I’m in Edmonton, Alberta this week. Autumn has begun here. Coloured leaves fall like rain when the wind shakes the elm trees arching over the streets of the older districts. This morning thick green hostas and a few remaining flowering perennials lined the flower beds outside my mother-in-law’s apartment building. This evening they are gone. This afternoon volunteers pulled up and chopped back the greenery, then toted away bags of vegetative debris for composting as they prepared the beds for winter.
I was shocked. They were still green and blooming. I guess the calendar says summer is over so the volunteer gardeners went to work while they had time. Somebody has to do it.
I think seeing the bare beds reminded me of my own pain this week. It is becoming increasingly clear my husband’s elderly mother is moving into a new season. It’s a bit of a shock. We knew it was coming, but still… She doesn’t recognize – or remember – the ominous signs of declining health that make it unsafe for her to continue to live independently.
She is not happy with her sons and daughters-in-law or grandchildren right now. We don’t want to deprive her of freedom. There are still areas of her life that are green and thriving, but at 91 she has suffered noticeably from the shock of her second son’s death a few weeks ago. We know it is time for her to downsize so we can provide more care for her.
Because she lives in a different city than her surviving sons there is no ideal arrangement that will not involve more loss, especially of possessions that carry so much meaning for her. Frankly, we don’t really know what to do. We need wisdom. It’s a sad season and I hate the role I now find myself in. Pushy is not a characteristic I admire or ever wanted to acquire, but somebody has to do it. Sometimes love is costly.
The hardest part for me, after seeing my mother, then my father, and now my mother-in-law lose parts of themselves to failing memory, is to confront my own mortality. I’ve noticed that it is very difficult to change in old age. For those who have survived the trauma of war and famine and death of loved ones in youth, but who never completely escaped the tyranny of fear, old age can be utterly terrifying. Frightened people can hurt the very ones who are trying to help them as they return to child-like vulnerability. This is a time of testing for all of us.
My prayer this week is that I will end my days with a healed and whole heart, trusting in the love of my heavenly father who has promised to never leave or forsake me. I pray that he will teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom before my final season in this body. I pray that I may burn with the colours of love right until the end and that I would be willing to change now in order to get there.
It’s a big request.