The Gift and the Miracle

“Old age is a shipwreck.”

That quote is attributed to Charles de Gaulle, John Kennedy, Orson Welles and various others. It would seem that a plethora of famous folks feel that old age and its attendant ills and declines is a misery and a curse.

I am taking care of my 87-year-old mother in the weakness of her slow going home and I have to say I disagree with these famous men. Old age is a gift. It is a tenderness and a sweetness and a time of extreme clarity and trust.

My mother was a tomboy. She climbed trees and played baseball. When she wasn’t playing sports, she was an absorbed fan, watching from the bleachers or listening to games on the radio and later watching them on tv. Now, she walks with a cane, and I have to help her up and down, in and out.

My mother loved to drive her car, insisted on owning one. She got her driver’s license, in an era when girls didn’t always get a license, the first day she was eligible and she drove herself where she wanted to go every day after that. Until the day I had to take her car keys from her so that she wouldn’t hurt herself or someone else. Now, she waits for rides and comes and goes according to other people’s schedules.

My mother lit up her first cigarette when she was 17 and smoked like a diesel for the next 70 years. Until the day the doctor told her that another cigarette might shut down her copd-afflicted lungs and I had to ban them from her existence.

My mother, who was and is my most stalwart supporter, my cheering squad, my best friend. No matter what I’ve done, both good and bad, my mother was always there to back me up, stand by me and help me out. I’ve always known, never doubted, never for a single moment considered any other possibility, that she would lay down her life for me anytime, anywhere, any hour or day that I needed it.

If I needed a heart transplant, my mother would say, “Here, take mine.” If I started robbing banks, she’d get mad at the bank.

I talked about my father in another post. My parents were insanely proud of me, totally trusting of me, and they convinced me from an early age that I could climb the Empire State Building bare-handed if I wanted to.

So, why, now that my brave tomboy mother walks with a cane and is dependent on family for all her care, do I say that old age is NOT a shipwreck?

Because, well … because it’s not. It’s a time of life; a return to innocence and trust and a laying down of responsibility and worry. My mother was always a worrier, a half-empty child of the depression who knew that every silver lining has its cloud. But she’s past that now. At some point that neither one of us noticed when it happened, she turned all her worries over to me.

The same mother I’ve trusted all my life now trusts me to care for, manage and make right all the bothersome details of her life. She trusts me the way my children trusted me when they were babies. She is so sweet, so dear, so unbelievably precious, that I could never, ever, never, regard this time of care taking and leave-taking as anything but a gift.

Is taking care of my mother while managing a demanding job a “burden?” Is it something that I resent or wish was different? Nope.

It’s a gift and a blessing. All God ever wants to do is bless us. But sometimes His blessings look different than we expect. We pray, in the words of Janis Joplin, for a Mercedes Benz. We get instead blessings of love, life and the responsibilities for one another that are part of living and loving.

Old age is not a shipwreck. It is one of the times of our lives. It is a gift of grace and beauty; a return to innocence and childlike joy for the one who is aged; a time to cherish and give back for those of us who haven’t gotten there yet.

I would not miss one day of the time I’ve spent with my mother, not from the days she took my hand and walked me safely across the street, to now, when I do the same for her.

That is the gift and the miracle of love.

  • abcinsc

    Reblogged this on The Peanut Gallery and commented:
    Happy Mother’s Day… and blessings on you and your family.

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    Back at you.

  • http://mamagr.wordpress.com jgadrin

    moms are special. thanks for sharing a sweet post to remind us that old age is not a shipwreck.

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    Thank you.

  • http://tammykennington.wordpress.com tammykennington

    What a beautiful relationship you and your mother must have–and such a God honoring perspective. Thank you for this post.

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    Tammy, thank you for your kind comment. I have been blessed all my life to have such a wonderful mother.

    Rebecca

  • http://mcdermottfootcare.wordpress.com McDermott Footcare

    Hi Rebecca, commenting from8kidsandabusiness.com All of my patients are elderly and I look after my mom who has dementia. Many elderly people are lonely and appreciate when someone takes time and interest in them. It’s a gift to care for my patients and my mom. I wrote a blog post about the purpose and dignity of old age on 8kidsandabusiness.com Happy Mother’s Day!

    • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

      I just read your blog. It’s great.

      Happy Mother’s Day to you!

  • http://thenoontimes.wordpress.com Sarah Myers

    Great post – my mother is deceased but I feel her presence every day. My best to you, and thank you for stopping by my blog.

    • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

      Sarah, my father died a number of years ago. I don’t doubt that he’s still watching over us and loving us from the other side.

  • http://nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com neenergyobserver

    Hi Rebecca. I went thru this with my Dad, and it was the most wonderful experience of my my life. Would have gladly with mom but, walking in for surgery and going straight to the other side didn’t allow it. Finally the role models drop away and we became friends and even collegues. It was the time of my life, that with all the worries and concerns involved, that gave me some of the best memories of my life. Putting care of our elders in the charge of someone else, what a waste that is, they teach so much. I wrote a bit ago about Dad a few days ago (and the article links to my inspiriration) here: http://nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/who-we-really-are/

    Mom, I don’t talk about as much but, to be honest, none of us expected Dad to last a month after she was gone (including him, I think). Like yours she was a tomboy, all her life she would be involved in projects as complex as rebuilding engines, and always prefered to be mowing the grass to being stuck with the housework, which she did superbly, and very efficiently. She was also a completely gorgeous flapper in her early 20′s. She had her batchelors degree in an age when teachers were certified with 1 or 2 years of college, had her full share of Norwegian stubborness, and when she was around one had best stay real close to the straight and narrow. What I would give for a wife just like mom.

    Happy Mother’s Day to you and your Mom.

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    This is a beautiful comment. Thank you.

  • http://sttwm.wordpress.com citvnet

    Excellent!

    • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks!

  • http://laportsiablog.wordpress.com addyclay

    So beautiful!! Happy Mothers day to you and your Mom!

    • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you!

  • http://joemanicone.wordpress.com joemanicone

    Hi Rebecca,

    Your words really moved my spirit, so much so that I thought I’d share a little something about my weekend with you. Since you probably don’t know, i need to explain that I’ve been blessed in that I desire and love to be with the lonely…I simply and sincerely asked for it and it was granted, placed within my heart.

    Mother Teresa saw people die from virtually every affliction known in the third world. In her hospitals she treated people suffering from malaria, leprosy, cancer, elephantiasis and a host of other terrible maladies. Before she died, she was asked, “What is the worst disease you have seen?”

    Her response to the question was, “Of all the diseases I have known, loneliness is the worst.”

    In her book My Life for the Poor, she states: “I have come to realize more and more that the greatest disease and the greatest suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, uncared for, to be shunned by everybody, to be just nobody to no one.”
    One despair filled woman told me late Easter afternoon, that she has 10 children, and received not even one phone call.. The pain on her face was beyond description. Then, today on Mother’s Day around 8PM tonight as visiting hours came to a close, I found Bee in the hallway in her wheelchair. Normally I look forward to wonderful conversation with her, but I found her sobbing nearly hysterically. I kept my hand on her shoulder, intermittently rubbing her sweat filled head and tear filled face but she never stopped for the entire time I stayed with her. I felt I had to say something to the nurse who flippantly said “she hasn’t stopped for a long time, you can’t do anything….” I’ve found that for so many women, it is far worse pain for them because they know they do have children…I remember saying in prayer while my hand was on her, “Lord, please allow me to live my life doing something for these suffering people, despite myself.”

