Last week I had to drop everything and fly back home in response to a semi-emergency. My mom was being released from the hospital after being severely ill, and would need a lot of care when she got home. Fortunately, my mom is recovering and will be fine, and now I am back in the state where I live, back in my office, back to the normal routine. But nothing feels quite normal.
Mom and I have remained, until now, in the clear roles of she as the caregiver, and I as the one who receives care from her in some form or another. Now, suddenly, it is different. The thing that I always assumed was a long way away suddenly happened and “the shift” of identity occurred with little fanfare. Even though she will recover from this particular illness, this particular time, the inevitable role reversal has taken place and won’t be undone. It is painfully clear that I’m the caretaker now. I have taken my place in the newest generation of people whose parents need someone to keep an eye on them, whose parents get sick and die and, in the meantime, see geriatrics doctors for their Primary Care.
I thought I would have more time to prepare; but then again, how does one prepare regardless of how much “notice” you have? The questions linger in the air, unanswerable. How many more times will I have to drop everything and fly home? How long will it be before the distance between me and my two remaining parents – my mom and my stepmother – becomes intolerable due to the realities of their ageing and inevitable decline? How long before the hoped-for recovery doesn't happen, before The Really Hard Decisions have to be made?
Identity shifts are hard. Often, the change in identity is one of the hardest parts, unexpectedly so, of any sort of grief process. We don’t pay attention to it, because it doesn't seem as dramatic or important as the other stuff – someone had a crisis, a relationship ended, someone died, something huge happened. But life crises and changes of all sorts, both those that are dramatic and obvious and those that are more subtle, often carry with them an identity shift. And these identity shifts are hard to hold in the heart. I first found that out many years ago, when my father died and I wrestled with my new identity of … what? Not “fatherless,” for I had had a father, but definitely something different from before – something without a word, really. And I am finding the identity shift now to be difficult, even though it is hardly as dramatic as that – after all, my mom is getting well. But there’s something about changing identities, changing roles,that is soul-wrenching.
So I find myself turning to God for an identity. Not in a pious, cliché kind of a way, but for real. In God, in prayer, I find an identity that won’t change, that can’t be taken away. I am child. I am beloved. I am held fast. I am beheld wholly and fully. There is a deep, calm pool there that I find as I draw near to God. The inner depths of who I am, and who I was made to be by my Creator, these depths do not change. I can rest in the stillness. It is true that God is all about transforming our souls, but that transformation simply makes us become more fully who we actually are. In God, we can rest in the firmness of an identity that does not shift and cannot be altered, neither by life nor death, nor things present nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation.