“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13,14)
This has been an unusually long holiday season, yet Christmas is over already. Can you believe it? Thanksgiving was early this year, and there were 32 days from Thursday, Nov. 23 to Monday, Dec. 25.
But for the Hinmans this year, it may as well have been the 12 days we sing about in the song, though we didn’t have a partridge or a pear tree.
My mother, 86, started the dementia decline on Christmas day last year. My brother and I went to pick Mom up for Christmas dinner in 2016, to find her eating by herself on the couch of her Cape May villa. Mom and I had texted four hours previously, and she said she was really looking forward to seeing everyone.
By the time we arrived, she forgot we were coming, and didn’t realize it was Christmas anymore. What ensued thereafter was a trip to the E.R., a week’s stay at Clinton Memorial, a couple week’s rehabbing at Cape May thereafter, and ultimately a move to the Assisted Living area there.
It certainly was not the holiday celebration anticipated, but we all made the best of it.
You know how history can repeat itself? Mom made her presence known in a unique way once again this year.
Early in December, she contracted an infection that devastated her cognitively. She was confused, anxious, and unable to understand the fundamental requirements of daily living. She returned to our local E.R., and was admitted to C.M.H. again. While being treated there, one of the hospitalists dropped the “Hospice” bomb, indicating that Mom was spiraling down and I might want to start preparing to contact the end-of-life specialists.
My brother made a beeline trip home from Fresno, California to be with us, and it seemed to be touch-and-go for a few days. Like at Christmas last year though, Mom rebounded again in 2017.
She eventually transferred to a Cincinnati hospital specializing in geriatric care, and finally returned to Cape May just a few days before Christmas. Unfortunately, she needed to relinquish the Assisted Living lodging she was accustomed to, and was moved to Skilled Nursing.
Her new residence in Skilled Nursing is a smaller room, and though nice, really limits the amount of personal effects that can be accommodated. We quickly downsized for the third time in three years, and managed to move just enough of Mom’s things that, frankly, the new room closely resembled her former suite.
I hung some pictures, displayed a couple of her favorite Santa’s, moved the skinny Christmas tree my son recently bought her, and placed her bedspread on the hospital bed.
Mom has been in her new place for over a week now, and I’m not sure she knows the difference. Thank God for that.
As you can imagine, much of this year’s holiday season was spent visiting Mom, packing her up to move, and relocating her residence down the long hallway at Cape May.
After returning from Cincinnati and trying to settle into Skilled Nursing, Mom fell twice the first night home. Fortunately, she didn’t hurt herself.
In order to help her transition back to “normal” living without falling, our family and friends decided to provide 24-hour supervision for four days over Christmas. We divided the days into three shifts, and took turns staying with her. Mom slept a lot, ate some, and visited when she was awake. It was my pleasure to stay with Mom most all of Christmas day. We were blessed with several hours of lucidity that morning, when she was surprisingly conversive and acknowledged that it was the day we celebrate Jesus’s birth. She opened some presents, watched a bit of “A Christmas Story” with me, and we ate a wonderful lunch in the beautiful dining area together.
Although it wasn’t the Christmas we’d planned, by the grace of God it was much better than expected earlier in the month. The time with Mom was my best Christmas present this year. Praise God.
Just as Christmas blew by quickly, so has this entire year. 2017 is nearly over; another year down the tubes. How time truly flies by, accelerating it seems as we age older.
This seems to hit home the hardest at midnight on New Year’s, when we lament the passing of the previous year, and resolve to make the upcoming a better one.
This is the one time annually when we’ll collectively sing “Auld Lang Syne”, translated “old long since,” which means, “days gone by”. It begins, “should auld (old) acquaintance be forgot”, and I’m touched this year to realize that many literally cannot recall their days gone by, though they long to and wish they could once again.
The Bible encourages us to “forget the past”. We’re instructed in Isaiah 43 to, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” and in Philippians 3 we’re told, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Though it is true that we must let go of past hurts and disappointments in order to move forward, we must not forget to care for the people we’ve encountered along the way.
So, what if those people from the past are the ones who caused our hurts and disappointments? What if the reason we’re stuck and can’t move ahead is because people disrespected us, took advantage of us, and damaged us? Wouldn’t it be healthy to forget those acquaintances? No, not really. To pretend to forget, to exist in denial of the truth, is not mentally healthy. Instead, the key to letting go of the past and moving toward the future is forgiveness.
The answer to that hypothetical question we’ll soon be singing, “should we forget those old acquaintances”, is no. Don’t forget, but do forgive. Please, forgive. It will make 2018 a much better year.
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2). Happy New Year friends. Here’s to good things ahead!
Dave Hinman is Pastoral Elder at Dove Church Wilmington. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.