I have been thinking about how one ought to physically care for those who are dying lately. I had a recent conversation with my sister whose in-laws are both ninety years of age, have cancer, and are dying. Her father-n-law, who has suffered some paralysis and loss of physical ability, is no longer able to do the simple physical and personal tasks such as cleaning himself up after using the restroom shaving, etc… and so my sister had to shave his face the other day as well as clean him up after a trip to the restroom.
As you can imagine, such a scenario can be difficult and humiliating for the person being cared for. I imagine it is even more difficult when that care involves one’s own children or children in-laws. I remember when my father, who died from pancreatic cancer, was no longer able to bath and clean himself just how humiliating it was for him.
It seems that one of the last things a person has is their dignity and we want to do as much as we can to never take a person’s dignity from them. In one sense, it seems that a certain amount of dignity is lost when a person must be bathed, cleaned, etc… by someone else. And yet, it seems as though we fail to give a person their due dignity if we allow them to remain unclean, unshaved, unkempt, etc… and instead treat them as though they are no better than a barn-yard animal. So what do we do? We don’t want to cause unnecessary humiliation to a person nor do we want to neglect a person when they are most in need of our care.
I told my sister that she was learning a lot about grace, love, compassion, etc… After she cleaned her father-n-law up, gave him a shaved, and topped it off with a nice splash of after-shave, he thanked her for being a great daughter. He understood the situation, how embarrassing it was not only for him but also how embarrassing it could be for his daughter-n-law. But more importantly, and this is the point I want to make, he knew she was acting out of true love for him.
I don’t have all the answers to how we care for those who are no longer able to physically care for themselves. What I do know is that when we learn to love – that is, when we learn to wash feet as Jesus did – we will act out of our love for God and the individual and no matter how difficult and humiliating the circumstances might be, the person we are caring for will know they are loved. And perhaps that is the mystery of preserving a person’s dignity…to love them, to let them know that they are still a human, a person of value, a person to be cared for and loved unconditionally.
What are your thoughts?