Jesus, knowing that 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
In Christ’s day, everyone walked barefoot or wore sandals on the dusty roads. Upon entering a house, they would wash their feet. A wealthy host would have a servant wash their guest’s feet. Of course, this job was done by the lowest servant.
When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, he was performing an object lesson. He was teaching the disciples to humble themselves by serving others. This lesson was not understood by the disciples at the time, but after the Holy Spirit entered them at Pentecost, Christ’s teachings were understood. They were to ignore pride and be humble servants.
I was reminded of this scripture as I trimmed Mother’s toenails. I hate doing it and usually delay it too long. As caregivers for loved ones with dementia, we will be called to be a humble servant. We may clean dentures or brush someone else’s teeth. We will, probably, help them bathe and get dressed. Some of us will deal with cleaning 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 which was often my job. They would run and hide, but once in the tub they didn’t want to get 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 clean and fresh. Once I helped them brush their teeth, they would run to their mother who was busy doing laundry or washing dishes.
On one occasion, after bathing all the children, I drained the water. Then while drying and dressing the youngest my oldest daughter, who was about 3-1/2 years old, grabbed a shampoo bottle. Without my noticing, she squirted the shampoo all over the tub. I didn’t notice until later when I entered the shower. Immediately, upon stepping in my feet were above my head, and I landed on my back. Being much younger than I am now, I wasn’t hurt and laughed. 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 pajamas were more fun. Washing my mother is different. Thankfully, she has lost her modesty, but like a child she resists bathing. Since she has arthritis, she complains it hurts to get into the shower though it is a stand-up shower. She argues, she doesn’t need a shower, which sounds a lot like a ten-year-old boy. It broke my heart the first time she asked, “Do I have to?” as if she were a child talking to her parent.
It reminds me of the time I volunteered to pick up a group of pre-teen boys from church camp. Upon arriving, I learned the campground had a water line malfunction during the week and was operating on limited water; therefore, the administrators made bathing optional. None of the dozen boys showered the entire six days of camp, and they thought it was the best camp ever. Imagine the smell of the children who played in the summer heat for a week without bathing. I drove home with the windows open.
My mother, who bathed daily before dementia, now has no desire to shower. She would wear the same clothes every day if I allowed it. This is typical of 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 perform the personal hygiene for our loved-one.
© Copyright 2018 Ronald Milburn