“That every man may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God” (Eccl. 3:13).
This verse is easily overshadowed by the first eight verses, infamously recorded in the 1960s song, Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season), by the rock ‘n roll band The Byrds. But verse 13 holds something for all of us. It’s a reminder. It is “a view of God’s sovereignty which both reassures and yet sobers,” says theologian Michael Eaton. The writer intends for us to understand that “contentment…is a gift from God,” says Eaton. This is the story of how I have realized my gift.
I care for my elderly parents who are both 86 years old. They have been married for 66 years. It has been quite amazing to see a marriage of the 1950s grow and change over the decades. But what I didn’t quite expect was how my relationship with both of them would change too.
In the spring of 2015, when my three grown daughters moved out of my house within a month of each other and left me an “empty nester,” I invited my parents to move in and share my house. They were beginning to need a little more care. So, they sold their mobile home and paid off some debt and moved in. With foresight, they arranged for the tub-shower in the common bathroom in my house to be completely remodeled with a low-threshold shower and a very tall commode to accommodate Mom’s mobility issues.
Soon after, Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and needed monthly infusions and appointments with the oncologist. He began to develop other illnesses, which resulted in more medical appointments and visits to the emergency room. There were appointments with the cardiologist, the vascular specialist, the podiatrist, the gastroenterologist, the dermatologist for skin cancer, the oncologist and primary care visits. My mother has not driven in decades, so it became my responsibility to accompany my dad on his various doctor visits. I keep track of his appointments so that they will fit into my busy full-time teaching schedule at Fresno Pacific University.
My mother now also sees the cardiologist, vascular specialist, podiatrist and dermatologist, besides seeing our common nurse practitioner. Almost two years ago, Dad stopped driving altogether, and I became a soccer mom in reverse, struggling to maintain a full teaching load and responsibility of caregiving for two aging parents. We have made this arrangement easier for all of us by doubling up on the doctors they see. They share most of the specialists, and we all share the same nurse practitioner for primary care that we have had for the last 25 years or more. That has been a gift. In the beginning, Mom and Dad went to basic check-up appointments at the same time.
Over the last five years, our relationships within this triad have changed. I am now the one to make financial decisions and medical decisions and supervise their daily living activities. Four years ago, my youngest daughter and family moved back to Fresno, and they provide sweet support to this evolving relationship and set of responsibilities. My daughter has shared the responsibility with me while going to school at FPU, being a wife and a mother to four-year-old Evelyn. My daughter focuses on Mom’s basic needs, and I focus on Dad’s care, and we work together to be sure things run—not smoothly—but at least we can keep going.
It is quite interesting when all four generations are in the house together. From the youngest on up, we manage to meet everyone’s basic needs and cover for one another when something unexpected happens.
Still, we are stretched thin at times. Jessica, our family’s nurse practitioner, took note of this stress and referred us to a Certified Senior Advisor and Geriatric Care Specialist, support I would have never even thought of. Jeri provided a full evaluation for both mom and dad in the form of interviews, a detailed written report and a folder full of suggested next moves. With additional grab bars installed in the bathroom for Mom, their Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) and advanced health care directives completed, we advanced into the summer of 2020.
After an intensive series of tests and evaluations by a neurologist, mom was diagnosed with dementia. Fortunately for us, Mom and Dad have always been believers in every insurance imaginable, long-term health care insurance (LTC) included. I filed a claim with Jeri’s help on my mother’s behalf for an in-home care provider three mornings a week. Jeri assisted in finding and hiring a company that provides such a caregiver.
This allows my father to go into the yard and spend time with his bonsai when he feels well and the weather is good. It also allows me to set student advising appointments and attend other required meetings via Zoom. I teach my courses in the evenings, and my parents are usually settled into recliners by the time class starts online.
I am not sure what I will do when I am required to attend meetings in person again. I am concerned that my mother’s LTC may run out in the next year.
This past fall, Dad was diagnosed with severe carotid stenosis and severe aortic valve stenosis. He has undergone a series of medical diagnostics to determine his suitability for a heart valve replacement procedure. I worry. My dad has chosen Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) on his POLST, and I know a day will come when he may not wake up.
It has been a heavy load to carry—full-time teaching, overseeing two teaching credential programs with all of the responsibilities that brings and living alone with two octogenarians. It hasn’t always been smooth waters for the three of us. We are luckier than most that we live in a four-bedroom house with two living rooms—one for them and one for me.
We get on each other’s nerves at times. I prefer not to watch television nor discuss my bathroom habits. They prefer their recliners and a good bowel movement. I prefer to maintain my modesty. Being a former athlete, Dad has no modesty to speak of, and as mom’s mobility has declined, she has become more and more dependent on my daughter and me for bathing, laundry and meal preparation.
The gift of God
I remember, though, when I was working on my doctoral degree years ago. I was alone with three teenage girls in the house for the four long years it took to complete the degree. But like every other time in my life, Mom and Dad were there to support and encourage me. Since my classes were on the weekends, I would pick Mom and Dad up from their mobile home at 5 a.m., and we all piled into my Toyota to go to a country coffee shop for a hot breakfast before I headed off to class.
Those years are a blur like graduate school can be, but I remember how attentive my parents were to me; devouring each word I uttered as if each phrase was as savory as the biscuits and gravy the Country Junction famously served.
It’s not just at that time in my life, but since I was a wild child, that my parents have protected me yet encouraged me to take chances, follow my dreams and fight for what I know to be the next right thing. When annoying little habits irritate me, I remember what I was like growing up in their house and wonder what I will be like when I am 86. I hope my daughter will take care of me then. It’s at times like those that I remember Ecclesiastes 3 that God is the only one who knows how long I will have them. I try to remember to take each day and enjoy it—and be content—for this is God’s gift to me.
Lisa Keith is an associate professor of education at Fresno Pacific University and is the program director for the Master of Arts in Special Education. Keith is also a Mental Health First Aid certified trainer and provides annual training for teacher candidates, FPU employees and the greater Fresno community. Before joining the faculty at FPU seven years ago, Keith was a special education teacher for 20 years and specialized in working with children with emotional disturbance. Keith is a member of Butler Church, a USMB congregation in Fresno, California