The phone call came when he was out of town, Atlanta in fact. He was there to visit his son who was in college. Out of the blue, the phone rang and it was an aunt. She said “come to see me as soon as you can; I need your help and you are the only one who can help me!” That message had an ominous tone to it, but he said “Ok, I am in Atlanta but when I get home, I will give you a call.”
Then the imagination was engaged. Telling his wife, they began to speculate about why he was called and what was that call about? Having very little to work on, they really could not begin to come up with plausible scenarios. It was a stimulus for interesting conversation on the way back home from Atlanta.
After a couple of days at home, the phone call to the aunt was made and a time was set to visit. Again, no details were shared and as the time drew near, he experienced some nervousness.
Entering her apartment on the day of the appointment, it was immediately apparent that she was extremely agitated. After a few minutes, it became clear that she was mad at all the members of her family who she felt had taken advantage of her. This is not the forum to discuss that but she was “chapped,” meaning very angry. She provided specific evidence of her grievances as the visit continued; to put it mildly, she was at her wits end. She had reached the point in life where she wanted to make her “final arrangements” and the only one she trusted was about 87 years old and in bad health. So, I was the only candidate to fulfill her requests.
Some would say, well tell her yes and be done with it. But with a child in college, a working spouse, a full-time professorship at a local college, and a house and yard to help manage, I had a full life. I had lots to do and I wondered if I could I add this to my load. I told myself, she was in good health so quit worrying. I said yes to her request. I just felt that I needed to help her even though I was not sure what I had just signed up for.
The main thing she asked: could I be her Power of Attorney in the event of poor health and Executor of her estate in the event of her death. In the event of poor health, I was to be the contact person to decide end-of-life issues. At the time of this request, she was in charge of her business, but in hindsight, I think she knew that she would soon be facing serious life changes.
The changes came quickly. A short while later I got another phone call about a routine surgery for her shoulder and she expressed her fear that things would go wrong. They did, but not in the way she suspected. After a thorough pre-surgical exam the doctor told her that her heart was too weak for surgery. Then the phone call about the cancer. My aunt had smoked for years and now the doctors found esophageal cancer in her body and it was aggressive.
Within months, she transitioned from an assisted living facility to a nursing home and she lost all interest in paying her bills. Actually it seemed she was a bit obsessed with her death [probably depression]. It was now my job to work with her on her finances. It was my job to downsize her belongings and place them in a storage facility. As she spiraled toward death, it became apparent that I needed to contact her estranged family members so they could have the option of a visit. I did that even though the calls were difficult.
Things quickly got more complex…late night calls from doctors asking permission for treatment, specific requests from her about particular possession that should be appraised and distributed, frequent visits for business consultations. I got to the point when I just said “God I don’t know what to do. This woman is dying on me and I have never had an experience like this before. Please help me.”
I felt down deep in my heart that I could get through this and I did. God answered my prayers by providing help from so many people. I could not see a way forward at times but God provided a way forward. I had already said yes to my aunt; now God said yes to me.
Billy Graham calls this the spiritual gift of faith. “Many things come into our lives concerning which there are no specific promises from the Word…sometimes the Holy Spirit give us the gift of faith to believe for things about which the Bible is silent” [193-94] In my case, I worked though the situation on faith, Holy Spirit faith that God provided.
Credit needs to be given where it is due. Her doctors were very caring; her church members stepped forward to assist in ways that were necessary. One very good friend of hers [I will call him JW] was my initial line of defense. When she had to go to the emergency room, he was there for her quickly because I was living seventy-two miles away. I owed him so much; he was my angel as well as hers.
Too often when we think of faith, we really think of what Graham calls the grace of faith, meaning we can believe what God is going to do because He said He is going to do it in His Word. All Christians can have this type of faith. In fact, Graham states “if we do not have faith in what the Bible promises, we sin” .
Holy Spirit faith is when we can’t see any way forward and we give it over to God and we indeed go forward despite the circumstances. That is what happened with my aunt. I took care of her needs all the way to the end, with help from others and with help from God. It took a long time because she placed so many demands on me; she wanted particular things done in particular ways. At times I did not think I would ever get to the end of it all, but I did and I was happy that I carried out her wishes the best that I could. I really think she would have been pleased.
From my perspective, the whole episode resulted in a closer relationship with God. I was given faith by the Holy Spirit to do what God had laid on my heart. At times the consequences were dire, but I made it all the way to the end. Her last arrangements were made as per her request and when the last check from her estate was mailed to the last recipient and the court declared her estate settled, I knew I did not do all the work on my own power.
I said yes to my aunt.
God said yes to my prayers.
Together, we took care of her, all the way to the end.