Room 1011B. The room my dad shared with a man who was in bed, hooked up to oxygen, and who slept most of the day.
Oh, daddy, I wish you had a more lively roommate. Just walking past the man's bed was a challenge.
"Hi, Dad." I mustered a smile and feigned a cheerful voice. He was dressed and sitting in his chair. I leaned over and gave him a kiss. "My, you've combed your hair so nicely today."
My eighty-nine-year-old dad had trouble even dressing himself after a severe bout with pneumonia and a couple of mini-strokes. Whenever I applauded his efforts, his clear blue eyes twinkled and a slight grin formed on his face. He was getting his strength back, but painfully, I realized that at his age, he would never be the dad I remembered--strong, independent, capable of any task thrown at him. My hero.
The physical therapist stuck her head in the door, signaling time for some earnest work. I gripped Daddy's arm and slowly we walked down to the rehab room where other folks were "working out." Always one for humor, Dad joked with the therapist throughout the exercises. He seemed to come alive around other people. I was glad for that, not looking forward to when he would return home and sink back into his old routine of sleeping and eating. I hoped he would gain some motivation to use his hands and legs again when he went back home.
After therapy, Dad and I strolled down the smelly corridor. He seemed tired. "You want to stop and rest, Dad?"
"Yeah, let's park on this bench for a minute.” He slowed and lowered onto the seat in the community room. After catching his breath, he turned to me and said matter-of-factly, "I used to take care of you, now you are taking care of me." I heard no sadness, no regret, just a statement by a man resigned to his condition. I didn't know whether to be glad or sad about that.
In the past, Dad had trouble coming to terms with his limited physical capacity. He seemed to dwell on the past and felt there was no future, so failed to live in the present. He had worked with a children's ministry for over fifty years and along with others, built a Christian camp from scratch with his own two hands. He had cared for his firstborn son with hydrocephalus until God took him at age eighteen. Daddy knew about hard work, and he knew about serving God in unpleasant places.
Unpleasant places. This is one of them, isn't it, Daddy? Oh, the care was adequate enough, but it clearly wasn't home. It wasn't what Daddy was used to, nor what I was used to. I didn't like having to come to a smelly place lined with old people in wheelchairs bemoaning their lot and see my once strong, capable father now bowed with age. Perhaps I, too, lived in the past. There was some more letting go to do. More pain. More resolve.
But every day, until Daddy was released, I mustered up the courage, put on a smile, cheered the nurses on, and encouraged the little old men and women in their beds and chairs. I actually met some very interesting people, witnessed to a few, shared beloved scriptures, and prayed. Something I probably would not have done if Daddy had been whole and home.
During what seemed like long years of caring for my deteriorating parents, but in actuality was quite short in the grand scheme of things, I reflected on my own mortality. I learned a few things in the process that I carry with me today.
Life is brief. And God keeps saying, "Serve Me while you can. Bloom where you are planted. If you're at the computer writing another book, do it for Me. If you’re driving your granddaughter to her dance lesson, do it for Me. And if you are sitting by the bedside of an aging parent in an unpleasant place, do it for Me. It will not go unnoticed by your Heavenly Father. What you do for the least, you have done unto Me. When you look at My people, however lowly, see My face. Then your earthly view of unpleasant places will never be the same, for you will be doing My will."
Eileen Rife, author of Laughing with Lily, speaks to women’s groups, encouraging them to discover who they are in Christ and what part they play in His amazing story. www.eileenrife.com, www.eileen-rife.blogspot.com