Jesus, knowing the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come forth from God, and was going back to God; Rose from supper and laid aside his garments; and taking a towel, He girded himself about. Then He poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. John 13:3-5 NASB
When Christ walked the dusty paths, everyone was barefoot or wore sandals. Upon entering a house, the lowest servant would rinse their feet.
When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, he was performing an object lesson. He was teaching the disciples to humble themselves by serving others. The disciples didn’t understand, but after the Holy Spirit entered them at Pentecost, they knew the meaning. They were to ignore pride and become servants.
I remembered this scripture as I trimmed Mother’s toenails. I hate the job and delay it too long. As caregivers for loved ones with dementia, God calls us as a humble servant. We may scrub dentures or brush someone else’s teeth. It’s up to us to help them bathe and get dressed. Sometimes, we clean off the urine and feces.
I have four children. Three were born eighteen months apart, and the fourth came eight years later. Bathing three at a time was a nightly experience for me. They would run and hide, but once in the tub, they didn’t want to climb out. They played for a while, then beginning with the oldest, I washed, shampooed, rinsed and dried them. After toweling the firstborn and dressing her in pajamas, I would turn my attention to the next oldest. The assembly line continued until all were squeaky clean. Once I helped them brush their teeth, they’d run to their busy mother doing household chores.
On one occasion, after bathing them, I drained the water. Then while toweling and dressing the youngest, my 3-1/2 years old grabbed a shampoo bottle. Without me noticing, my youngster squirted shampoo all over the tub. Later, when I entered the shower, my feet went above my head, and I landed on my back. Younger back then, it didn’t hurt much. I laughed, and I knew this would be a family remembrance.
Now I bathe my mother, and it’s not the same. Those cute little children with wet hair and footy pajamas were more fun. Washing my mother is different. She’s lost her modesty, and she resists bathing. Since she has arthritis, she complains it hurts to get into the shower. She sounds like a ten-year-old boy when she says she doesn’t want to wash. It broke my heart the first time she asked, “Must I?” as if she were a child talking to her parent.
It reminded me of the hot, summer day I volunteered to pick up a group of pre-teen boys from church camp. Upon arriving, I learned the campground had a waterline malfunction during the week and was operating on limited water. So, the counselors made bathing optional. My dozen boys willingly limited their water use to none for the entire six days of camp. The rank group thought it was the best camp ever. Imagine the odor of the children who played in the summer heat for a week. I drove home with the windows open.
My mother, who bathed daily before dementia, now resists. She’d wear the same clothes every day if I allowed it. Hygiene issues are common with dementia patients, and it’s often one of the first symptoms of the disease. Because they need our help, we must humble ourselves as Christ did and help with the personal hygiene for our loved one.
© Copyright 2018 Ronald Milburn