Then, my husband Kris came down with this dramatic version of vertigo—dizziness, falls that bloodied his poor face, and the inability to get out of bed, walk, bend over, or even move his head without throwing up. It’s called labyrinthitis—not because it makes him lurch around like a drunken old man lost in a labyrinth, although it does, but because it involves an infection or blockage in his labyrinth, a part of the inner ear that is like a little level in which calcium stones roll around on top of the hairlike receptors that tell the brain which way is up. So he’s laid up.
And we took my mother-in-law for her yearly check-up to be officially told what has been clear for some time now—she can no longer be left on her own for eighteen hours a day—so that we could start making plans for what to do next.
Kris resists his mom’s diagnosis—not because it isn’t true but because telling her he’s taking her to a nursing home is unimaginable. But we can’t afford 24-hour in-home care, and, even if we could, we could never get the quality of care she’d get in a nursing home. Caretakers for the elderly—at least out in the country where we live—are largely untrained young people working for hardly more than minimum wage. Desperate, in other words, with no other options. Having gone through a number of caregivers, we feel very fortunate to have now an uncommonly capable and kindhearted woman about my age who’s in it, she says, because she loves old people. Saint Betsy, I call her. But she can only work 33 hours a week. We need 168.
So it was that, when my colleague Jennifer appeared in my doorway, we got to talking about how, dying on the cross, Jesus consigned his probably widowed and possibly ailing mother Mary to the care of his best friend John:
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:16-27).
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
According to Jennifer, Jesus’ audience—and even modern day audiences—would find that passage shocking. To them, as she put it, “It’s all about blood.” But to Jesus, it’s about something else. Nevertheless, he looked after his blood.
I have nothing but questions about Jesus’ giving away his mom to John, though. Was Jesus taking care of his mom before that moment? Why don’t we see any of the details of that? And where are Jesus’ brothers? Why aren’t they at the cross? And why aren’t they taking care of their mom? Where, especially, is James, the brother of Jesus who biblical scholars say authored that scary eponymous book in which he argues that “people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone” (James 2:24)?
And what, for Pete’s sake, is the right thing, the loving thing, to do with an elderly mother with dementia who wants to keep living on her own in her own house long after she has become a danger to herself? Jesus is silent about that.