Last night I watched with the rest of the world as Michael Phelps swam in the 100 meter butterfly for his seventh Olympic gold medal. Phelps wisely chose to take one last frantic, chopping stroke at the end of the race while his opponent, who was leading the race until the last hundredth of a second, glided smoothly into the boards. As the results appeared showing that Phelps had won, the camera panned to his mother's face. With one wide-eyed look of amazement that lady slid right down to the floor, overwhelmed with emotion over her son's victory.
As Phelps' mother reappeared, wiping away tears of joy, I experienced a flash of grief over my own loss of this kind of regard. There is no one left on this planet who is my cheerleader in exactly the same way a mother can be. Of course I've never won an Olympic medal, but as she shared in my small victories I've seen the same joy on my mother's face as Michael Phelps' mother displayed. As children of parents with Alzheimer's disease, we find to our dismay and grief that we are no longer the recipients of that irreplaceable focus of parental attention. There is no longer any human being who cares more about our achievements or heartaches than they care for their own.
If we live long enough we inevitably accumulate a body of grief and suffering. Grief over loss of parents is compounded when it comes as a final, devastating layer to earlier heart blows of loss. Middle-aged caregivers of aging parents are particularly vulnerable, often dealing simultaneously with other difficult life passages such as raising teenagers, giving children in marriage, and becoming grandparents.
Apart from the Lord, sorrows of great magnitude can be survived only through avoidance tactics that provide in-the-moment relief but no lasting solace. Analysis may reveal with fair accuracy the nature of the problem, but can offer no prescription that will provide true relief.
The other night I dreamed that I was a baby alone in a car, pushing buttons on the radio. In my dream state I was able to turn the radio off and on, but I couldn't switch stations, and I kept fruitlessly attempting to do so. As I woke up I smiled as the meaning of the dream became apparent to me. When I spend too much time analyzing my own grief (as in the preceding paragraphs), I'm like a baby playing with controls she cannot understand, pushing random buttons. I don’t know which buttons to push and lack the ability to develop some kind of a logical, systematic technique for trying all combinations of button pushing. My efforts become random, my resolve to formulate some sort of a self-help program crumbles. And yes, I need to be content with the ability to, as the old gospel song says, turn the radio on.
I need to open lines of communication between myself and the Lord with a willingness to release my broken heart to Him, and to quit pushing all those other buttons. I'll never find comfort through self-examination. The more completely I understand the exact composition of my own sorrows, the more discouraged I become.
Scripture: "It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them" (Psalm 44:3).