Looked at With the Eyes of Christ
Caring for her mother, Elena experiences an exceptional change in their relationship.
My mother is by nature strong-willed and independent, necessary qualities that helped her survive as she raised four children as a single parent. Over the years, as chronic health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease and heart disease worsened, it became impossible for her to live alone so she moved in with my son and then, almost 6 years ago, came to live with my husband and me.
It appears that the same qualities that gave her the strength to overcome the struggles of raising her family alone have made it rather difficult for her to gracefully accept her frailty and dependence. In her anger or frustration she has frequently lashed out (usually at me as her primary caregiver) saying hurtful things which in turn angered me. Needless to say, we’ve butt heads many times and our relationship has suffered, to the point that, although we had not been particularly affectionate for a long time, I realized that I didn’t even look her in the eyes when interacting with her. I was shocked by this realization and determined to change, but I persisted in this bad habit.
While doing the work of School of Community over the past few months I recalled a particularly difficult time for me during Easter last year, when I was incredibly lonely and sad. I felt an oppressive weight on me and I was desperate to speak to a dear friend. I became acutely aware of an intense need that I can only describe as that of being truly seen and understood. I recognized that my friend’s gaze on me is undeniably that of Christ, and I knew that I needed to experience that gaze in order not to suffocate in my sadness. I shared my difficulties with my friend and, although nothing in my circumstances had changed, the weight was lifted and I could breathe once again.
In revisiting that experience, it occurred to me that my mom has no one in her life that looks at her the way my friend looks at me. I realized that I had the opportunity to provide her with what was so essential for me: to be looked at with the eyes of Christ, to be really seen. Since that time, the way I interact with my mom has changed for the better, and I’ve been really surprised to find that it has not been the result of a conscious effort on my part. I haven’t tried to behave in a moral way; there has been no “I should” do this or that. It’s been easy, natural, the result of a different gaze on her. I find I’m more patient, affectionate, and I now look her in the eyes every day. Remarkably, and as a result, my sometimes-cantankerous “tough cookie” of a mom who’s never been one to regularly say, “Thank you” or “I’m sorry” (at least not in a way that communicated sincerity instead of sarcasm) has gotten into the habit of thanking me for all I do for her, and she now apologizes to me when she’s treated me inconsiderately. The strain is gone from our relationship and taking care of her now, although much more demanding in practical and physical terms, is something I do with a lighter heart and with real gratitude.
This experience confirms to me that there truly is hope, even for an 87-year old nearing the end of her life, and for her child who never expected the redemption of their relationship.
Elena, Miami, FL
*Elena's mother, Julia, passed away December 19, a couple of weeks after Elena shared this contribution with us. We keep Elena, Julia, and their entire family in our prayers.