“A woman of valour who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10
I wrote this just over a year ago as an entry to an essay contest on rachelheldevans.com. I had no home for it then so it has been sitting in My Documents ever since. The remit was to write about a woman of valour in your life: “Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.”
Born in Belfast in 1949, there are many stories I could tell you about my mum. She’s not a story teller herself, so you’d be surprised. She’ll be the one listening at a dinner party, not holding court – but she could. She should, really.
You might want to ask her what it was like moving to Japan in her 20s, having her children there, living life, doing missionary work. She has made many remarkable things seem unremarkable by being so damn unassuming about it all. Most remarkable of all though is the woman she continues to be behind closed doors, the things she does out of sight that matter. She is my mum and I never knew it was remarkable, a woman like this – so hard to find.
George Eliot said “… the growing good of the world is partly dependant on unhistoric acts … is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life.” That’s her. Most recently she has been doing the most unseen kind of work of all – caring for her elderly parents.
3 years ago my parents got an extension on their wee house when my grandparents could no longer manage on their own. Mum retired from her job as a librarian and for a year provided a bespoke home for the pair of them, until Nana passed away in January 2011. Since then she has quietly, thoughtfully, just plain beautifully, cared for the changing needs of her dad. Daily, faithful, hidden work.
Grandpa has Lewy Body Dementia, a unique form of dementia with Parkinson’s symptoms that affect his mobility and motor control. It causes vision problems and hallucinations and more that my mum could tell you about (she had read up and quietly diagnosed him before the professionals did…). He has little eyesight left due to Glaucoma. Mum is the kind of capable woman that can care for him like a nurse, but she also has the kind of heart that has never stopped caring for him as a daughter … believing that, even in moments when he doesn’t know her, it matters that she knows him. It makes a difference that she knows his sense of humour, his turn of phrase, his opinions… that she knows his world.
I catch a glimpse into this hidden life when I visit with my little girl, sometimes staying over when my husband is working. While my baby sleeps soundly, Grandpa might buzz 4 times in the night Is it 3am or 3pm? How will he get breakfast? A man was in the room! They’ve been robbed! Regardless of disturbed sleep mum is up at 7am making porridge for her dad, just as he, always an early bird, made the porridge all his life. There is holiness in the ordinary, often boring, daily acts of service and routine. There is communion from that 7am porridge pot and the 10pm mug of Ovaltine, and all the wee cups of tea in between.
But Grandpa is not just loved with hot meals and clean sheets. Everything is deliberate, intentional. Household disability aids have been integrated subtly – from mobility aids to innovative crockery. No attention is drawn to them they are just there, where they need to be, when Grandpa needs them. And just as she gently helps him navigate his physical world, so she helps him navigate his internal world. She has educated herself about dementia and communicates deliberately. She gathers information without asking direct questions. She understands his feelings are real, even if he can’t explain, or remember, what caused them. He is not dismissed, or hurried or contradicted. He is not expected to follow her superior sense, she follows his . . . she finds his sense, eventually! The answers she gives and the words she uses have been thought about, searched for, considered from his perspective.
I recently flicked through a book that mum loves by Ann Benton about caring for elderly parents and heavily underlined were these words: “When we attempt to clear up the mess others have made, or when we love the unlovely, we demonstrate the kind of weirdness God likes.” Mum provides this amazing care that is largely unknown and unseen, but she senses the worth of her work. You will not find her on Facebook or Twitter telling the world about any of it. Only Grandpa really knows what she does, and he often forgets!
Grandpa’s health continues to decline and he may soon need nursing care elsewhere, but wherever he is, he is blessed because he has a woman in his life worth far more than rubies and she will be there, practising the kind of weirdness God likes. Eshet chayil!