A Caregiver Reflects on Lent
Thursday After Ash Wednesday
I love the readings for today, with seemingly contradictory guidance for us. The reading from Deuteronomy has Moses giving a passionate speech about the power of choice and the promise of abundant life for those who choose rightly; between life and death, blessing and curse. “Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.”
Yet Jesus’ gospel message seems to imply that we have no choice. Rather, those who deny themselves and take up their daily crosses to follow him receive the promises of eternal life. This message is a curse for caregivers, leaving us feeling depressed and defeated, unless we dig deeper into what Jesus might be saying. After all, he is also quoted in the gospel of John: “I have come that you may have life, and life in abundance!” Jesus is all about LIFE so what can he mean?
As caregivers, we often have to deny our own needs, putting aside our agenda for the day, or even the moment, because the immediate needs of our loved one are more urgent, with the potential for dehydration, weight loss, broken bones and delirium if we aren’t vigilant. While we have little control over the circumstances and events of our lives (layoffs, natural disasters and the illness of loved ones) we do have the choice about how we will respond to them, which is incredibly powerful and uplifting.
Through these months of caring for my husband, gradually I am learning to trust more in God’s abundance. There is abundant life, love, and time for both of us. It’s not thinking about “his needs or mine” but rather “us.” What is the choice for life for us? Our Divine Source knows our needs and desires and provides abundant time for all that is necessary. If there isn’t time for it, it’s not necessary. And that takes all the steam out of my anxious planning and trying to anticipate the future - and brings great peace.
One day, during those first weeks of hospice, I frantically and exhaustedly told our nurse that I didn’t know what I was doing. “Am I helping him recover or am I helping him die well?” Her matter-of-fact response was pure gold. “Well, you’re not dead ‘til your dead. So, here’s what I do: every day I try to help my patients have the best quality of life they can…. for today.” And that’s the life Jesus promises… for today. Eternal life lies in the infinite possibilities of the present moment, and the choices we make.
Since then, I have been at peace about it all. I still get impatient with those who have endless questions about the future. “Will he get off hospice? Will that heal? He’s getting better, isn’t he?” How many times do we/I have to say, “I don’t know”? I do the best I can each day to choose LIFE. It’s not always clear, and then I’m grateful for St. Ignatius’ guidelines for discernment, but that’s a topic for another day.