Big bag of empty

bigbagofempty3 Mom went to be with Jesus in the late spring of 2003. When she had a major stroke the winter of 1999, Dad took care of her ’round the clock, for 3-1/2 years. Several times a year, I flew in from Chicago to visit Mom and Dad and in time, learned to communicate with her, despite Mom being able to speak only in nonsensical phrases. The love and compassion of Jesus taught me to listen for the love in Mom’s voice, the joy in her laughter and to see the pride that twinkled in her eyes.

The last time I spoke to Mom by phone, was especially tender and I enjoyed hearing her laugh, which was musical in my ears. As we said our goodbyes, twice I exclaimed “I love you, Mommy”. As if her old self once again, my Mommy replied “I love you too, Jackie”. It was the first time I’d heard her speak clearly since before her stroke. We ended the call, I hung up, filled with thanks yet wondering to myself “why on earth did I call her Mommy? I haven’t called her Mommy since I was a child”. It was the morning after the next that Dad called me with news of mom’s death during the night. It was then I understood the wonderful gift of grace the Father had given us, for mother and son to say goodbye, for now.

Recently, Karen retired from teaching and we felt a leading to move from Illinois to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state to help with Dad’s care and make our retirement home. Many times Dad expressed the desire for a smaller place to live and so we converted the guest wing in Dad’s home for his comfort and safety. With Dad’s needs met, Karen and I began to sort, clean, paint, paper and carpet the home in preparation to move into the house with Dad. It’s been a long process and still we have much to do. Thankfully, living with Dad is working well for each of us.

bigbagofempty2While continuing to settle in, yesterday I decided to tackle the long coat closet by the front door. On the one side, hung many of Mom and Dad’s coats and formal clothing, on the other, the component stereo system that powered speakers in the living room together with their collection of records, tapes and CDs.

After bagging the clothing for charity and boxing everything else for storage, I turned my attention to a Christmas-themed gift bag that was filled with cassette tapes. Mom often listened to self-help, motivational and lecture tapes; “perhaps that’s what they are” I thought.

My heart sank when I realized they were tapes of the pastor’s sermons, each rubber-banded in a copy of the church bulletin.

I suppose the grief of it all hit me so hard because in that moment, I realized just how alone my parents were following Mom’s stroke. Dad once told me about the time he wheeled mom into one of the restaurants they frequented before the stroke, past a long banquet table where two dozen members of the church they had attended sat talking while they waited for their food. Not one of them returned Dad’s smile; all turned their attention elsewhere. How did the church respond? The pastor visited Mom at home once, never to return.

bigbagofempty1And that bag of tapes, that great big bag of empty words, clouds without rain, faith without works? It turns out all those tapes were not from the church. Rather, an elderly woman who sometimes talked with Mom and Dad in the foyer after services, collected them a few at a time and brought them to Mom. The last time their elderly “friend” visited, Dad gently told her that Mom was not able to listen to the tapes, they only confused and upset her since the stroke had affected her ability to understand all but the simplest of things.

You see, the stroke not only paralyzed Mom on one side and robbed her of speech, she sometimes stared in confusion at her useless hand. The once she managed to ask Dad about her hand it was not to ask what happened; she wanted to know whose hand it was.

No longer a religious purpose for the elderly friend to visit, the pastor’s tapes of no use, the woman stopped visiting. There were 15 tapes in the gift bag. In 15 weeks Mom was forgotten and my parents left alone to manage their lot.

And so of the tragedy that was Mom’s stroke, one doer of the Word emerged: my Dad.

As for cleaning out the closet, well, I carted that big bag of empty to the trash bin and dumped it there.

It appears my next project will be working through forgiveness, of people who are clueless.

Father forgive them, they know not what they do. Luke 23:34