All posts in Elderly Parents

I Stood For Him

The ER was uncharacteristically empty.  Perhaps four or five waiting to be seen for various maladies. My dad and I were guests because he fell backwards in a handicapped van and hit his head on the way to church.

We shared a cup of hospital coffee as the TV advertised a NASCAR race. I listened to the prayer and prayed silently.

I heard the National Anthem begin. I coughed. I glanced at my dad from my peripheral vision. He was bent over in his wheelchair like he always was lately.

I stood, grabbing my coffee as not to attract as much attention. Kind of like I just felt like standing and drinking coffee.

Truth is, I had to stand.

I stood because when I was in elementary school, he would occasionally sit in the back seat with my sister and me while traveling on our cheap 3-week vacation. We would playfully annoy him until, finally he would punch us in the leg to give us a charley horse. We’d squeal with painful delight.

I stood because when I was 17-years-old and ran into another car while in an ice storm, my dad only asked if I was OK when I called.  He then sat quietly in the back seat of the police cruiser while the officer took the information.

I stood because he and my mom stayed married for almost 60 years and because he served our country in WWII for 7 years.

I stood because he had no legs.

All through my life, Dad stood for me.

When I was little, he held my hand when we walked. He seemed larger-than-life, my perfect father. When I was in middle school, I noticed that he was sometimes wrong, and I was embarrassed when he wore The Salvation Army officer’s uniform, proudly, especially when he picked me up at school. In high school, he couldn’t do anything right and knew nothing about the real world.

When I’d moved out of my house the week I turned eighteen, to a different city an hours drive away, my parents ‘surprised’ me at my apartment. They found literature that confirmed I’d had pre-marital sex. My strong mother, who never cried, cried. My dad called me a name. I told them I wasn’t sure that I had the same values that they had.

A few weeks later, when my world fell apart, I showed up at a Salvation Army Camp, unannounced. Dad was attending Men’s Camp. He didn’t know I was coming. He saw me from the dining hall, and held his arms out wide. I ran to them.

He did the mountain of paperwork to enroll me at a small methodist college in Kentucky. He believed that being there was God’s will for my life. I didn’t quite fit the ‘southern bell’ stereotype and had trouble adjusting.

I was almost expelled my sophomore year because for a joke, my friend and I left an index card note on the desk of the head librarian who I’d worked for, which stated: “There is a bomb hidden in the library. Set to go off at 11PM! This is no idle threat! I have to, I will, I must, I have.”

Trouble is, I forgot to wait for my old boss to get the note, and laugh with him. Next night, the library closed early. The bomb squad was waiting outside.

Dad thought that maybe I might need a lawyer, as he and his friend joked that I was the new Patty Hearst. Instead, I received disciplinary probation and was allowed to stay.

He stood when I made it through college, a little wiser, a little humbler. I moved to Florida, got married to a professional fisherman who stumbled through asking Dad for my hand. My dad, Major Ramon Wert married us. He also did the pre-marital counseling. His advice to Tom, “Don’t let her boss you around, and,” he added, “cut your toenails.”

He and mom were assigned to the Evansville, Indiana Salvation Army City Command. Dad ran into some problems of his own. Stress problems, health problems. I flew to see him when his world fell apart.

Mom and Dad retired early and moved three miles away from me in a mobile home park on Tampa Bay. My daughter was barely walking. A few years later, my son was born, and we spent lots of time with Grandma and Grandpa. They were precious years.

Six years ago, Mom and Dad moved in with my family of four. Over the course of those years, Dad lost both legs to diabetes. I didn’t know that day in the emergency room, that Dad only had a few months to live. I couldn’t remember the young, strong, compassionate man from years past. He’d become my responsibility.

I was tired of standing.

But I stood that day while we listened to the NASCAR race, while waiting in an almost vacant emergency room.

As Veteran’s Day approaches, I remember my father, an 8-year veteran that always stood when he heard The National Anthem, and I miss him. He stood with me when I was young, I stood with him when he was old, and now, I stand alone.

At his funeral four months later, Ray’s family and friends met to commemorate his life. The Salvation Army tags death as, ‘Promotion to Glory.’ And so it was for him.

