The disruption of COVID gave our family an unexpected gift. Because of COVID, Mom is in our collective care and consideration, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether we live close to her or far away. Our mom, Annie Siebring, will celebrate her 95th birthday in the fall. She has 11 children ages 52 to 69 years old. She is Mama, Oma, Omama and OmaOma to her grandchildren and great grandchildren living nearby or far away.
March 2020 was a blur as the COVID pandemic became a reality. Senior care homes in the Vancouver area quickly registered outbreaks and deaths. By mid-March, visits were no longer permitted. And then residents were not allowed to leave their rooms except for bathing routines. On March 24, I stood in the parking lot where I could see mom looking down at me from her second-floor window. We waved, blew kisses and chatted on the phone quietly. It was my birthday. It was not the first time I wept for sadness after saying goodbye. Mom’s loneliness began to weigh on us.
A week later we gathered over zoom and decided to take mom out of the care home. We considered the homes, work and family situations of the siblings who lived nearby and agreed that our sister Liz and her husband Tim were most able to take mom. Their modest single-floor bungalow provided the safest living arrangement. Their work schedules and current reality made the move, though not ideal, completely workable if they had the commitment and support of the rest of us.
And so it has been for a year. Three of us who live nearby have mom in our homes at least one day a week and share in driving to various appointments, having her for dinner and going for car rides. Siblings, in-laws and grandchildren show their love and support through phone calls and cards, mailed packages and gift cards, fresh baking, impromptu visits and longer respite care. COVID travel restrictions make all of this harder for some of us.
For me, it has been a year of Saturdays with mom. It has been my holy privilege to give mom her weekly shower-bath. From testing to make sure the water is just right to scrubbing her back and feet, washing her hair and then drying her gently – it is all joy. The hesitancy and shyness of that first shower has become a most blessed routine of anticipation and laughter as well as awe at the miracle of this body that birthed us. Mom often says, “Isn’t this something. You did this for me when I was a baby and now you are doing this again.” She might be confused about the reality but is so right about the wonder.
Tucking mom into bed at night has become a precious time. “What are we grateful for?” Liz asks and they share the gratitudes of the day. Then they sing a prayer together, Mom’s childhood prayer in her heart language. Ik ga slapen, ik ben moe (I am going to sleep, I am tired) / Ik sluit mijn beide oogjes toe (I close both of my eyes) / Heere houd ook deze nacht (Lord, even in this night) / over mij getrouw de wacht (Keep faithful watch over me).
Mom often talks about the safety and love she felt from her parents as a child. In turn, Mom gave us each that love and safety when we were children. Those have come full circle for mom as we care for her.
One of the greatest gifts is mom’s own gratitude and her ability to express it. Her morning begins with the familiar sounds and smells of making coffee in the kitchen. She loves the weekly Saturday morning zoom with her children. She is grateful for and forming friendships with the home care workers who come in the morning and evening. She appreciates pastoral visits and church online. Nederlandt Zingt offers hours of joy. Mom delights in the constant flight of birds to the feeders. Car drives are a never-ending opportunity for enjoying the vistas of the mountains, tall trees, setting suns and rising moons.
We do not know when or how mom’s care needs might shift or how long we might be able to continue with this arrangement. We do know this COVID disruption has been life-giving for mom and our family.
Mom always loves to end any meal or phone call or visit with singing, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is your faithfulness, O Lord, great is your faithfulness.”
And then she will often add, “That says it all, doesn’t it?”