    It was a powerful weekend filled with adventure as usual, but I thought I’d just share one special experience. This weekend, I’ve had on my heart something quite different than on past Mother’s Days: a great desire to bless, pray for and somehow appreciate those women who have been mothers in the countless ways of the spectrum a woman can-especially those who have not had biological children. At a nearby nursing care facility, the first new person I met was named Lin. I glanced from the hallway into a room and noticed her peering large eyes attached to her tiny body from her bed propped up by a pillow. I said, “happy Mother’s Day” as I had been saying to everyone in passing. Her face beamed and she began to speak. I felt drawn into her presence and entered her room. At a glance I noticed crosses, and other religious sacramentals and commented politely on them. I was so relaxed and filled with peace upon entering her room that I immediately pulled up a chair right next to her. I knew in my heart; it was sooo clearly the very place I was meant to be. We spoke bout her life, lots. And I shared mine. She once held Bible meetings every 2 weeks for 18 years at her home for 7 women. She met Pope John Paul 2nd, and proudly pointed out the photo. She’s been very active in life, especially in groups that help those with handicaps. You see, she’d been born with spino bifuda which cripples and causes great pain for the person. I wondered how she spoke so joyfully…

    After an hour or 2, with that same joyful smile she came out with an abrupt question saying: “Joe, I don’t know why I’m still alive, I’m 65! – it’s not normal.” I looked at her smiling back saying: “you really don’t know?” As she shook her head no I continued saying: “I surely do, want me to tell you?” “Yes” she exclaimed. I told her that she’s got more profound purpose that most anyone I can think of. I said, “your genuine beaming smile and you simply being who you are do more for the Lord than any words any preacher can preach. You radiate joy, and we both know why. When others find out why, they have to look within themselves, if they have any semblance of a human heart.” She looked at me with a long stare. Then her smile grew an inch or so wider…. ;-)

    “When are you coming back Joe? My friends were asking me to again lead the Bible prayer meeting, only this time, from here. I’d like you to come if you don’t mind being the only man”….I said “how about that? Instead of a nursing home hiring out entertainment, volunteers, etc, here you’re beginning a Bible meeting from within….I’d be honored” I said I couldn’t help thinking, wow she’s got such a rich meaningful life. Here she’s again “mothering” others, even at 65 and bed ridden…then I thought of the countless others in my life, again especially those without biological kids-wow, I thought, I certainly would not be here, or who I am, without them…Seems women are created with this special form of love, in addition to the other forms….

    Made me think…in a new light of how mothering is a very special Godly vocation

    Happy Mothering Day to you and “YOURS” :-)

    joe manicone

  • http://hisglorysm.wordpress.com Kathie Siler

    What a wise and wonderful perspective! Thank you Rebecca for sharing the joy it is to still have your mom to care for and enjoy. God is so very good!

  • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

    Thank you Kathie.

  • http://wonderingaboutthechurch.wordpress.com wanderingaboutthechurch

    My mother dies of a terminal illness at a younger age than the one I have attained. 20 years later my father also succumbed to illness. I had the honor of being caregiver to them both during their illnesses. I felt that I was able to give back to them some of the compassion and loving service they gave me in my childhood. As Dad’s decision maker those last months, I wanted more than naything else to honor him by being the one who was very present. They had no one but me. No other children, no living parents. It was not an easy role to live, but givng back to them who gave so much for me blessed me more than it could possibly have blessed them. I would not change that for anything, except maybe for a few more years of learning from them.

    • http://publiccatholic.wordpress.com Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you for sharing this. It’s a walk only those who’ve been down it can fully understand.

  • http://christscompany.wordpress.com Ken/It’s a Matter of Prayer

    You hit upon a very sensitive place in all our lives. I commend you for speaking your heart. It is true that we often don’t fully understand but there are blessings we would miss if we sneak away selfishly. I’m not too sure that those who selfishly run away are not lonely in themselves. To denny oneself costs, even if just a little time, is a Christ like characteristic. Children are ignored and in the modern world entertained. Elders are ignored and placed in quasi institutions. The expressed love another can never be purchased. God bless you and may He give you with patience and endurance for “a job well done.”

  • http://www.prhayz.com Noel Williams (prhayz) www.prhayz.com

    Rebecca, you talk tough when it comes to your politics, but behind the keyboard is a charming, loving person. I commend you for taking care of your mom. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t relocate so far away from my feeble parents.

    Thanks so much for sharing. God blesses.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Noel.

