Role reversal: The beauty of serving a parent

Written by Sarah Smith

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I’ve observed my mom almost eat glass. She’s been lost around the neighborhood a few times, she’s told me she doesn’t love me anymore, and she drank nail polish remover thinking it was Diet Coke. 

This is called Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. My mom is my best friend. Her name is Rebecca, and her grandmother name is “Beauty.” Yep! You read that correctly. 

She didn’t want to feel old once she had grandchildren, so she chose the name Beauty. 

As some of you know, grandchildren are typically the ones who come up with the grandparent name. However, when our firstborn tried to say “Booty” rather than Beauty, Mom was persistent, and, over time, she won the name game and has been called Beauty since 2004!

A broken heart restored

My story is not solely about her terminal illness and the unpredictable outbursts and unsafe actions that took place throughout her disease. It’s not just the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion and demands. It’s much bigger than that. 

My heart was broken and has been restored. God reconciled me back to him so that I can fully love, care, and understand what it means to honor my mother and father. 

My story is about trust, hope, and surrender. It’s about abiding in God and being aligned with him so that I can view her disease and her worth from a different perspective—his perspective. 

A role reversal

Our roles have been reversed. 

Mom raised me since birth. She fed me bottles and changed my diapers. She potty trained me. She spent hours in the car and drove me to gymnastics for years because she loved me and wanted the best for me. 

She helped with my homework and studying for tests, served alongside me for community service hours, and most importantly, she and my dad raised me in faith and consistently took me to church. Mom gave me her best! 

She certainly wasn’t perfect, and she made many mistakes along the way. As I’ve walked alongside her through this horrible illness, I’ve realized that all I can do is give her my best. 

She took care of me, so why can’t I help take care of her? 

Care, respect, and obey

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12 ESV). This is one of the Ten Commandments. 

What does this mean exactly? It means to care for, show respect, and obey. 

In my personal situation, my mom lives in the same city. This gift allows me to care for her alongside my dad and her caregiver, and it enables me to show respect and be obedient to God’s command. 

When I choose to show up, it enhances her quality of life, and I have the opportunity to partake in the patience of Jesus. I value her life because her life matters to me. 

I confess, it is a balancing act and not easy. I am a wife, a mother of three, and life is busy! The only way I can give her my best is by being dependent on God. He renews my mind and strength. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). 

A needed connection

Honoring my mother apart from God leads to complete exhaustion, guilt, feeling like I haven’t done enough, and, quite frankly, that it’s a chore. Rather than thinking “I have to” when I’m aligned with God, I can say “I get to.” 

When our kids were babies and I was nursing or giving them a bottle, we had a connection. Our eyes would lock, and we would stare at each other. As they got a little older, they would smile at me while trying to feed them. They would stop gulping the milk and want to play. 

I would smile and make sounds at them, and they would do the same in return. Back and forth and back and forth, and, before I knew it, ten minutes would go by and they hadn’t taken one sip of milk! I couldn’t, however, pass up that connection! 

I loved it because I had the opportunity to not only connect with them in a unique way, but it was beautiful to be a part of nourishing them and watch them grow and observe their personalities come alive more and more each day. 

Nourishment for an eternal healing

Today, my mom lies in a hospital bed at home. Because she’s had several seizures and a terrible fall, the bed has rails on each side so she can’t fall out. 

We feed her because her hands shake, and she can’t grip or hold her own cup. Several weeks ago, I was holding her cup of apple juice while she drank it through her straw. She was staring at me. 

Our eyes locked, and we had a connection. She smiled at me, and I smiled back at her, and before I knew it, five minutes had gone by and she hadn’t taken a sip of her juice! I was in no hurry, however, because I wasn’t going to miss out on that connection. 

It was an opportunity to love on her, care for her, show her respect, and it was beautiful to get to be a part of nourishing her to her eternal healing that is to come. Honoring and serving your loved ones can be difficult, challenging, and oftentimes depleting. 

Abide in God, align yourself with him, and he will take care of the rest. When you are in perfect stride with God, nothing is impossible. 

He delights in meeting you in your deepest needs, if you are willing. 

Connect with God. Lock eyes with him. Don’t pass up connecting with God. He will help reconcile you back to him and restore your broken heart. 

Your perspective will shift, and you will find the “Beauty” in your brokenness. 

He did it for me, and he will do it for you. 

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