Fifty-eight years ago, my parents said “I do!” I wasn’t around back then – not even a sparkle in their eye. Nevertheless, I’ve had a front row seat to it all. If I had to choose, I would not choose their kind of marriage for myself, but it’s worked for them and they’ve managed to stay “in it” all these years. There have been a few times when I’ve given my Mom permission to leave it, begged her to, but she remained committed to her vows and politely told me to “butt out.”
A marriage between two people is never between two people, regardless if the marriage is dotted with children. It’s a testimony to the world of sacrifice, forgiveness, commitment, endurance, and restoration – it’s a testimony of Christ. A good testimony, a bad testimony, and something in between. And children watch and learn. Family watches. Friends watch. Neighbors watch.
My Mom is an amazing woman. Today she’s sitting in the hospital room with my Dad. His health has failed dramatically over the last two weeks and she is no longer able to care for him like she’s done for 58 years. His pain is severe due to broken vertebrate from a fall and there is no treatment except for easing the pain. In addition, he’s developed an infection from laying in one place for too long. Moving him was unbearable, for him and for us.
We’ve spent quite a few hours talking about what all this means. She told me, “I thought we had more time.” But is there ever enough time? How much time would be enough if you knew it was coming to an end? She blames herself for his fall and I cannot take that from her. I gently remind her that this is his story, too. And falling was inevitable. I look at her face and I know she is grieving for the man she’s already lost to dementia, to the thought of her future without him by her side, and for that moment when she can’t care for him in any of the small and big ways. She has given her life to his comfort in small acts every day, for years. He has been a king in our home, and she has served him with gladness.
I’m not close to my Dad. When I was a kid, my friends would all tell me how great my Dad was and how lucky I was to have him. And I believed them and saw him through their eyes. But when you have a front row seat, you see things and hear things that friends don’t. You sit at the dinner table, hear the harsh words spoken behind the front door, and withstand the long hours of silence and selfishness. And this is the Dad you remember. My love for my Mother and my desire to protect and defend her from my Dad came early in life. Were it not for those years, I am convinced I would not have the overwhelming compassion to care for women and children today. I am thankful for this gift, this grace, this life lesson.
Several years ago, I started hearing teaching on “Father Hunger” and started to believe the nonsense. I’m convinced it was formulated to make men think more highly of themselves than they should. Did I make choices in my life seeking the love that was missing from my Dad? Possibly, but I also had the love and support of an amazing Mother who filled in the gaps and raised me to be strong, independent, and courageous. So many children are fatherless in this world due to stupid wars, selfish men, and love of empire…surely there is another answer. And I began to see that teaching children to know God, the Father, from an early age, is far more good for the soul. A loving Father God who seeks to restore our souls and continually reminds us of His love is more than any earthly Father could ever be. It wasn’t until I was able to change my expectations of my Dad, to see him as simply a man made in the image of God, that I was able to love him and confront him and see beyond all the spoken and unspoken hurts of the past. We sat and talked and I told him things I needed to say, we made peace, he asked for forgiveness and we forgave the past together. And I never thought that day would come, but God is faithful.
So now my Dad is nearing the end of his story. I have mixed emotions. I hate seeing him suffer and I want it to end. I want him to have “more time” because that’s what my Mom needs. There are so many unanswered questions that only God knows the answers to. Does my Dad have a relationship with Christ? Will I see him again? Nevertheless, I pray this for him:
Heart, body, and soul are filled with joy.
For you will not leave me among the dead; you will not allow your beloved one to rot in the grave.
You have let me experience the joys of life and the exquisite pleasures of your own eternal presence.
— Psalm 16: 9-11