I listened as one after another spoke of the man I’d forgotten. He played hooky at The Salvation Army School for Officer’s Training to go fishing. He took boys with absent fathers fishing and hunting. He visited people to share the love of Jesus even when they threatened his life.

My brother-in-law, Randy spoke eloquently for our family. “I’ve never known Ray’s three daughters to agree on anything. But yesterday, as we spoke of Dad’s life, they all agreed that if he were here, he’d say, ‘See, I told you I was sick.’”

And then we all stood for the playing of The National Anthem.

A Tribute to My Mama

As most of you know, my mother passed from here into eternity on March 22, 2016. This is the tribute I wrote and read at her funeral:

Proverbs 31:10 states, “An excellent woman, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.”

Today I’ll share with you some jewels that our excellent mother shared with not only her own family but a host of people whom she served.

Faithfulness is the first gem our mom passed on to us. Proverbs 31:11 says, “The heart of her husband trusts in her and he will have no lack of gain.” 

When you talk about Pauline, you’ve got to talk about Ray—they came as a pair. They lived together, worked together, and played together. They not only loved each other, most days they liked each other.

As a teenager, or even as adult when I’d criticize Dad for one thing or another, she always stood up for him and encouraged me to think the best. “Your father is a good man,” she’d say.

And somehow I’d believe her. And she was correct.

The last several years of Dad’s life were difficult, to say the least, but Mom faithfully served him through it all. I’d try to get her to go out with me, but usually she’d say, “I don’t want to leave your father.”

Those who observed our family thought that Mom, or “Warden Wert,” ran the show. But those who really knew us knew the truth—Ray ran the show the show and Pauline did her best to hang on.

And Paula, Paulette, and I are hanging on to Mom’s faithfulness.

The next gem Mom passed on to us is caring. Whenever she visited people or people visited her, she always asked about them individually, remembering the details like the names of their children or parents.

Even in her last days—when thoughts remained difficult to grasp and harder for her to speak, she asked about her children and grandchildren. When they hurt, she hurt.

When word was posted on Facebook about Mom’s promotion to glory countless women who’d been under Mom’s guidance as they grew up said how much mom loved them and made them feel special. For a woman that would stand out in a crowd, had a minimum amount of education, and never signed an autograph, her life made a difference. 

I had the privilege of having my parents live in my home as their health declined. One of my fondest memories of both my parents was the morning devotions at our dining room table. They read a short scripture and an accompanying illustration. Then they pulled out their prayer list. The “list” was extensive and detailed. My children often commented on how many people were on the list—they knew each of them by name and when there were answers.

Both mom and dad cared enough to pray. I’m grateful for that.

The last gem we received from our mother was the gem of encouragement. She believed people could be better than they were and not only told them, she expected it.

I think this is what my children will miss the most. When they came home, Grandma was always there and ready to talk or just listen. I’ll probably never know some of the many words of encouragement that went on in her room.

Mom didn’t mince words. She asked the really hard questions everyone else was afraid to ask. Recently, my son came to visit. Knowing we’d been praying especially for him over the last several weeks and months she asked, “How are you, Micah?”

He hesitated for a moment, “I’m okay Grandma.”

Lying in her bed, she straightened herself up so she could look him in the eye. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Mom encouraged me not only by her life, but also by her death.

The last several months, Mom slept perhaps 18 hours a day. I’d go into her room to check on her after her naps and check on her. Sometimes I’d tell her of my very busy day, or complain about something that had gone wrong. Then I’d ask her how her day had been.

As she lay in her bed, after being bathed and changed and fed—eyes half closed she’d say, “Good.”

The Bible says in Psalms 90 to “Teach us to number our days so that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”

I learned a lot from her.

I’d like to end with 2 short stories.

The first was when my father was still alive. Although he couldn’t walk, they’d travel up the block each evening from our house in Florida. Dad in his wheelchair, mom hobbling along with her cane.

One day as I pushed my father and mom ambled ahead of us, Dad motioned for me to bend listen to him.

“There goes the most beautiful woman in the world.” Then he pointed to my mama.

