When I made the sun shine…..

Have you ever walked into a room, and filled it with sunshine?  Do you have the power to elicit the most beautiful smiles merely by saying hello?  Do others rush to greet you and embrace you as though you were the most important person in the world?

I have regularly experienced all of the above, not by being rich or famous, but simply by being daughter — to my elderly parents during their last years on earth.

Until they passed away, within 13 days of each other in 2008, I didn’t fully appreciate how much it meant to be so loved and cherished simply for being me.  I now know that I will never again be loved on earth with that uniquely unselfish, unabashedly proud, and unconditional love of a parent for their child.

Mom died first, on the day they would have celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary.  How could she be gone?  She had always been there for me.  Even in those last few years when dementia had set in, she always recognized my voice and broke into a radiant smile which lit up her gray-green eyes, blinded by macular degeneration.  “Patty,” she would call.  “Come give me a hug.”

Dad had dementia too, but he covered it well most of the time.  Being alert and observant, his would roll his wheelchair into the kitchen as soon as he saw me pulling into the driveway.  “Oh, you made my day!  Honey, Patty’s here!”  He would call out to my mom as she sat swathed in fleece blankets in her bright pink recliner.

My parents had always taken care of me.  I remember mom holding cold compresses on my head and supporting me throughout agonizing waves of nausea during migraine attacks when I was a teenager.  And, I can still see the trays of tea and broth and crackers she brought when the worst of it was over.

They were there when cancer surgery put an end to my dreams of having babies.  They were devastated, but mom kept vigil with me, and dad cooked up all my favorite dishes.

We shared many happy times too — like the summer after my first year of college, when my best friend and I went to Europe with a study group.  We had taken off a semester to “type our way to England.”.  My parents gave me a small going away party with close family and friends.

But what I remember most about that party, and what I treasured more than any of the other gifts I received, was a glass coffee jar into which mom and dad had both collected all of their spare change over the preceding months.  They surprised me with this extra bit of spending money.

I don’t remember how much was in that jar — perhaps around $50.00 or so.  But it might as well have been a million dollars to me.  I was so touched by the joy on their faces when they handed me this little sacrificial gift.

Mom worked in retail, and she bought up the cutest clothes as soon as they went to markdown, so that my sisters and I could have a nice wardrobe during our teen years.  We had many good laughs over all the compliments we received on outfits that had cost less than ten dollars.

Dad borrowed on his life insurance to give me a beautiful wedding — because he wanted to.

Even as a child, I was humbled watching my parents deny themselves nice things in order to give my sisters and me piano lessons and pay tuition to Catholic schools.

But it was during those last five years of their lives, that they taught me more than I had learned in all those years growing up in the two-story, two bedroom brick home which they loved so much.

I experienced the great dignity which accompanies advanced age.  There was something almost sacred about my parents in their helplessness and frailty.  The trust in their eyes, the personal modesty they tried to maintain while being bathed and dressed by live-in caregivers was hauntingly beautiful.

My dad had been an artist, and even when Alzheimer’s had taken its toll, he still commented on the clothes my sisters and I wore — especially a pretty handbag or cool looking shoes.  He also liked to study the art hanging on the walls of the many doctors’ offices we visited.

During their last years, I lost count of the answers to prayer, some miraculous, which were associated with my parents’ needs and care.  Truly God has great tenderness for those who are old and infirm.

I am so grateful that I was able to be there for my parents during those last five years.  It is my greatest comfort now in missing them….and it is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

Both of their deaths were unexpected.  Mom was only ill for two weeks before she left us, and dad died only five weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer the doctors had somehow overlooked for months.  But all was as it was meant to be.

Our Blessed Lord took mom first, and dad never knew she was gone.  We just had time to bury her and then to see him through the last week of his life.  He didn’t know he was dying.  God was so merciful.  Dad slipped in and out of a coma, watching his beloved football games from his favorite chair on a Saturday afternoon, and drifted away to God (and mom) the next morning.

Losing them both at the same time was so hard, but was exactly what they would have wanted.

Of all that I miss about them, it is not what they gave when I was young or what they did when I needed them.

What I miss most of all is lighting up their lives and their faces simply by walking in the door.  I miss being their child.  No supermodel, no rock star ever received such an enthusiastic welcome.  I felt like the most important person in the world.

But as much as my parents made me feel loved, what will God’s Love be?  Like the Father of the prodigal son, will He not, with unrestrained Divine Love, rush down the path to meet us when we take our first steps into eternity?

Mom, Dad, I love you!

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12 thoughts on “When I made the sun shine…..

