Last month my mother-in-law, Renee, earned herself a helicopter ride to the ER after having stroke-like symptoms. Less than a week later, she was scheduled for surgery to remove a brain tumor that had metastasized from kidney cancer. The day before her surgery, five days after her helicopter escort, she still hadn’t regained use of her right arm.
Through all the visitors who trickled in and out of Renee’s room the day before surgery, our little family was well aware that these may be our last moments with her. We had spent much of the day laughing and storytelling. Brittney, my sister-in-law, had the outstanding idea to pack a picnic lunch so that the grandkids could share “snacks” with Grandma one more time.
As the evening drew to a close, Brittney and I offered to wash Renee’s hair, which hadn’t been washed the entire time she’d been in the hospital. We kicked the husbands and the kids out of the room (We weren’t sure how wet we would get, let alone how much skin would be revealed!). We gathered towels, basins, warm water, and a little bottle of baby shampoo. While Renee sat upright in bed with pillows propped up against her lower back and a slack right arm, Britt and I pour water and lathered suds. We rinsed and rinsed. We controlled drippy water like experts and Renee hummed in the satisfaction of having her hair washed.
A trio of women focused on a humanizing task…no one else in the room. Two serving one. Not just because Renee needed her hair washed (which she did), but because two daughters-in-law loved their mother-in-law enough to want her to feel special.
In the hallway, a nurse said, “She’s so lucky to have a family to care for her with servants’ hearts.”
That statement sat in my heart for several weeks. I wasn’t sure that “servant’s heart” was the correct phrase. Perhaps it was; perhaps it wasn’t. I didn’t feel like I had a servant’s heart at that moment. I just knew that Renee had been subjected to humbling tests and treatments…ones that strip a person of their privacy. I knew at that moment, I wanted to tag team with my sister-in-law to make Renee feel “human.”
Scripture tells us to regard our family members with acts of service. “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” ~1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV).
Scripture also tells us how to regard our elders with acts of service. “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” ~1 Peter 5:5 (ESV)
The act of washing hair may be worthy of saying “servant’s heart,” but it was definitely a moment where family was taking care of family. It was an act of love. It was one where humility was exhibited by all three women.
God blessed that action; just as He has blessed every act of service done while modeling Christ’s love for one another. He’s blessed this family and He has wrapped His arms around Renee as she has faced the uncertainty of life and death this last year. She survived brain surgery. After a few complications, she is doing well in rehab and is starting to regain movement in her right arm. God is good. All the time.
Cancer is a terrible road. I wouldn’t want this reality for any family. But I will freely admit that I wouldn’t change one moment of that “day before surgery.” I wouldn’t change the picnic lunch or grandkids’ giggles. I wouldn’t change the parade of visitors or watching my husband hold his mom’s hand. I wouldn’t change the group prayer around her bed, as we left for the night. And I certainly wouldn’t have changed any part of the hair washing.