For 9 years, my husband’s mother lived with us and we were her caregivers. Three months ago, in December 2019, God called her home.
- She was relatively healthy, physically and mentally; she was appreciative and cooperative.
- We shared faith in Jesus.
- Three wonderful friends provided respite care for us; we were blessed by aid provided by government and non-profits; our extended family and church family were both supportive
- We lived far from her most of our adult lives. In addition to getting to know her intimately during these years, we also got to “see” her more active years through the eyes of the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and others who flew in to visit her.
- She became well known and well loved wherever she went. She was a charmer. Through her we made new friends: neighbor Diane; Whitney at the library; Carrie at Panera.
- The constant questions: “Do I look all right?” and “Can I help?”
- Weekly trips to the library to pick out 8 to 10 movies
- How she never tired of her favorites: the winter fur coat; blue-checked apron; purple print blouse; oatmeal with ice cream for breakfast.
- The years she prepared birthday cards for our church to send to our seniors. Her handwriting was exquisite, and she lavished the cards with the most elegant stickers we could find.
- Watching her world shrink. At first she went out a lot; eventually she didn’t go out at all.
- How fiercely she fought increasing dependency.
- Early mornings. She and I would both get up about 5:30. When I decided to get up at 5 so I could get a brief head start, she began getting up at 5.
- Routines! Morning, meals, going out for walks, bedtime. Year by year, the routines lengthened.
- My husband had a “date” most weeks, thanks to friends. We had vacations, thanks to his brother and sister-in-law. We gave each other an afternoon off each week. All great blessings, but overall we were socially isolated; it was difficult to go anywhere.
- Our home wasn’t our own. Life often felt like a narrow prison. But we knew her prison was much more confining.
- Picking our battles and setting boundaries; when to set aside our own desires and when to insist on our desires over hers. When to let her do what she wanted; when to limit her for her own safety.
- The unknown end date. She was ready to go home long before she was called home; waiting was hard for her. It wasn’t until the last two weeks that any of us knew we were in the last weeks.
- Modern medicine is wonderful. It relieves pain and increases mobility. But independence is elusive. The elderly often can’t manage the complexities of medications, treatments, doctor appointments, insurance, etc.
- We all need care in our first years of life. Most of us will need a decade or more of care at the end of our lives, too.
- Our extended families are smaller and spread over greater distances than in the past, creating more social isolation. This isolation creates more people who need care and makes life harder for the caregivers.
- Careging bared my innate self-centeredness; my desire to limit what I could/should/would give. It also bared my desire for approval, for others to know what it ‘cost’ to be a caregiver.
- It made a profound difference to know that I will see her again; that, in some way, the season of caregiving will be part of our eternity together.
The Best Truths of All
- God’s forgiveness is unbounded; more than enough to cover my lack and my sin. My failings never cut me off from his love and grace.
- God wants us to cry out for help, no matter how often we need it. Every day . . . every hour . . .every 30 seconds! He’s not only good with that, he wants it!
- He gives strength for the day, one day at a time.
- When we volunteer, we look for places to serve that match our skills and interest. That’s good and advisable, but sometimes God calls us to places where we don’t have the obvious gifts. But whatever gifts he has given can be used well in any place of serving. I don’t have the gifts of empathy, compassion and serving that make a natural caregiver. But my organizational and communication skills provided good record-keeping and family communication; my patience and persistence helped see me through a nine year task; my logic helped her and my husband manage the emotional side of things.
- God likes interdependence. He designed it into nature and the raising of children. We wish to avoid any form of dependance entirely as adults. Perhaps interdependence at the end of our lives is not a bad thing, but part of God’s plan.