  1. What a beautiful tribute to your parents…and the love you all shared. Your description of their aging years is precious. I lost my dad when I was in my 20’s. Never quite got over it…I miss him something terrible, though I’m blessed to still have my mom. I bet they’ve reserved our library table for us in heaven !..(.My dad gave me my love for books.)
    Beautiful post.
    Blessings +

    • Thank you, Caroline. I was so blessed to be able to accompany my parents throughout those last years. I am so very sorry you lost your dad while you were so young. I know you miss him everyday. My parents have been gone almost three years now, and I’m handling it pretty well at this point. But every once in awhile, the grief hits me again, and I find myself missing them so much. The anniversary of their deaths is still a couple of months away. Mom died Thanksgiving week, and Dad on Pearl Harbor Day — fitting as he was a WW II veteran. But, it all makes for a difficult Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yes, for sure they will reserve our table : ) My mom always loved to read, and my older sister took me to the library with her before I even started school. I can still remember her letting me check out books on her card. Did you read your cereal boxes while eating breakfast ? : )

  2. A Bleeding Heart – I had one for the longest time and then one Spring it no longer appeared.

    I echo what Caroline said – a beautiful tribute. May they rest in peace, and may you have peace of mind looking back on what joy simply being their child gave them.

    • Thank you, Joyce. I hadn’t really intended to write about my parents the other day. But, I found myself thinking about and missing them so much over the past few weeks. I always miss them, of course. But sometimes the grief surfaces for no obvious reason. I guess you just have to grieve sometimes. I still can’t look at their pictures. It just makes me so sad. But I love remembering all the adventures my sister and I shared during those last years. I’m sure when my parents got to Heaven, they were amazed, and had many good laughs at all the goings-on — much of it related to the long parade of caregivers we went through. Most of all, God was so generous in helping us. He literally sent money from the sky — well almost literally, when we had run out of ways to finance their in-home care. He answered every prayer, and took them home together. I have so much to be grateful for. Thank you for your condolences.

  3. Your words of tribute to your parents are beautiful and very touching, my friend
    I’m sure you miss them terribly.
    They sound like very loving folks and obviously you were the welcome sun for them in their last days!
    No wonder you lit up their hearts with such joy 🙂
    Your sweet reunion will be glorious!!
    My dad passed away 22 years ago and my mother-in-law 12 – but I miss them still.
    I hear their voices and see their faces so clearly when they come to mind ..and the pain of the parting stings.
    But I also rejoice to know they loved the Lord and are safe with Him in His Presence.
    The suddeness of your parents leaving must have been so hard on you.
    I pray the Lord’s comforting hand to soothe all your sighing at the memory.
    Yes..when we all return to Him – He will run to us!
    What an atsounding day that will be!!
    much love in Jesus..Trish

    • Hi Trish. Thank you for your beautiful and kind words. Yes, I’m sure I will always miss my parents, as you miss your departed loved ones still. Time does help, but it would be very odd to forget about those we have loved and shared our life with. Thank God for our faith that we will all be re-united one day. I do like to talk to my parents, and ask for their prayers. My sister and I are keeping them very busy! I wrote about my own relationship with Mom and Dad during their last years, but both of my sisters were their “sunshine” as well. My older sister lives in California, and she would fly in twice a year for a few weeks, and spend all her time cooking and freezing their favorite meals. She cooked her heart out! But, they enjoyed it so much. She tried to keep enough food to last between visits. My younger sister lived a few blocks away, and is also a nurse. So, she was the one most on call so to speak. We all shared the joys and sorrows.

      I appreciate your prayers so much, and may you too experience the sweet comfort of Our Lord in your own sorrow and loss of your dear ones. God bless you, my friend in Jesus.

  4. This is so beautiful too! I hope I am doing this for my children! This is exactly the kind of Mom I want to be. If they would just quit fighting amongst each other it would be so easy. 🙂 Even though you mentioned how hard it was to lose your parents so close together, I didn’t really understand it until reading and getting a deeper glimpse into what you gave them. I suspect you and your sister are pretty close too. Is that right?
    Other observation is that while it was hard on you to lose them so close together you show again an acceptance of this.
    Then another is the good example you give to those of us not yet up to caring for aged and sick parents on their way home . . . namely the attitude that comes with recognizing it is a gift and mercy of God to be able to have that time, and to give and care for them. Praise God for wonderful parents!

    • Colleen, and I would bet my laptop that you are one awesome mom! 🙂 I can’t imagine you not being just so much fun, as well as wise and kind toward your children. Believe me, when I was growing up, and even as a young adult, I really took my parents for granted. I thought I knew everything and that they were so old-fashioned. Funny how maturity changes that perspective. I’m so grateful that I grew to really appreciate them in later years, and then when they were truly old and needy, to be able to see their precious worth in the eyes of God.

      As I think I mentioned in this post, my memories of caring for them in those last years are my greatest consolation now. I know that I was able to give back to them at least a little bit of the love they gave to me all of my days.

      Yes, my sister and I have always been very close…only three years difference in age. But honestly, during the most stressful periods of caring for our parents over five years, our relationship got tested to the max. I’m happy to say that we have recovered, and are really best friends. We even look a lot alike 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words, and yes: Praise God for wonderful parents!

      xxoo

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