Posts Tagged ‘dealing with aging parents near death’

1 Kings 1:1-4
David in His Old Age

This passage at the beginning of 1 Kings where we see David as now this old man who is bedridden and near death is a reminder of where I find myself with my own dad right now. Where is talks about David being cold all the time, that really hit home with me. My dad right now is constantly cold. We can’t keep him warm enough. As well, he has become combative. I think his combativeness is a result of the fact that he, this brilliant man, the man with his Ph.D., and a preacher for over 5 decades, this brilliant man who not only could write dissertations but could also take a engine apart, fix it, and put it back together, this man who could speak to an auditorium of people but who could also farm, this man who could equally hang out with a doctor or lawyer and also the local auto mechanic, is just frustrated with himself. I think deep inside his mind, he has full capacity to think and reason but somewhere between there and his actions, the fog in his mind distorts the thoughts and mixes up the past with the present to such a point that sometimes the past becomes the present. Further, his physical capabilities betray those pure thoughts of action deep inside his mind. He is frustrated at his inability to make his mind and his body work the way that last vestige of my old man that lies deep inside his mind wants it to work.

My dad’s recent rapid demise has also brought something to light in my mind as well. My stepmon, Sharon (as my Dad remarried about 2 years after my mom passed in November 2010), has demonstrated to me that she does, in fact, love my dad and that, in my dad’s Honea Path, SC-native old school machismo, loves her too. My relationship with Sharon has been somewhat at arm’s length these past six years that she has been married to my dad. Sharon and my dad were both widowed as their relationship began. Sharon a widow for quite some time and my dad a widower for a short time after mom’s death. I just didn’t really know her that well at all so it was difficult to give her the same love and affection that I gave my mother. She was not my mother. She was just the woman that my dad married after my mom died. This taught me a lesson for how young children perceive their stepparents in divorce/remarriage situations. It gave me a lesson that kids though you may want them to see a stepparent as their real parent, it is just different.

However, in these last two weeks, I have grown closer to Sharon as I have witnessed her love for my dad. She does indeed love my dad. With me living in Illinois and my brother living close (but still two hours a way in a town near Columbia, SC), I am truly thankful for Sharon being in my dad’s life. She is his Abishag. As Abishag was brought in to be David’s nurse and caretaker, so too is Sharon fulfilling that role. What is not said but implied in the passage for today is that Abishag probably loved taking care of the aging King David. She probably grew to love him over the last days of his life. My stepmom is there for my Dad not because she was ordered to do so by some king’s right hand man but because she loves my Dad. Without her there, I honestly don’t know what we would be doing right now. I know that I would be freaking out being 15 hours a way by car and at least 6 hours travel time via Delta Airlines or American. Sharon, even though my Dad is combative at times toward her, still pushes through and takes care of him. She doesn’t pay any attention when he has harsh words. She knows that this stage of my Dad’s life is not the man she married. She loves him anyway. She serves him anyway. I am thankful for her. I have told her so the last time I was there two weeks ago. She said that I did not have to thank her. She said she loves him; no thanks required. I am thankful that she is there to be a nurse to my dad and to keep him warm.

That’s what I thought about this morning when I read this passage, what once was my dad is no longer even though he is still living and about the loving care of my stepmom. The scene played out here between David and Abishag reminds me of them. It also reminds me of how in 1 Kings that Israel begins as this regional power of a kingdom, strong and ready, and how by the end of this book is a divided, weak nation ready to be conquered. In that sense, this book of 1 Kings is a reminder of how kingdoms rise and fall and how that fall is often the result of decay from within. Let’s read this passage, 1 Kings 1:1-4, now:

Chapter 1
1 King David was now very old, and no matter how many blankets covered him, he could not keep warm. 2 So his advisers told him, “Let us find a young virgin to wait on you and look after you, my lord. She will lie in your arms and keep you warm.”

3 So they searched throughout the land of Israel for a beautiful girl, and they found Abishag from Shunem and brought her to the king. 4 The girl was very beautiful, and she looked after the king and took care of him. But the king had no sexual relations with her.

As we begin this next book of the Bible, we see that Israel is near the end of the golden age of David’s reign. The book of 1 Kings begins with a unified kingdom, glorious and God-centered. It ends with a divided kingdom, degraded and idolatrous. The reason for Israel’s decline from the beginning of 1 Kings to its end appears simple to us – they failed to obey God and they decayed from within long before they were conquered. In that sense, it reminds me of what’s going on with my dad’s physical body. His body is decaying. He can’t make his body work nearly the way he used to make it do. His body is failing him from the inside out. His mind is also failing him from the inside out. As I stated earlier, my dad, I think, has this inner part of his mind that is still working properly but the there is a fog created by his brain tumor that prevents that inner core of his mind from getting the instructions out to the rest of his mind and body. It is frustrating to him to be betrayed by his own body. He is dying from the inside out and it frustrates that central core of his soul and mind that is still vigorous. That vigorous inner core is shrouded in a decaying body and mind.

As for this passage specifically, scholars have deduced that as 1 Kings begins, David is about 70 years old. His health has deteriorated from years of hardship. Abishag served as his nurse and to help keep him warm. Even as mighty as David was as a warrior and as king, he has become frail and old. He is not the young, vivacious, handsome young man that he once was. He is bedridden and near death. Death comes to us all, even larger than life biblical heroes. Probably in his old age here, he may have been combative as many of us are when we get to this stage of life. We are angry at ourselves for our body wearing out and our mind failing us. Inside us, there is this man or woman, but particularly with men, we see that we may want to do things or say things but our physical bodies including the brain have begun to wear out and we cannot. It can be a difficult time.

For those of us who have aging parents, it is difficult to watch, particularly with our fathers. Our fathers were always perceived by us as being 10 feet tall and bullet proof. They, in our eyes, could do anything, fix anything, fight anything, know everything, and just be our go-to guy for wisdom and protection. Let us just remember them in that way. What we see in our failing parents right now is a shell of the parent that we once knew. They are being defeated from within. We must remember that. Just love them through the memories that you get to keep. Remember this is the man who you once thought could do anything. Take those memories into every visit with them.

Also, be thankful for your dad’s Abishag. It may be your mom. It may be your stepmom. It may be a live-in caretaker. It may be a family member such as a brother or sister. Be thankful for them. Be thankful that they love your dad enough to be there and sometimes take abuse from them but yet still serve them. Be thankful that they can be there when you cannot. Be thankful that they love your dad.

Amen and Amen.

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