I love the word Grace. In pastoral circles, it's defined as God's unmerited favor. I think there's another way to think of it. It's love and acceptance with no strings attached.
Often grace appears almost magically at the end of life. People tie up loose ends. They say things they need to say. They offer and receive forgiveness. And sometimes the most unlikely people are the instruments of grace: strangers, professionals and caregivers.
So if your aging parent is at life's end, pay attention. Be prepared for grace to surprise you.
How do I know? I work with families every day. I see grace at work. One day two sisters spoke of needing to place their 92-year-old mother in an adult family home. Her care needs and confusion were increasing. As I started the process of helping them find a home, the two daughters agreed on what was most important."Our mother needs a place where she can feel safe."
Their mother Lois had been abused as a child and had married an abuser, staying with him until he died. Even afterward, she suffered from nightmares and anxiety. She needed to heal.
The daughters found an adult family home provider named Olga who personified motherhood. She spoke in gentle tones. She engaged Lois and the other residents in conversation. Soon Lois began to feel she belonged.
Lois died just four months after arriving in the adult family home. I expressed my condolences to one of the daughters. She said, "One night I saw Olga putting Mother to bed. She sang her lullabies. Afterwards, Mother said, 'Thank you, Mother.' For the first time, Mother felt safe."
Grace, pure grace.