Feeling helpless when someone you love is in distress is pure torment — until God shows up.
For thirty years, Mom and I painted together every Friday. I’d arrive and we’d head to her art room — Mom with her tea and me with my pink energy drink — and we’d paint, talk, and laugh into the evening.
Mom was a best friend to each of her daughters and was always there for us. Whether it was as a “shop ’til you drop” companion or bumping along in my sister’s truck over the Sierra summit for a vet clinic while bundled in a heavy coat and long underwear, all while balancing a sixty-four-ounce tea on the pile of blankets on her lap . . . Mom was there, laughing. Always laughing.
So when her early dementia diagnosis came, it hit us like a mudslide, stripping away our familiar family landscape and leaving it in a tumbling mess of pain.
Because my dad couldn’t manage their ranch and simultaneously care for my mom, we moved them out-of-state to be closer to more family. But within a year, my dad died of heart failure and Mom, with progressing dementia, landed in a memory care home. Not the story our family expected.
Suddenly, three states away felt like fifty . . . but when you’re a doer and there’s a need, you get things done — until you can’t. Mom was in distress and I was helpless to save her.
Saying we trust God with our loved ones is easy until He asks us to let them go.
The phone calls were tough. Mom cried while I tried to reassure her of a future I wasn’t sure of myself. I’d hang up, guilt and shame consuming me. I’ve failed her. Hot, fitful tears soaked my pillow night after sleepless night. I should be doing more. But a full-time job and strained bank account won’t allow much margin.
At times, we may feel like our loved ones’ lives are in our hands, but no one’s ultimate well-being rests solely in your hands or mine. We do our best and leave the results to God.
I prayed and “showed up” through phone calls. The rest was under His watchful eye — and if His eye was on the sparrow, then it was on my mom. God is loving and faithful and promises to never leave or forsake us. I prayed that promise for Mom and preached it to myself. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
But the torment of hearing her fear and pain still stewed in my gut — until God showed up for me personally.
The opening scene in Ezekiel depicts the Jewish exiles gathered by a Babylonian river, heads hanging, hearts aching, as they wept over the destruction of their families and homeland. The exiles had witnessed the murder of family and friends, made the long, merciless trek as prisoners of war, and now faced a future of slavery in a foreign land.
“In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin—the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the Lord was on him.”
Ezekiel 1:1–3 (NIV)
For the captive Israelites, Babylon represented profound pain and loss.
Yet, in that place of deep suffering, surrounded by weeping and broken kinsman, God opened heaven to Ezekiel and gave him a vision of His presence in Babylon with His exiled people. In Ezekiel’s bondage, fear, and helplessness, God’s hand was upon him.
Just as God showed up for the exiles, He would show up for me in my loss and Mom in her suffering.
For the rest of her time on earth, I slept better. I cried healing tears and gave my best on every phone call. It was still hard . . . but I no longer felt responsible for outcomes. I celebrated that I could bring love, compassion, connection, and prayers to Mom. I still heard pain in her voice on our calls — and it hurt, but it didn’t undo me.
The last time I talked to Mom, I was at a cabin in the woods. When I called, my aunt answered. She was with Mom, along with a close family friend that Mom adored. I spoke briefly with my semi-conscious mom, then I spoke with a family friend who was holding Mom’s hand and telling her how much she was loved. I wept with gratitude that in her place of suffering, the hand of the Lord was upon her.
Later, the cabin owners told me they were shocked that I’d made a call out. “We’ve never had cell service out there,” they’d said.
Mom died a few weeks later. My sister sat next to her, talking to her and rubbing her back. You could say God’s hand was upon Mom through it all.
God shows up when we can’t. He frees us from guilt, shame, and torment and the lie that we can “save” anyone. He picks up the burden, bears the weight, and brings us rest and peace . . . right smack in the middle of suffering.
Now, when I remember Mom, I think of oil paints and easels, and I picture her looking at me over a partially-painted canvas, head thrown back in laughter.Leave a Comment