As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you (Isa. 43:2).
“C’mon Mom! Come in the water!”
Mom rarely put her bathing suit on, let alone got into the pool. A few times she told us the story of how she almost drowned. How her cousins had urged her to come with them into the ditch to swim, and when she waded in, the water rose quickly over her head. She didn’t know how to swim and immediately panicked as the darkness closed in around her.
Mom feared water. But there was an awesome pool in our yard, and we wanted her to share our enjoyment of a refreshing dip.
“We’ll teach you how to swim, Mom!” we urged. As she put her toes in the water and eased herself down the steps to the shallow end, we quietly watched. Careful not to splash or scare her, we wanted her to enter the water without fear. And Dad was usually waiting at the bottom of the steps to hold her hand.
Mom never did get the hang of swimming. I guess there are some skills that are hard to teach and fears that are difficult to overcome after a certain age. No, she didn’t love being in the water, but she loved being on the water.
Fishing in Minnesota from a young age with her father, and later with her husband, was one of her favorite pastimes. The boat and her captain, my dad, kept her safely above the water.
Like that day their boat sprung a leak and they began to sink. Dad knew what to do. He knew they needed to keep moving ahead to stay afloat. And when they arrived at the shore, he plugged up the hole and kept their vessel from sinking.
When Illness Hits
We knew Mom was sinking before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. She had been repeating herself too often. She lost track of things she previously had meticulous control over. And she just didn’t seem interested in trying new things. With her diagnosis came many questions about the future. My siblings and I tried to plan, but try as we might, our plans, like a boat in the storm, were thrown off course.
When the captain, who had kept Mom’s boat afloat for almost five years after the diagnosis, was suddenly gone, her ship drifted aimlessly for weeks. Dad’s passing was the first unexpected storm. We knew he had been falling and was at risk for breaking a bone and landing himself in the hospital. Still, we never expected a fall in which he’d hit his head and succumb within a few short hours to a brain bleed. This wasn’t part of our plan. It was part of God’s plan, though, and we had to accept it.
Mom was lost without him. Getting up several times a night to ask if we’d heard anything yet. Or wondering if Dad was coming home. Repeatedly asking throughout the day, “Did Dad die? How?” We’d tell her the story again. She was drowning in confusion.
Swirling around us in this storm were the raging waters of a global pandemic.
We had always envisioned visiting Mom and Dad in their last days at the local Christian nursing home. It was a good home. It was where several of our relatives had spent their final days. Dad had written checks for their building drives. It was part of his plan as much as it was ours. But the pandemic changed all that.
How could we move Mom at a time when she had lost her husband and when, due to COVID-19, she might not be allowed visits from her children? The plan of moving our parents to the nursing home had played out in our minds many times. But now it seemed all wrong. Again, our plan was not the way God had written Mom’s story.
And so we pressed on, rewriting our plans. After weeks of searching and phone calls, we found a caregiver. She prayed with and for Mom. She soon learned Mom’s every need. Still, Mom’s physical strength began to wane. We watched as she nearly stopped eating. As she lost her ability to walk. As she stared with empty eyes into her own deep waters. Could Alzheimer’s cause her to decline so quickly? We were losing her.
A Final Storm
In a last-ditch effort to keep her from sinking, we took her to the ER and a quick blood test revealed she was bleeding internally. The stomach ulcer the doctors found was biopsied, and a few days later we faced yet another storm we hadn’t factored into our plans. Mom had cancer.
Before this, we had taken Dad’s lead as the captain of the ship. We kept sailing, doing whatever we could to keep Mom from sinking. We learned about Medicare and long-term care benefits. We found shower bars, bedside commodes, a gait belt, a walker, and then a wheelchair. We ordered Depends and Boost energy drinks by the case.
We feared losing Mom after fighting so hard to keep her. But this new diagnosis, this final storm, once again had us changing course. We had envisioned a different ending, but her heavenly Father had already written her story and its ending.
“(A)ll the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:16b).
God was asking us to let her go. To stop forcing her to swim against our fears.
We are not alone in our fears. Nor in our loss and grief. The storm of 2020 has rewritten the course of life for countless others around the world. And like the actions of my siblings and myself, the natural tendency is to grab the helm of the ship and try to steer through it. To take control of any part of our lives we feel we can control.
We wear masks and socially distance ourselves. We quarantine and isolate. We take our vitamin D. And while these are all prudent measures during a pandemic, these moves will not change the course of God’s plan for our lives. When fear threatens to capsize our vessel, there’s only one source of help. In the midst of the storm, Jesus is our light on the shore, and our only hope is to keep our eyes on Him.
With the help of hospice, Mom is now wading into the waters that will eventually overcome her. Knowing Dad is waiting there to take her hand is a comfort to us all.
But the greatest comfort is the knowledge that she will not go alone. The promises she and Dad taught us throughout our lives, the ones we sang about in church and around the piano at home, the ones we memorized in catechism class–those promises are our only comfort … in life and in death. That we are not our own, but belong with body and soul … to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has set us free! (H.C. Q&A #1).
The waters of death will never truly overcome, because in death, Mom will only pass through those waters. On the other side, she will find that golden shore, with a spring of new life that will have her swimming (yes, swimming!) and somersaulting and dancing for joy!
About the Author
- Linda Hanstra, a semi-retired speech-language pathologist, writes about what brings joy to her empty nest–faith, family, cycling, traveling, grandparenting, and more–at lindahanstra.com and on Substack. The author of Lent through the Little Things, Linda and her husband, Tom, attend Church of the Savior CRC in South Bend, Indiana.