My mother of 98 years passed away two days ago. She had stage three dementia and was being cared for in one of the best memory care convalescent facilities that my sisters and I could find in Southern California. I am a SoCal native, born and raised in a suburb of LA. My mom moved to LA from NY in the early 50’s to go to school and would later marry and settle down to raise a family, like so many in her generation, the greatest generation. My parents raised seven kids, six girls and one boy, me. My dad, who passed in 2015, was a serviceman for a large tech firm, and ten years younger than my mom. He was raised on a farm in the PNW. They met at a Bible College in OC. They raised us all in the ways of the Lord and we are all serving Jesus today. One of my older sisters passed in 2014.
My mom was a tough lady. She will never be accused of being a sweet little old lady. She was a depression survivor, she endured WW2, the Korean war, and the Civil Rights era. She was Pentecostal in her faith, godly in her character, intelligent in her mind, unstable in her emotions, and very physically fit. She suffered with what I would understand later as Opposition Defiant Disorder (ODD); yeah, it’s a real thing. ODD is when a person, usually who has suffered some kind of trauma or abuse, adapts to their world by arguing with anyone and anything that opposes them or who they deem as a threat. It’s really a control thing but it compromises their perception of reality. If you say the sky is blue, they say the sky is red, and all that it entails. This blog is not about ODD, you can look it up for yourself. This blog is about my mom who, in spite of her own personal drama, managed to help raise six wonderful people to be a productive part of society and live out their faith in Jesus with a fervency that reveals a genuine love for the Lord and a longing for His soon return. I remember years ago, before my mom left us mentally, a conversation I had with her. I thanked her for raising me and my sisters in the ways of the Lord. I am very thankful for my spiritual heritage, it’s a central part of my testimony.
Our parents taught us all an old school work ethic and we all managed to marry and raise our own families in the ways of the Lord. My oldest sister became an RN and later a business owner. The next one became an executive secretary, running more than one business. The next one a school teacher, business owner, and gifted musician and writer. The next one was the first to get a MA in our family and she raised the largest family in our line. The next one, now with Jesus, became a director of development for a large cancer research institute. I became a pastor and a bunch of other things and my younger sister, a CEO for a few non-profits, and later, a director of development for a reputable humanitarian organization. We all became leaders who, in spite of our own challenges, (and by God’s amazing grace) have all lived successful and meaningful lives. We owe it all to Jesus, our parents, and the many lessons we learned along the way. While I wouldn’t want to relive any of it, I can appreciate all of it, this close to the Rapture.
The title of this blog is The Parking Lot. It has to do with the last place our mom lived before she died and went to heaven. This was the memory care facility that ministered to our mom during the last few years of her life. These places are filled with people who have lived full lives and are winding down in their years. My mom was one of them, but she knew Jesus and longed to be with Him. Trapped in the shell that was her body, she was cared for by a wonderful staff of nurses and support personnel. A major shout out to all of those people out there who care for the elderly, the infirmed, and the has-beens of our society; alone but not forgotten (even though many feel like they have been). As a pastor I have visited many convalescent hospitals over the years and have seen and heard a lot of stories that are housed in these precious elderly people. My mom was one of those stories and the heart of this blog, a repost, written by one of my older sisters who is clearly a gifted writer. She reveals a truth about the place where our mom lived, and places like that. Enjoy the write:
The Parking Lot – by Gail Reid
“The parking lot, not outside a grocery store or a dentist’s office, not outside a bank or a gym. Not outside the drugstore or a restaurant, but outside the assisted living and memory care facility where adult children just left their parents. In the parking lot where it hits, the emotions are raw, questions flood the mind, the shift of responsibility of care from parent-child, to child-parent is real. The look of bewildered emotion in the eyes of the parent, as the adult child leaves. The pain of hard choices overwhelms the adult child, in the parking lot.
