As full-time caregiver for my aging mother, Marjorie, I often asked God how I could make her life meaningful even as she declined both physically and mentally.
Although my mother's memory had deteriorated to the point that she occasionally didn't even know who I was, she still retained her loving spirit and sense of humor. People enjoyed being around her. It occurred to me one day as I was praying that God still had work for her to do at this stage in her life. And it seemed that because so much of Mother was already gone, you could see more of the Lord living in her precisely because there was less of her to get in the way.
I realized Mother still had a ministry: God was using her to channel his love to others—primarily her caregivers.
This was certainly true in my own life. I had brought my mom to live with my husband and me more than four years ago. God had given me this assignment of caring for her, and I sought to be completely obedient to him in the process.
But when her needs became greater, and it became more and more difficult for me to care for her, God brought some wonderful women into my life to help. I occasionally had opportunities to travel with my husband, and I needed caregivers who could come in and care for Mother in our home. Sharon, who had been widowed at a relatively young age and whose only child was now in college, told me that caring for Mother had given her a new purpose and joy in using her gifts in serving others. She, too, was seeking how God could use her. But Sharon went beyond just caring for my mom—she began caring for me, too.
Because Mother could no longer be left alone, Sharon volunteered to give up going to the Tuesday morning Bible Study at her church to stay with Mother so I could go to the Women's Bible Study at my church. She not only took care of getting Mother up and dressed, fixing her breakfast, administering her medications, and interacting with her; she also volunteered to get her lunch, pack a snack for the afternoon and take her to an afternoon daycare program so I could have the whole day off. That was truly love in action!
However, even more amazing was how God used Mother in her final days to pour out his love to another caregiver, Tracey.
Our relationship with Tracey began as I sought to find someone to team up with Sharon while my husband and I went on a trip. Sharon would take the daytime shift and another caregiver would take the night shift. It was spring break for the schools in our area, and none of the other women who had stayed with Mother in the past were available. After exhausting my list, I was beginning to think I might need to stay home when a friend recommended a single woman in her Bible study who had just been laid off from her job. Although I didn't know her, I called her in desperation. She was available and willing to serve us in this way. Little did I realize God's plan at the time—Tracey immediately fell in love with Mother.
As we left on our trip early on a Sunday morning, Mother was doing exceptionally well, so I felt comfortable leaving her. Tracey had taken her to church that morning and out to eat afterwards. That evening the stars were shining unusually bright in our metropolitan area, so Tracey took her out in the yard to see them. Mother was thrilled, and exclaimed how they looked like what she remembered when she lived on the farm. The constellation of Orion was fully visible, shining brightly in the clear night sky.
Four days later, in the early morning hours, the Lord called Mother home. Unexpectedly, she had died peacefully in her sleep. Tracey immediately called Sharon, who took control, and much of the flurry of activity surrounding such an event was already over by the time I arrived home from my trip late that afternoon. My two flights with a short layover in between had given me time to work through some of my questions and struggles with the Lord. Lord, I always thought I would be the one to be with Mother when she died, but you chose differently. You have a purpose beyond my understanding, and I accept your purpose, whatever that may be.
Beyond the obvious blessing of sparing me the trauma, as the days and weeks unfolded after Mother's death, I began to see more clearly God's purpose. Tracey's love for Mother remained strong, and became a driving force in her life. She has gone on to care for other women as opportunities have become available and sees this as a fulfilling way to allow God to channel his love through her to others.
But love in action doesn't stop here; God has now put me in a position to minister to Tracey in helping her through this transition in her life. She calls me "Mom" and feels free to call when she needs a listening ear and word of advice. We've talked about how we are now bonded together for eternity through Mother's death and our love for the Lord and each other.
As a beautiful memory of Mother's final days, Tracey brought over a photograph of the night sky she and Mother were looking at just three days before she died. A photographer friend of hers who was out that night had taken the picture. She had it dry-mounted on a 16" x 20" poster-board with the inscription: "Marjorie's stars, March 27, 2011."
Carolyn Stonehocker is a writer living in Illinois with her husband.