By Sister Toni Longo, ASC
“I don’t get you. I don’t understand you.
I don’t even like you sometimes.
But I accept you. I accept you.”
I’m not sure where I found this quote, but sometimes I say it to myself while caring for Mom, adding, “But I love you. I love you.”
That sounds pretty sick, doesn’t it, especially from a Catholic sister about her mom, let alone an Adorer of the Blood of Christ who is called to see everyone as the “dear neighbor” and welcome them as she would Christ.
My name is Toni Longo, and I’ve been an Adorer of the Blood of Christ for almost 50 years. I have had a wealth of educational, professional and spiritual opportunities, and enriching ministries, the latest of which is as caregiver to my 90-year-old mom. So you would think I had the spiritual resources to handle this new and unsettling ministry with grace and faith. Not so. At least it doesn’t feel that way.
Four years ago, I came home on a three-month “compassionate leave” from my ministry in Florida, to work out, with my siblings, the care of our mother. During that time, Mom fell and broke her femur, and needed more care. Neither of my siblings was able to take on the added burden, so my community generously assigned me to minister to my mom. Since then, she has had another surgery, and now requires round-the-clock care. To be honest, I never “signed on” for this. As I say so often, “I am not a nurse.” And believe me, those words couldn’t be more true!
But this is where I find myself. This is where I need to find Jesus looking me in the eye. This is where I live out the words of a prayer I have prayed almost every day of my life: “Grant that I may love you always, and then do with me what you will.” A priest friend once told me to be careful what I pray for, because the prayer will always be answered, and sometimes not in a way I expect or even like.
How do I live out God’s will for me at this time and in this place? Not so well, sometimes. More often than not, I cry out: “Why am I here? Why me? I don’t know how to do this. Why, God, why?”
Feelings of inadequacy abound, and learning to deal with them is difficult. In her frailty, Mom is not the mother I remember. Seeing her move slowly, not able to hear me when I speak, and be cranky is, sometimes, more than I can handle. I so want her to be the strong, energetic, able and cheerful woman she always was. Seeing her diminishment every day and knowing that she won’t be here long require mercy and compassion for both her and me.
I think God is challenging me to allow things to be the way they are, not as I want them to be. I don’t understand why God has placed me in this situation. I surely don’t feel prepared.
I am tired all the time, am always on call and am learning to anticipate needs and situations, and look past my mom’s irritability and lack of gratitude. I am trying to see Jesus’ presence, and love him and my mom in it all, learning to find the gift and grace in this time, in this place, for they and God surely are here. More invitations to compassion, to mercy, toward Mom and myself.
This all seems centered on me and my feelings. But Mercy, “Misericordia,” “misery of heart,” is an invitation to lessen the pain in others’ hearts. It’s an invitation to hold the pain in Mom’s heart gently, to realize that this diminishment affects her, too. How does she feel? How is she hurting? It must be difficult and humiliating to have your daughter do for you what you have always done for yourself, to be in pain, to rely on others for help, even to walk. It must be difficult for her to remember her life and wonder how things could have been different, to hold the joys and sufferings and not be bogged down by the mistakes of life.
When I see Mom cry when she remembers some things, I cry inside, too. Mercy is an invitation to me to try to “get inside Mom’s skin” and ease her pain, physical, emotional and spiritual.
You get the point, especially if you are a caregiver for a loved one. Sometimes it’s really hard to love the loved one in it all! So, here are a few things to consider, even if you are not a caregiver, because there are times when all of us feel inadequate, unloving, unforgiving, and really need this season of Lent to step back and take stock of God’s call and will in our lives, and the ways God uses every situation as a font of grace and mercy:
- When have you felt like you just didn’t have what it takes to do what God is asking of you? How did you work it out? Where did God’s grace enter the situation and make a difference?
- Have you found gifts in unexpected ways when you were in the midst of a particularly difficult situation? What were they?
- How can this Jubilee Year of Mercy strengthen you in times of difficulty? Where does mercy abound in your life? What are the opportunities for you to be Mercy, to gently hold the pain of others in your heart?
- When have you been able to change the sentence, “I accept you” to “I love you?”