A Thanksgiving Tribute
Part One On April 25, 2018, I sat with my father, as he breathed his final breath on this earth. About a year later, on April 12, 2019, I sat with my mother, as she took her last breath. Now, as the Thanksgiving season approaches, I find myself thinking often of my dad and mom. They certainly weren’t perfect people, but I am so grateful to God for giving them to me for over sixty years. I would like to tell you about these two people, Merle and Beulah Bjornrud. Perhaps it is my way of addressing these recent waves of grief. First, I would like to share a verse from the holy scriptures that spoke to my heart and guided me over the last two years. The verse is I Timothy 5:4. It says, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn first of all to put their religion into practice, by caring for their own family, and so repaying their parents and grandparents; for this is pleasing to God.” My parents lived alone on the farm where my father had grown up. In 2017, they were 87 and 88 years old. My father was in his seventh year of dementia, and my mother’s physical health was declining. She could no longer take care of dad. So, my sisters and I did the very difficult thing; we talked our parents into leaving the farm. Moving day was August 8, 2017. The farm was five hours from the Iron Range, and my wife and I offered to have dad and mom move closer to us, which meant they would be settling into Carefree Living in Virginia. Dad would need Memory Care, and mom just needed help caring for him. This would become a difficult, yet blessing-filled two years, as the weight of being caretakers for my parents was added to our already full plate of responsibilities. But, you know, pleasing the Lord is the desire of my life, and since God had reminded me from His word that caring for my parents was a way to please Him, I was “all in” for as long as was necessary. Friend, do you find yourself in a situation, which calls for the challenge of I Timothy 5:4? Is it time for you to serve your parent/parents in their last years? It’s not easy, but it can be good; which seems to be true of most things that please the Lord. Maybe He is directing me to tell my story, so that it will be an encouragement to you at this time. That is my prayer. Part Two My father was always a farmer at heart. He worked at other jobs over the years, but hobby farming his 300 acres of land was what he really loved. In fact, the last words I heard him speak a few days before his death were “John Deere!”
One of the most difficult experiences I have ever had took place on a spring evening in 2017, when dad looked at me, and asked for the first time, “Who are you?” It took twenty minutes for me to convince him that I was his son. Dementia is a terrible disease, and I learned so much, as I walked through it with my father in the last years. At first, listening to him saying the same things and asking the same questions over and over again, was frustrating. But then I decided that I would choose to just enjoy hearing his voice. I knew that eventually the day would come, when I would wish I could hear that voice again. Even as my dad’s mental capacity declined, he continued to love the Lord. His most consistent moments of clarity were when he would pray out loud. Because of this, I asked him to pray quite often! There were times when he would ask fellow residents in Memory Care, “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” The Bible tells us that we are created in the image of God. Even though my father’s mind was being taken away from him, he continued to be a special creation of God. My dad trusted Jesus Christ for salvation in 1943, and God placed His Holy Spirit into him at that time. Dementia did not take salvation and the Spirit of God away from my father! I have learned that someone with dementia is not less of a person, to be treated less than human. We must continue to relate to them with as much love and respect as we did before this dreaded disease made its appearance. In his last months of life, my dad was heard to say, “I’m not afraid to go to heaven.” You made it, dad! Today, you are in the presence of your Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, and your mind is just fine! Part Three
It was very difficult for my mother to leave the farm. Her many beautiful flower gardens and finely manicured lawn were her pride and joy. The thought of leaving them weighed heavily on her heart, but mom acknowledged that she could no longer care for dad with her own physical capabilities declining. So, she said “goodbye” to the farm and moved into a “facility”, which didn’t make things any easier for her. My mother was one of 13 children, living on a small farm north of Newfolden. In the late 1930’s, God did a wonderful saving work in her family, as my grandmother, my mother, and many of her siblings, surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. From that time on, my mom’s desire was to serve the Lord with her musical abilities; which is just what she did for most of her life. On April 1, 2018, we all gathered at Carefree Living to celebrate mom’s 89th birthday. My father had been doing poorly for weeks, but that day turned out to be his last good day! This was God’s special gift for my mom, as dad sat with her, holding her hand, and visiting for a few hours. Three weeks later, he would pass away. Carefree Living continued to be my mother’s home for the next year. She grieved the death of her husband, but there was also the sense of relief that he was no longer suffering as a slave to dementia. She spoke often about what his experience must be like in heaven. Mom had some special staff persons caring for her. There was the girl she called “Miss Minnesota” and the nurse that she referred to as her “angel”. We were very thankful for the care she received. Then, on March 30, 2019, God gave mom another special gift. We all gathered, once again, at Carefree Living for her 90th birthday party! What a day! My mother was in her glory! The day wore her out, but she loved it. Two weeks later, mom passed away into the presence of the Lord Jesus. Isn’t God good? The scripture says in James 1:17, that “ every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” In the last two years, the Lord saw fit to give my mother the gift of two special birthday parties, as well as many people who were willing to love and care for her. Then, He gave her the gift of her heavenly home. You know, I think those gifts were for me, too. I needed them. Thank you, Lord! Part Four I don’t keep a journal, but if I did, there would be entries something like the following: Thanksgiving 2016 “Jeannine and I spent time at the farm, celebrating Thanksgiving with dad and mom. It wasn’t on Thanksgiving Day, but of course, dad didn’t know that. He was very emotional… glad to see us. We noticed his dementia was getting worse.” Thanksgiving 2017 “We went into Virginia the day before our kids would start arriving for Thanksgiving. Spent time with dad and mom at Carefree Living. It was nice not to have that five hour drive to the farm. It was a good visit. Dad knew who I was.” Thanksgiving 2018 “Well, this was my first Thanksgiving since dad died. I miss him. Mom agreed to leave Carefree and spend the day with us and our family, but she called in the morning to say she wasn’t feeling up to it. I’m sure she is missing dad, too.” Thanksgiving 2019 “Since mom died in April, I guess this will be my first Thanksgiving ever without both of my parents. What will it be like for me? I don’t know. What I do know, is that I am certainly experiencing some grief right now. But that doesn’t change the fact that I will give thanks, because God is still good.” Here is what I’m thinking, as Thanksgiving approaches, and I reflect on what I have gone through with my parents in these last years… God’s 5th commandment was to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12). Then, the Apostle Paul repeated the same instruction to honor our father and mother (Ephesians 6:2). I am so glad that I chose to obey the Lord by honoring my parents during their lifetime, and then to care for them in their last years. Those last years were very difficult, but so worth it. You see, now that they are gone, I can honestly say, that I have no regrets. I am looking forward to seeing dad and mom again someday, in the presence of Jesus. Friends, you don’t have to live with regrets. Is something not right in your relationship with your parents? Are there things that need to be addressed with them? If so, address them soon. Honor God, by honoring your parents.