  • http://cairnhillchurch.com Barnabas Chong

    What a beautiful reflection of your mother’s life and of aging. Thank you for sharing. I’m deeply encouraged. Kept thinking of my mum who is 80 this year – makes me feel like rushing out to see her now. Only problem is that it is 3.11am! I read your bio and am encouraged by your resolve to stand up for the Lord and His church! Thank you – you’ve inspired me.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Barnabas, you have made my day! Thank you for this wonderful comment.

      • http://cairnhillchurch.com Barnabas Chong

        Hi Rebecca, if you should ever stop by Singapore, please email me at barnabas@cairnhillchurch.com – would love to have you speak in our church.

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          Thank you Barnabas! It would be an honor.

  • http://mywordwall.wordpress.com Imelda

    This is so beautiful and touching, I cried. Blessed are you to have a loving mother and to love your mother a lot. If only for that, you have earned heaven. Thanks for the inspiration and the lovely posts.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Imelda.

  • EMS

    “Old age is a gift. It is a tenderness and a sweetness and a time of extreme clarity and trust”

    Unfortunately, not for everyone; for many, it is far different.

    I was my parents’ sole caregiver for years before their deaths, Mom in 2009 and Dad in 2011. My mother, who wasn’t officially diagnosed until she died, had Alzheimers accompanied by a severe loss of short term memory. Every few days, she would become literally psychotic with violence and words that she’d never uttered before in her life. Her short term memory lasted bare minutes, though her long term memory was a bit better. Sadly, she was alert enough to know there were serious problems with her, which further increased her confusion and anger. But in the last couple of weeks before her death, she reverted to a childlike status, and I cherish those memories where for scant moments she became herself. My father’s slide into dementia began with a stroke and lasted 12 years. For many years, he was functional, but as my mother’s health declined, his dementia grew worse. In the final year, he was a toddler in an 80+ year-old body who lived in a world that once in awhile was the same as mine; he no longer remembered his wife or children, and sometimes thought I was his long deceased brother or his mother instead of his daughter.

    After years of being in and out of various nursing homes for various rehabs, and seeing so many people who had no one, I swore I would never put them in one to die. Mom’s end came unexpectedly after she was in rehab for an unknown illness; her body literally shut down overnight. She was home on Friday and was gone in minutes on Wednesday. Dad picked up a staph infection that has killed healthy people; he had no resources left to fight. He died at home while I held his hand. And I often wished they had lived longer despite the difficulty of caring for them.

    The really sad part of their passing was that neither of knew they were dying and were completely unware when they did die. There were no remembrances, no clarity, no solemn thoughts or any awareness of their mortality. They each received the last rites the day before they died, both were asleep/unconscious at the time. I sometimes think of the last year of their lives as their time in Purgatory.

    That said, I wouldn’t trade those difficult and sometimes harrowing last years with them when they were the children and I was the parent. And wish I could have had them longer.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you for sharing this. Your parents were blessed to have you to care for them.

      • Rebecca Hamilton

        I have been blessed by them all my life.

  • http://actualfreedomjustine.com Justine

    Your kind heartedness is appreciated. Auspiciousness and Peace be to your kind self.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Justine.

  • http://www.livingchristianlife.wordpress.com Marco Spinola

    Mothers are special!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Yes, they are. I have a friend who says that home is where your mother is. Beautiful thought.

  • lewis chamness

    A very touching post about your mother. Thanks.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Lewis.

  • http://greenlightlady.wordpress.com Wendy Macdonald

    This was such a deeply touching and loving post. I hope that I can be there for my Mom when the time comes. She is fiercely independent… Already my own daughter tries to baby me if I get sick. It’s a pretty special bond between most mother and daughters.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      You’re right Wendy. Mother and daughters do have a special and precious link. Thank you.

  • http://www.ackans.com Mr. V.

    Rebecca,

    thanks for writing this beautiful post. Would that all were so inclined toward caring for their parents as they enter their senior years.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      People who don’t take care of their parents are missing something wonderful Stephen.


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