“How much do I owe you?” she said. She kept repeating it several times. Each time I assured her that she didn’t owe me anything. I assured her that I had helped her because I loved her, not because I wanted anything. I think she knew she didn’t owe me, as we have always joked in our family about “sending the bill”, but still a small part of her seemed to feel the need to offer. I think it was because she was grateful.
Grateful that I helped her bathe. I don’t do it to be noble or garner praise. I do it because somebody has too. It’s not my natural inclination to bathe others, or help them to the bathroom or with whatever personal needs they need met. I mistakenly entered a nursing program when I was 18. How naive of me. I lasted until mid-October. When our instructor told us that the next semester we’d be giving shots that was the last straw for me. That was my aha moment that I was not meant to be a caregiver. I mean, the bed baths and the perverted old man had been a clue, but the shots just pushed me over the edge. So, I’m a nursing school drop-out.
She made me pay for that. Not to be mean, but to teach me a lesson. Uniforms, shoes, stethoscopes etc are expensive and I had entered into a noble profession lightly, without much thought, other than the memory of the cute lab techs I’d witnessed when my grandfather was in the hospital a few months earlier. I mean decisions have probably been made for worse reasons, but really. As I said, I was very naive at 18. And such a romantic. So, I worked at babysitting and paid back some of the money to my mom who had worked hard as a school lunch lady to help me. Thankfully, she was able to use the uniforms and shoes as this was in the days when school lunch ladies wore white uniforms.
This sense of making things right and being responsible still lurks around the fringes of her current state of dementia. She needed to tell me that what I’d done was worth something to her. She compliments me whenever I do something to help her and tells me that others would be glad to have someone do the same for them. She tells me I could probably get other’s to pay for my services. I patiently explain to her that I am not certified to do these things for pay. Nor, would I want to.
She is always grateful and even though there is a vulnerability in letting me help her, she does so because she trusts me and because she knows she needs my help. It is hard for her to give up her independence, she who has always been the caregiver, always the one to meet the need. It is hard for me to see her lose that independence, to realize that she doesn’t remember to bathe, or lotion her skin, or brush her teeth, all those little things that we take for granted and do habitually. She is still particular and loves to be clean, she just doesn’t realize when she isn’t. So, I remind her as gently as I can that it’s shampoo time. I help her in as practical a way as I can because I know she wants to be as normal as possible. It is a humbling experience to be given that kind of trust. Especially, from one who has always been so independent.
So today, when she yet again asked what she owed me, I tried to make her see that she was the reason I was able to do these things for her. Over the years I have watched her take care of others; it is her love language. No job too dirty. She has wiped many a dirty bottom and washed many a dirty feet. She never sees the dirty part of the job. She just sees the need; her compassion and love for others compels her to act in loving service to them. By watching her in action, I have seen that love bears all things. Love takes care of the dirty. Even though it doesn’t come natural to me, I am able to act with compassion because her example taught me how.
Love is a wonderful thing when we let it drive our actions. It will take us out of our comfort zone into places we never thought we’d be capable of inhabiting. When we remember the price love paid for us, it enables us to show that same kind of love to others. Especially to others.
Loving Because of Grace,