance. She visits thrice weekly between dialysis treatments. But sometimes she is lucid and sometimes she is not. I never know. It’s a turn of the card whether I’ll talk to my mom or somewhere and sometime where my mom used to live and used to be. She’s hit and miss.
Some days she doesn’t even know what that sound – the one the phone makes – means. Some days all I can do is leave a loving message that her caretaker will play for her. She doesn’t know how to call out anymore. I only get a call from her if her caretaker makes the call and hands her the phone. Then she’s surprised it’s me.
It’s nice that you and your dad have a routine already. Get up, go see your mom in the hospital, come home. Go back in the afternoon, see your mom, come home. Family helps. Being independent helps.
But this is teaching you something. It’s actually sharing something with your mom and dad that you cannot share with words. The same is true for the rest of the family and the community. Sermons are never preached as well as they are lived. But how often will you find someone who actually thinks it through and says, “gee, I wish I could go through something horrible and dangerous so I could get that medal?”
And I’ll wager every man who got a medal wishes he could exchange it for a timeline where the battle never happened; where the crisis never occurred. Medals are poor substitutes for calm and comfort and peace. But calm and comfort and peace cannot temper our spirits or hone our blades. And that’s what we really gain: a toughness where we were once soft and a tenderness where we were once hard. And we carry those medals on the inside, where we can use them.
You have no idea how hardship prepares us nor for what it prepares us. But we can be sure we train for a reason.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us... [Heb 12:1]