My Aunt and Uncle remind me of what the love of God looks like. They are average people facing the normal challenges and messiness of life, but in their love and faithfulness they have modeled the love of Christ.
Exodus 34:6-7 describes God's love: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.” The Hebrew word used to describe God’s love is rich with many nuances. It speaks of love shown through action. It is demonstrated through the exercising of compassion. It's expressed in a never-ending loyalty. God is not with us just when things are going our way, but he loves us through the hardest times. God lives out his love in a relationship he chose to have with us. Love in action, love forever, love in relationship. This how God expresses himself.
Over the years, I enjoyed hearing about my Aunt and Uncle’s adventures. Besides raising three children and facing all of the normal challenges of family life, they enjoyed camping in remote places, kayaking and hiking to see unique wildlife, photographing the sights and wonders throughout. Always, they relied on God and delighted in the joys that God gave them along the way.
When my Uncle was diagnosed with cancer, my Aunt was his faithful nurse and constant cheerleader. As my Uncle developed physical limitations and needed a hip replacement, she traveled down that road with him too. Their trips became a bit less physically exerting, but no medical issue was going to change their affection for one another.
Recently, the tables turned and my Uncle now cares for my Aunt. As Alzheimer’s disease has begun to claim much of my Aunt’s ability to communicate, my Uncle remains her faithful companion. He helps her make sense of surroundings that should be so familiar but instead cause great anxiety as she tries to sort out what is happening around her. When words won’t come to her, he patiently helps her to express what she is struggling to communicate. When understanding still doesn't come, he empathizes with her frustration and lets her know that he cares.
My Uncle no longer has a companion with whom he can share long conversations. He cannot consult her insights when it comes to making decisions. He is alone in many facets of his marriage, but he offers no complaint. He chooses instead to celebrate the moments, to enjoy the things they can still enjoy together, a favorite food or a butterfly floating by. It is beautiful to see them celebrate the small delights like a walking on the beach and collecting shells.
When my Aunt sits with other family members, her eyes still seek out her husband. She squirms in her chair, eager for his return to the seat beside her. His presence next to her brings comfort, and she does not relax until he has settled in beside her.
My Uncle tells me that there are days when she does not recognize him anymore, and I hear the pain in his voice as he speaks. He is not feeling sorry for himself, but grieved for the terror she endures when she feels alone and afraid of the stranger whom she no longer recognizes as her husband.
A time may come when he cannot care for her at home, but even then their love for one another will not change for he is committed to her for the long haul. Proverbs 3:3 instructs, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” My Aunt and Uncle have chosen to love each other unconditionally, as God has chosen to love us. They live out that love day by day through every day acts of compassion. This is what God’s love looks like.
Being a caregiver is incredibly challenging. How will you navigate these challenges?