These days, I am far too often tempted to fear. Fear awakens me in the middle of the night and nags at me in the quiet moments of my days. The fear of helping care for my parents has become too pervasive. For me, caregiving is a balancing act shared with my siblings. Right now, as I'm temporarily living with my parents in Mississippi, fear too often seems to be the foremost thing on my mind.
But I also know that my experience of this is unlike that of those caregivers who live this existence 24/7 for years on end. Since Mom's struggles began in January, my personal journey with caregiving has mostly been frustratingly played out from afar. And that's a different kind of fear. For those months until I arrived here, when I would awaken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worrying about Mom or Daddy, I would comfort myself by praying and then carrying on a conversation with my mother in my mind, because I know that night is her most challenging time of the day. "Can you hear me, Mom? I'm with you. I'm right here... let's talk," I'd whisper to her in my mind. I'd carry on our one-sided chat with me telling her about my day, asking her advice, and simply trying to help her smile until I could fall asleep again, hoping she would rest well too.
Now that I'm here in Mississippi, I have fewer of these overnight conversations with Mom because I get to have them during the day. But I also have an upfront seat for things that cause more fear: the uncertainty of her health, the many risks she faces each day, the emotional pain she feels over her situation, my Daddy's emotions and his care at home, the financial turmoil that this situation is causing, the unknowns... Too many fears to count, too overwhelming to try to solve. So I wake up now every day looking for ways to numb the fear by working around their home or caregiving, filling my days with tasks as if staying busy could chase away the scary stuff.In learning about being a #caregiver @LisaHendey seeks signs of hope in the midst of fear Click To Tweet
About a week ago, one "task" I undertook was to fill the empty birdfeeder that sits outside Mom's window. I'd seen it hanging there empty for days and finally asked the Director of the facility if I could fill it. I know nothing about birds, so when I went to purchase seed I was confounded and had to ask for help. As I filled the feeder, I waited for birds to immediately descend and thought I might have to shoo them away. For the last several days, I watched the feeder looking for some sign of life or even a drop in the level of the seeds. But no, nothing... Maybe I'd bought the wrong food or filled the feeder incorrectly. Maybe they would never come.
In today's gospel from Matthew 28, we read of Mary Magdalene and Mary leaving the empty tomb, overjoyed but afraid. As they ran to tell Jesus' disciples of their discovery, they met the risen Lord along their path. Falling to the ground, they embraced him and "did homage". Then, in the midst of the women's fear, Jesus offered them the greatest of hope:
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”
Every day, I pray for the grace, strength, and courage to see and serve the face of Jesus in the faces of my parents. I try to remember that prayer many times during the day when this situation feels too hard, too painful or too overwhelming. Loving them right now in a very hands-on way is the closest opportunity I have to physically love Jesus. This is a suggestion I've had from countless people who give care on a full-time basis for years and years. Indeed, St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata herself often spoke of seeing “Jesus in his most distressing disguise.” Maybe, I told myself in prayer over the gospel, if I could see Jesus in Mom's eyes, he would tell me "Do not be afraid".
Yesterday, on Easter, Daddy and I paid our usual visit to Mom. We tried to make her holiday special and to remind her, as we always do, that she is loved and cherished. I looked for Jesus in Mom's eyes and called to him in my heart as I rubbed lotion into her feet.
Then, is my habit, I opened Mom's blinds and looked out upon the sadly neglected birdfeeder. And there she was: a solitary female cardinal, gleefully making her way through the seed as though she were at an Easter buffet.
In that tiny bird-sighting moment, my fear was temporarily overcome by a hope that lasted all day.
Image credit: By GeoffClarke - http://geoffclarke.hubpages.com/hub/Canadian-Birds-in-my-Garden, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link