The EFC is inviting Canadians to share Your Stories of Palliative Care, as we launch the Palliative Care Toolkit, a resource to encourage discussion and help equip Canadians in dealing with serious illness. Contact us to submit your palliative care story. We would be honoured to hear it and share it.
By Andrée Morissette
I began caring for my elderly parents in 2011 when my mother had hip surgery. What turned out to be a simple surgery turned into a nightmare. Following the surgery, my mother developed a pulmonary embolism which in turn triggered an ongoing heart condition and further complications.
My mother’s condition became precarious. We feared for her life. I chose to remain with my dad at their house to care and support him during this time of trial. I witnessed firsthand how totally devastated my dad would be, were my mother to pass before him.
Although my mother had gotten saved at a Billy Graham crusade in 1998, my father had not yet accepted Jesus. Although I regularly prayed with my mother during her illness, I hardly ever spoke to my father about God. My greater witness was to express Jesus’ love and care to him.
My mother survived the complications of her hip surgery but often required hospitalization over the next several years. I continued to stay with my father to support him each time, and our bond deepened. In 2014 my father had a stroke and required hospitalization, at which time God in His goodness and mercy moved his heart to receive Jesus.
I continued to care for my parents, taking an active role in doctor visits and other medical appointments, offering assistance in the home and pouring all the love I could on them in the last vulnerable years of their lives.
When my father died unexpectedly on December 5, 2016, I was sad, but also relieved. In my limited understanding, I had prayed that God would take him home before my mother. God gave me a deep awareness of the peace and great joy my father entered into on that day.
From that moment on, my mother became my entire focus. I did not really grieve my father’s death. My main concern was to love and support her. However, her health declined to the point where (by June 2017) her doctor advised that she would need long-term care. Mom hated the thought of being in a nursing home and kept hoping her health would improve so that she would not have to move. The Lord, in His goodness, took her to Himself on July 19, 2017, before she had to move to a nursing home.
The loss of my mother, although she had not been well for a long time, was more devastating to me than I expected. As a single woman I had grown increasingly closer to my parents while caring for them in their vulnerable years. The sudden realization that they were now both gone left a deep void.
This vacuum of love I could no longer spend on my parents shook the foundation of my life. Although I knew I was secure in Jesus, I felt as if my parents’ passing left me with no foundation to stand upon. And despite the love and prayers of precious friends and sisters in Christ, I soon found myself slipping into depression and anxious thoughts.
I attended a GriefShare group at my church which proved to be a life-saver. I learned it was normal to experience the torrent of emotions that had surprised me after my mother’s passing.
I remember a friend at church expressing her dismay at Christians who lacked joy, which further exacerbated the feelings of guilt I sometimes felt for my sorrow.
People mean well, but in their discomfort around suffering, they can say very insensitive things. During this time of darkness and depression, some well meaning people exhorted me to “be strong.” Others chided me for not embracing the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Some tried to divert the conversation the moment I tried to speak of my parents, while others spoke to me of surrendering and being “joyful,” while my heart was breaking.
If I learned anything from this, it is to weep with those who weep, to be slow to speak and quick to listen, to put myself in others’ shoes and empathize with their suffering without trying to belittle their pain, fix their plight or make them rejoice.
God expressed His love and comfort to me throughout this time. He told me He loved me as much when I was joyful as when I was sorrowful. Through a song, He invited me to dance with Him (Bethel music “We dance”), which I understood to mean deeper union with Him.
Still, I felt that if I got busy serving others I would feel better. But I had little emotional energy or patience to invest in others. I was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. And my heavenly Father’s word to me in that exhausted place was not to get busy but to be still and know that He is God, to take time to be quiet and let Him minister to me.
One way God ministered to me during that time was addressing some guilt and regret I had over the way I had cared for my mother. Although I had done much to support my mother and pour my love on her during the last few months of her life, I had become weary of this at times and had not always been as sensitive to her as I feel I could have been.
God spoke to me through the GriefShare class and made me realize that He had not expected me to do everything perfectly. His care of my mother, over and above mine, had been perfect. He was her ultimate caregiver and He never failed her, even where I felt I had. This gave me the grace to forgive myself and let go of false guilt.
I feel much better than I did in the first few months after my mother’s passing. Am I done grieving? Not likely. I still very much miss my dear parents and feel the void and loneliness. I continue to come to the lover of my soul with the rawness of it all, so that He might pour in His healing balm. And as I lock eyes with Him, I sense that He is leading me to dance with Him right unto eternity.
Have you witnessed the difference palliative care made for a loved one? If you have an experience that you’d be willing to share on the EFC’s platform, email us to tell us about it. To say thank you, we’ll give you a free one-year subscription to Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine, where subscribers can read stories like this recent feature on palliative care.