Could the hands of time please take them back to when they were the child, and the parent was the parent? No. The passage of time brings with it the seasons of life, ready or not. Denial is a comfortable waiting room for a while until the harsh realities overrule. Was this ever discussed over barbecues back in time when minds were fresh, laughter was real, and thinking was clear? Who would make the decision? Would it be the right choice, the best? Is it abandoning responsibility? Is it love? The months leading up to the parking lot were likely very emotional. Mom calls to say that the Nazis are having lunch in the backyard. Dad calls to say he was just drafted to fight the Germans, and he’s ready. He has his gun. Neighbors call to say that mom is looking for her homework in their backyard. The adult child knows it’s time. Trying to talk lovingly and respectfully to the confused parent, creates more anxiety, for both. “Please mom, the Nazis are not in your backyard.” Is that the strategy to use? “Okay mom, I’ll go outside to the backyard and tell the Nazis to leave.” That quiets mom until five minutes later, your cellphone rings again. “The Nazis are back.” It’s emotional. Tears fill the heart of the adult child, numbness. How did this happen? The adult child ponders a new diet for the parent. Perhaps if they juice more, eat carrots, filter their water, sleep with a new mattress. It’s grasping for straws, anything to reverse the hands of time.
Who wins? Decisions have to be made. What are the options? Does dad move in with the adult child? What happens while the adult child is at work? Who can be trusted to give the best care to dad? What about mom? She is weeping because she can’t find her prom dress and the prom is next week. Who will understand with compassion her dilemma, smile, and help her find her prom dress? Facilities for parents needing assisted living and memory care are a business. As people live longer, they are an even bigger business. Is it really about money? Will they show love? Do they have to show love? Who can be trusted? What facility has the care of its residents as their driving force? The adult child sifts through countless websites and pamphlets, trying to discern what is the best facility for their parent. They take tours and talk with their friends. Finally, the day comes, and they make what they pray is the best choice. They have met with the staff, they’ve signed important papers, they place their bewildered parent into their new home. They talk in quiet loving tones to their parent, assuring them that they will like their new neighborhood. They tell them they will have new friends and delicious meals. Their parent stares at them blankly, asking them when is President Roosevelt going to talk on the radio? The child assures them that President Roosevelt will talk on the radio that evening. Tears fill the eyes of both adult child and parent, neither can talk anymore. The facility tells the adult child they shouldn’t come back to visit their parent for a few weeks to allow for the parent to get adjusted. Numbly the adult child walks out of the facility, and into the parking lot.
The parking lot. That’s where everything hits. Overwhelming emotions take over. Standing still, in the parking lot to try to compose themself, they nearly go to their knees. The parking lot. Another adult child looks across the pavement, recognizes the pain in their unknown friend, goes over to put their arm around them, holds them, gives them a wordless empathetic hug. Will it be okay the adult child asks the new friend? Is this the right thing? Will the staff truly take care of the parent? Countless conversations just like this take place in the parking lot. Yes, the staff will take care, good care, hopefully. It’s a journey. There are no guarantees that love and compassion will be shown to the adult parent. Is a loving heart a requirement for staff? Over four years ago, Cathy faced this very situation. It required creativity to get her mom to leave her home of 60 years, to live at a memory care facility. Mom didn’t know. She walked into her new home, her new room. The windows were large in her new home, the sunshine filling it with warmth and assurance. Cathy needed that warmth and assurance. Her mom asked her when she would be back? Cathy gave her a hug and mumbled something about coming back after a while. And then, and then, it was out to the parking lot. Tears flowed. She couldn’t walk. She just stood taking in the sunshine, trying to find assurance through its warmth and her tears. She felt someone’s arm around her, another adult child of a parent. She held Cathy, handed her a tissue, let her know it would be okay.
The parking lot. It was a comfort zone of sorts. Conversations were exchanged between adult children. Stories were swapped, assurances given. It’s been over four years since that first day Cathy took that big step for her mom. Since then, there has been a presidential election, a pandemic, and an invasion of a country similar to what her mom would haven’t remembered from her teen years during World War II. As Cathy looks back over the four-plus years since placing her mom in that facility, she thinks about the care her mom received. The love, tenderness, compassion, and fun. She recalls how her mom loved walking the halls day after day, even after a hip replacement. She recalls the skill which the staff exemplified repeatedly toward her, calming her anxiousness as the adult child. She reflects on the boldness and tenderness they showed during an unprecedented pandemic. Cathy could not come into the facility to see her mom. Talking to her through a window had to suffice. Staff had to make hard decisions, so many vulnerable elderly lambs placed in their shepherd hands.
