My father and his siblings are gone now. All three have moved on.
My father’s brother–my namesake Richard, was a bull-headed man. The two of us had a lot in common. He lived a simple life, and for most of his days lived he lived alone.
His sister Evelyn, my aunt, was a super-saint if there ever was one. She never had children but she mothered anybody in need, prepared meals, and would do anything for anyone. When I visited her church twelve years after she’d moved, she was still remembered with great affection. She was somewhat of a legend in her circles.
When I reflect on my aunt and uncle’s life it seemed only fitting that a sovereign God would make the last part of her life much better than it was. She’d, after all, lived a life focused on pleasing God. She helped so many people, but her life didn’t end as one would hope.
She spent her last ten years in a state-run nursing home consumed with Alzheimer’s. She didn’t know anyone-she didn’t know who she was, and no one who cared for her knew what kind of person she had been. She was surrounded by strangers.
Her brother, my uncle, spent his last three years living with my family. He was capable mentally, and surrounded by loved ones. He had a companion dog that he adored, and a roomy apartment attached to our house. He was very comfortable.
At the time none of it made sense. My family simply put one foot in front of the other and did what we could. We were able to care for my uncle-when he could no longer drive he moved in with us. Our choice was simple. It grieved me to know my aunt’s situation, but with four children in our home we were not in a position to help her.
The circumstances life throws at us often take unexpected turns. But it does help to realize that God see’s things from a different perspective. The time we occupy on this planet amounts to a tiny drop in the sea of time. We see events in the here and now. Long term benefits are often not as important as short term comforts.
The year I spent taking care of my father in ‘86 as his cancer progressed, was a pressure cooker, but I also learned many lessons that will last a lifetime. I learned who he really was, and I learned that there is a right way and a wrong way to die. My father, in the face of great suffering cared deeply for those around him. He was more concerned about his friends and family than he was for himself. He never complained.
I was blessed during that time, but I also harbor regrets. I regret not shaving him more often, I regret not making him more presentable for visitors: people who’d known him for years and came to say goodbye. I also regret the occasional sharp words: those times when my responses were less than kind. I regret not telling him how proud I was of the way he carried himself. My regrets are part of the experience but I don’t regret the football games I missed on TV, or the cookouts and gatherings I was unable to attend as I cared for my dad.
The most important thing I learned is that when you care for a loved one in need don’t ever regret what you’re missing, just live in the moment. That’s where the Lord wants us.
Looking back on the life of my aunt and uncle I’m reminded of Job. When all was taken from Job God returned to him a double portion of everything he’d lost with one exception. Job was only given back the identical number of children. The reason is that God see’s things from an eternal perspective. Today in heaven, the number of Job’s children with whom he will spend eternity, has doubled.
Another wonderful gathering is occurring in heaven today. My father, my aunt, and my uncle are all together. On the last day of his life my uncle’s accepted Christ. He was ninety. Those three years he spent with us had their rough edges but they were valuable to us all. “And we know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Rom 8:28
My hope is that anyone who reads this will live in the moment. Life is short, swim from the shallows into the depths. Know that God is in control and the difficulties we face are for our good. Those difficult moments will pass soon enough. They are just a tiny drop in an endless sea of time.