The other story happened about a week before she died. During the cool North Carolina evenings, we’d hoist mom into the chair in our living room in front of our wood stove. On that particular night, I read from the Salvation Army publication the War Cry and then I pulled out the hymnal.

She’d had a few good days in a row and we began to sing.

“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!”

She threw back her head and sang along with every word—not in her low, gravely, old-person voice, but on tune with a young fresh sound.

“That’ll be good won’t it Mom?”

She smiled and said, “Yes it will.”

That night as I prayed, I told the Lord that if he wanted to take my mama in her sleep, this would be a good night.

He didn’t. He allowed her to hold on a while so that I held my sweet mama in my arms and whispered in her ear how much we loved her and what a difference she’d made in our lives as she passed from here into eternity.

I began with Scripture, and I’ll end with it.

Proverbs 31:28-31 states:

“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also and he praises her. Many woman have done excellently but you surpass them all. Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Life’s Season of Winter

Yesterday, it snowed.

Barely.

Just enough to cover our meager lawn and dust the stark trees.

Beautiful.

I think winter has a bad reputation. Of course I don’t live in Milwaukee where your lawn is covered with snow in September and you don’t see it again until March. Or April.

I lived in Florida for almost thirty years and maybe saw snow once for about fifteen minutes. You could predict the weather almost everyday–sunny and humid with an afternoon shower.

Since calling North Carolina my home almost three years ago, I hadn’t realized how much I missed the seasons. They give a kind of cadence to life.

I thought of that yesterday when I stayed home from church to care for my 95-year-old mother. We observed the white ice drift down on the front porch railing. We smiled as small birds searched for food while our wily cat watched carefully from afar.

Since becoming a farmer, winter takes on new meaning. Shorter days and cold weather prevent much in the way of crops. (Although, miraculously my chickens are still producing eggs.) I’ve gotten some much needed rest.

Because of the weather, my life slows down and gets simpler. If I can’t make it to the superstore, I open a can of soup or have a bowl of cereal.

Sure, Tom and I watched four NFL playoff games over the weekend, but for the last few months we’ve mostly been watching reruns of the fire in our new wood stove. Sometimes we drink hot coffee or sometimes we read, but often we just stare at the flames and discuss how beautiful and unique they are.

I’ve noticed during the winter I can see more. During other seasons of the year, I notice several shades of green from my bedroom windows. In winter there is some green, but mostly I see weathered trunks, and brown leaves, and intricate twigs on bare branches.

I can also see farther. In front of our house, I catch sight of two tobacco barns hidden behind our forest. If I stare into the woods I view trees I’ve never noticed. Small ones that stretch for the sun. Beyond them is a mystery of gray. I can only guess at what lies beyond.

Mom is in the winter season of her life. Most people dread it or avoid it all costs. Some even avoid those who are in winter since it reminds them of the mystery after their lives are over.

I’m beginning to embrace life’s winter season. I look at the intricate lines on Mom’s face and see time and years have worn her soft young skin away. In those creases, I see wisdom, and strength, and love.

Both our lives have slowed down out of necessity. Mom can’t walk anymore so her movement is limited to her bed, the wheelchair, and a big chair in front of the fireplace.

Often in the evening, she sits in her chair while Tom and I watch reruns of the fire. I don’t know that she can see the fire much but she feels its warmth and she is content. She has to be fed now and the food must be easy to swallow since swallowing is difficult. Her food choices are limited–simple.

Her life is simple. She has few possessions and even fewer clothes. She doesn’t need them.

I’ll sometimes ask her how her days has been. “Good,” she’ll reply.

She can also see farther. She looks back on a life filled with lots of color and she looks forward to the mysterious gray of the woods. She can see the trees better and understands their intricate designs. Mom appreciates the gnarly trunks and weathered branches.

She’s lived them.

Her winter forces me to examine mine. It compels me to slow down and enjoy the day. To understand that under the green canopy are sturdy trunks and elaborate designs that are meant to be appreciated and enjoyed.

It also reminds me that soon Mom is headed to the mystery beyond the gray.

And I’ve heard it’s spring there.