It was all good. And now, as heaven looms large and in focus for Cathy’s mom, both are well cared for. Mom rests and waits. Cathy rests and waits. God’s timing is always right. This wonderful facility that enfolds the elderly lambs in our community is Wildwood Canyon Villa (WCV). A beacon of light they are, offering a haven and hope to those who find themselves needing to make a very difficult decision. The directors of WCV were always wise, kind, humble, and strong. They listened when the adult child had concerns. They offered suggestions, never making demands. Their experience was woven into their perspective. They understood and understand the emotions of the adult child, in the parking lot. Their professionalism in all aspects left a sense of security in the hearts of those entrusting their loved ones to them. Many times Cathy would witness so many harsh realities as residents in memory care adjusted in their own way. The staff took it. They tried to show forgiveness and compassion. They had to develop a guard around their hearts and nerves to not take it personally the behaviors shown to them. Such love.
Thank you WCV for all you do day and night to keep your residents respected, safe, loved, well cared for. You’re not paid to smile or show compassion, but you do anyway. You go the extra mile. You are tough and tender. You are God’s servants and angels to countless families. Memory care residents may not remember their name, who is president, or what day it is. They may forget how to walk or swallow. For all they don’t remember, they will always recognize love. Your love. Thank you. May God bless you, keep you, and make His face shine upon you. Love is the greatest gift, in your facility, and in your parking lot.”
This article was published in the local paper where WCV is located as a tribute to some of the quality businesses that serve the community in and around Yucaipa, CA. Thank you again to my sweet sister Gail who was the primary contact for our mom during her final years and the many stories she gained in the process. My sisters and I will be hosting a memorial service for our mother in the Kansas City area next month to honor her and her legacy. While it will be attended by mainly just family as our mom out lived all of her friends and most of her enemies, it will be done in a way that honors God and the lady who gave us many memories (and some never made) and a legacy of faith that lives on in us.
One final note in this long-winded blog. For all my brothers (and sisters) in Christ out there who may have lost a parent (or will lose one soon enough), but whose relationship with them was tainted with some unpleasant experiences and such due to a series of relational conflicts or mismanaged tensions that were never really properly resolved; to you I say, just forgive them and let it go. In so doing you release yourself in the process. While this blog is not about forgiveness so much as it is a parking lot, we are all reminded that this life is way too short to be holding grudges or bitterness over other people’s inability to be better than they were. Let it go.
Some of us may have been dealt parents who were a bit rough on us, perhaps a bit more than we’d like to admit. Perhaps we would have loved them to be a bit more mature or loving when it came to their ability to parent and such. All I can say is that they did their best and we must do the same, our best, when it comes to loving those people entrusted to our care. That’s what we will give an account to God for at the Bema.
“Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening (discipline) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:9-11
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: 3 “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” – Ephesians 6:1-3
For what it’s worth, I squared with my mom years ago and I am better for it. If any of you still need to square with anyone who has caused you grief, perhaps even a parent, living or dead, I implore you to forgive that person and let it go. They did what they did for whatever reason, good or bad, but you don’t have to let their actions detour you from what God has instore for you. Recently, during an altar call at our church, a broken lady came forward for prayer who was emotionally abused by her adopted mother, now passed. She was struggling with the issue of forgiveness due to the painful memories of her past experiences with this parent. How sad it is when adult children still struggle with some of those unresolved issues from parents (or other people) who have hurt them when the shouldn’t have. This is what forgiveness is all about, releasing them and releasing yourself, thus removing the power from painful memories and past occurrences that should have never happened. If you’re reading this and this person is you, please forgive them and move on. God will give you the strength (and grace) that you need to truly forgive and let them go. This close to the Rapture, anything goes!
Encouragemen is a blog written by Pastor Rob Lee, recently relocated to Central Missouri. He lives with his wife of 32-years, near their three adult children, their spouses, and children (their grandchildren). Pastor Rob is an Ordained Assemblies of God minister, a former Lead Pastor (25 years), police chaplain, and community advocate. He continues to serve, consult, and disciple men of God, including those who are in the ministry.