How to Deal with Death in the Caregiving Season
- Jane Daly janesdaly.com
- Published Aug 19, 2016
After five months in the care home, things changed for the worse. Dad was too sick to visit our family doctor for a follow-up appointment regarding the results of his kidney function test. I happened to be at that same doctor’s office for a physical, so I asked for the results to pass along to my folks. The doctor patted my shoulder as he gave me my dad’s death sentence. “His kidneys are failing, and he will slowly decline over the next ten days or so.”
How do I tell my dad he’s dying? What words could soften the knife-thrust of the phrase, “You only have about two weeks to live”? Mike, Mom, and I talked about what we would say. This wasn’t something we could communicate without showing a united front. Mom wasn’t emotionally capable of telling Dad by herself. I’m grateful for a wonderful husband. Mike did most of the talking so Mom and I could sob quietly into our tissues. He explained that a hospice worker would come to see Dad by the end of the week.
“And she’ll help me get better, right?” Dad asked. The three of us shook our heads like pendulums. “No, Dad,” I said. “She’s going to talk to you about the dying process.” “She’ll bring some medicine to help me get better, right?” Dad asked.
My stomach clenched. Dad wasn’t getting it. “No, Dad. There isn’t any medicine,” I told him. “Your kidneys are failing. The doctor wants you to be prepared.”
As I tried to pull Dad from the grasp of denial, I also dealt with my desire to ignore reality. I wanted my dad back, the way he was in the years before he grew old. I wanted him to come to my house, sit at my table, and drink coffee with me. I wanted him to pick me up at work at lunchtime and take me to Taco Bell or Arby’s.
Gerald Sittser, in A Grace Disguised, says, “We are deceived by our longings for what we once had, because we cannot have it that way forever, even if we regain what we lost for a while.” Dad would eventually die, and I needed to face that fact.
My prayer changed from asking for Dad’s healing to begging God for Dad’s salvation. We’d had many conversations about Jesus, and Dad always said he didn’t believe. Mike talked to him, Mom encouraged him, but Dad was polite and stoic in his rebuffs. I was twenty-one before God became real to me. From then on, my life radically changed for the better. Once I made the decision to turn my life over to Christ, I told my family about my beliefs. Mom was enthusiastic, Dad only marginally so.
“That’s great, Chickie. Glad it works for you.” I never understood how Dad could have taught Sunday school
in the Methodist Church in his younger years, and still deny his need for the Savior of the world.
Once the death sentence was real, Mike and I made even more of an effort to witness to Dad. We asked him time and time again what he thought would happen to him after he died. He answered, “I’ll take my chances.”
Ten days later, as he ate his dinner, Dad began struggling for breath. The hospice worker called us, and we rushed over to find Dad gasping for air. I got right up to his ear and yelled, “I love you, Daddy! You need to turn to Jesus right now and be saved!” I repeated this over and over until he slipped into eternity.
To our knowledge, Dad never received Christ despite our continual witness to him. I won’t know until I get to heaven if he’s there. I don’t know if in those last moments, his spirit responded at last to the call of Christ. I hope it wasn’t too late. Perhaps as he came to grips with the reality of the end of his life, he made the decision quietly in his heart.
It’s hard watching your parent die. Our American culture keeps us from looking closely at dying. In movies, death is depicted as a peaceful passing. The Hollywood, sanitized version doesn’t show the indignities associated with the dying process. You never see a dying person filling her adult diaper because she can’t hold her bowels. They don’t show an elderly man lying helpless on the floor, wetting himself because he can’t get to the bathroom. Rarely depicted is a man or woman writhing in pain from inoperable cancer.
Yet this is as much a part of life as the beauty of birth. Death is ugly. Death steals our humanity and our dignity. We were never created to die. When God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He meant for them to live forever, infinite like Himself. Their sin brought death into the world, and to every descendant. Thank God for Jesus, who conquered death so we no longer have to fear it.
Our suffering is just for a little while. We can have this assurance from 2 Corinthians 4:16-17: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (nasb).
If my dad had known Jesus, he would have been able to see beyond the indignity of his physical limitations. He would have known that soon he’d shed this finite body for the infinite.
Although it was exhausting caring for my dad as his needs grew, I would gladly do it again if it meant having him here again for a little while. As you grow weary in caregiving, remember that this is a season. Seasons change, and your elderly loved one will eventually pass out of this life. Enjoy your parent’s presence while you can.
Jane Daly is the author of Because of Grace, the inspirational story of her journey through her son’s diagnosis of cancer at age 29 and his death the following year. She and her husband have served as missionaries in rural Montana, and they currently volunteer as small group leaders and coaches in their church. Jane speaks on a variety of subjects related to finance and spiritual growth. Contact her at janesdaly.com.
Publication date: August 22, 2016