It’s just in a different place.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.” Ps. 23:4-5 (ESV)

 

 

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

FYI, this blog is intense. There’s nothing funny in it unless I insert a knock-knock joke… we’ll see.

“Ma! Dorothy!”

I entered Mom’s room around 2am. Hands clenched behind her head, she called out into the darkness for her deceased mother and sister.

“Mom, it’s me, Pauline.” She turned her head the opposite way. “I’m over here, Mom.” Her head moved toward me as her eyes tried to focus.

“Where’s Pauline?”

“It’s me Mom. I’m Pauline.”

Focusing her eyes on me, her face relaxed.

“Were you sleeping?”

I assured her I was and that I very much wanted to return to bed.

As soon as I entered my room, guilt washed over me. Why couldn’t I be more patient? What must it feel like for Mom to not know where she is and who is there? 

Then sadness washed over me. Mom’s life is simple. She moves from her room to the table, occasionally onto the porch where the dogs lick her hands and check her bib for food scraps. A cat may hop into her lap or circle the wheelchair. She’s cared for and we love her, but it’s hard to watch. Harder to live.

Recently, my pastor began his message with, “We’re all going to die.” He quoted Larry King about his obsession with death.

I face death every day in the face of my mom. Before her, I watched my father die. I know what it looks like from a growing old point of view.

It ain’t pretty. But it’s not the end of the story. For a follower of Christ, there’s eternal hope. It’s not our best life now.

Good thing.

And I don’t even have a thing to complain about.

But I do–complain, that is.

My pastor went on to speak about the resurrection. Here’s what Paul said in I Cor. 15:53-57:

 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

That is a great promise. Victory over death.

The book of Hebrews helps me understand life, death, and the resurrection better when it describes Abraham’s life:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-10

When I’m overwhelmed with the decline of my mother or sin in the world or my own sin, I need to remember this…

I’m not home yet.

In America, it’s easy to want to hang around on earth.

It’s comfortable.

But it’s not home.

My mom is almost home.

She’s knockin on heaven’s door.

One day we will all be at that door and the only way to enter is through faith in Jesus Christ. Not good works, not church attendance, not even the stuff we didn’t do. Just faith.

Not to accept this free gift brings judgment.

So let me tell you a knock-knock joke. You decide if it’s funny…

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

God.

Will you enter?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the Roll is Called Up Yonder

The sound of the mellow horn rose from the hickory wood floor to the high ceiling. I began with My Jesus I Love Thee and ended with When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. As the sound rose, so did my spirit.

Heaven. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. It began with my father’s death seven years ago. And studying I Cor. 15 for nine months lured my mind back.

Now there’s mom. Weaker and weaker, I believe 2015 may be the year she enters glory. I’m okay with that. For crying out loud, she’s 94! And to think a doctor told her she wouldn’t live past her 20′s. I’m glad she did.

So this morning, I entered her room before the caregiver came and I read to her from the Psalms. And then we sang His Name is Wonderful. Then I went to prayer and used the Salvation Army Songbook. Here is a song I read this morning written by Isaac Watts:

“There is a land of pure delight, where saints immortal reign; infinite day excludes the night, and pleasures banish pain. There everlasting spring abides, and never-withering flowers; death, like a narrow sea divides this heavenly land from ours.

“Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood stand dressed in living green; so to the Jews old Canaan stood, while Jordan filled between. But timorous mortals start and shrink to cross this narrow sea, and linger, shivering on the brink, and fear to launch away.

“O could we make our doubts remove, those gloomy thoughts that rise, and see the Canaan that we love with unbeclouded eyes! Could we but climb where Moses stood and view the landscape o’er. Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood, could fright us from the shore.”

And then I played my horn. Not well–but with feeling. Five or six songs, all about Jesus and hope and heaven.

And I rested. Not in my work, but in the finished work of Christ on the cross that began in Bethlehem and ended in the resurrection.

But there is more to come–kind of like a sequel that’s actually better. It involves Christ’s second coming and then heaven. Eternity with my Lord. That is something to celebrate. The Gift that keeps on giving long after Christmas is passed.

I’m ready to cross that narrow sea. Are you?