Caring for elderly parents and relatives is a burden that is really hard to speak about, not least because of our sense of love and duty to them. A few days ago I was chatting to an old friend. I asked her to share her thoughts on this – she writes with an honesty of pain that few will admit to, but which (in my pastoral experience) is very often right there under the surface…
Raised voices. His thundering, hers shrill. They can be heard from far up the lane. Through the old stone walls travelling to meet me in the still February morning, where the scent of spring lingers in the air, and bright birdsong infuses me with energy.
It’s not even 9 o’clock. Yet their day has begun as it nearly always does. Him starting arguments about everything and nothing. In a competition with himself to see who can shout the loudest. He never argues about anything of meaning. For him there is no meaning as he’s trapped within. A bomb ready to detonate, booby trapped and loaded right under his skin.
She retreats in. Becomes smaller. He doesn’t notice because he’s ensnared in the din of a war long ago. That plays out every day, each moment of his waking life. Anger erupts, with no self-regulation, no awareness of the torment he unleashes.
Unseen, from the window, I am watching – hearing them. Covering my ears does not block out the violence. Heard in the furious fierce words pouring forth from his mouth coming out through the walls of the house.
I am wondering, how long can I stay out here in the song of the birds and the early spring light? I notice a clump of tiny snowflowers, and the spikes of the daffodils that want to bloom. And I take a deep breath, finding my ground. Place a hand on my heart. The beat is a murmur under my skin. Inhaling Jesus. Exhaling Jesus. Allowing the Spirit to enfold me in presence. Sustain me from within.
I, like you, am locked down and locked in. This is the wilderness I am in.
Caring for parents whose degeneration is a spiralling darkness, for each of them separately. For us all together. A fire of inflammation. Burning for one with Parkinson’s Disease and Fibromyalgia, and the other with untreated PTSD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and pounding high blood pressure. Combined in the ferocious fire of illness are lives turning to dust, where once she sang and he competed. The sadness of these lives lost from hope. Watching is a churning trauma where there is no control.
Lent has begun. I am dry as dust. Hollow in my surrender to what is and what’s yet to come. In the in-between place, my mind wanders to two words. Jesus and wilderness.
I can’t step further into the journey. I cannot rush to the end. So, I linger where I am. In the emptiness and surrender with Jesus and wilderness. What was this for him? Was it a dry dusty desert? Was it knowing what was to come? How in his humanity did he manage to live through its echoing empty drum?
In my aching and my weeping. I wonder about him. I let him come to me here. I surrender. And let him hold me in hands that have travelled far. Through wilderness and beyond. Scarred palms wrapped around me, enfolding me in the rainbow-coloured hope of love.
I choose to let the Holy Spirit fill me. Inside and out, a holy balm to the cracks and the dust. The terror in my life. From Spirit comes the peace that passes all my understanding. Resting deep in my centre, flowing out from there.
That peace of the Spirit is reminding me in my wilderness to simply stand. To let the flames all-consuming burn around me. For I am wrapped in the love and forgiveness of eternity. To you, Jesus, I trust the wondering and wandering of this wilderness season. Trusting its breaking and dryness, knowing that in tracing where I rupture, I return to you.
And it is here that I rise anew.
Nicky is a writer and broadcaster from Northern Ireland
Artwork by Yvonne Adams