by Karen Worley
Each May, I anticipate the arrival of the annual birthday card from a high school friend, sporting affectionately snarky wishes for my new year. We seldom trade long missives, usually just a sentence or two to catch-up on family. This note, however, began: “I’m walking the same path you did a while back…” and described his dad’s decline, with the emotional and relational struggles of changing parent-child roles. He wrote, “Any wisdom you can share would be much appreciated!”
He thought I might have something to say on the subject. Twenty years ago, my dad and I nursed my precious mom 24/7 during her last weeks on this earth, a sacred privilege that marked me indelibly. Then, I buried my dear 82 yr old father several years ago after a serious surgery from which his body couldn’t recover. And when my father’s single, childless sister slid quietly into early Alzheimer’s, I stepped in as guardian and learned the joys and heartache of caring for a loved one forever altered by that cruel thief. After those experience, perhaps I did have some wisdom to impart to my friend.
I dug for stationery (in this text and email age, there’s simple pleasure in putting pen to paper once again!) and wrote these words: :
I hope these reflections on what I did (and what I wish I’d done differently) will encourage you as you walk with your folks in this uncharted season:
* Initiate those conversations you will later regret not having had with them. Expressions of love and gratefulness. Forgiveness, if needed. Memories shared. Even their impending death—for both your sake.
* Laugh! Find the humor! One of my favorite proverbs is: “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” A good Rx in tough times.
* Give yourself permission and space to grieve the losses. As you know, those losses start well before your loved one dies. I didn’t do this well at the time. I plowed through as the responsible and strong daughter and niece, the caregiver, the executor, the whatever-I-had-to-do-girl. But grief demands to be dealt with, eventually. We all process loss and grief uniquely and on our own timetable, but two words of advice: 1) don’t stuff it down or 2) don’t get stuck in it.
* Take care of yourself. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. It’s vital!
* Pray, pray, pray! God is truly the source and resource of the wisdom we desperately need, in any issues of life.
Blessings to you, my friend,
Like my friend, before elder care or generation-juggling overwhelms you and your family, reach out for wisdom and practical helps from those who’ve been there, done that and survived. Or perhaps you can be the one to initiate the conversation with a friend or neighbor, to reassure them they’re not alone in this challenging season. These kinds of conversations are part of what is what it can look for both brand-new and veteran caregivers to “…share each others’ burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
Karen Worley lives in central Alabama. She’s married to Ken, she’s a mom and proud Mimi of 3 adorable grands. She unwinds at her sewing machine, creating quilts and handmade gifts for family and friends.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Words worth heeding. I’ve been in this position as a daughter when my parents lived about 550 miles away in a town with limited airport options. That meant it was quicker to drive. Now my Dad is living with us and currently needs little assistance.
I was blessed that my church has a caring for aging loved ones support group. People who had walked this road invited others in the situation to get together and share. At one time we read and discussed a great book on the topic. Other times we had guest speakers on topics such as
—what care is provided at different facilities
—what are in home options
—what if siblings disagree on what a parent needs and conflict resolution
—how to have tough conversations with those we are caring for
—legal issues and important documents
—how to care for yourself
—what is hospice and what care do they provide
—we had a person who was needing more help share how that feels, how they are grieving and so on.
Sometimes we just shared info we had learned thru our experiences.
We ALWAYS prayed for each other and those we were caring for.
My experience is would indicate that hospice is the most misunderstood and underused service. It is not just for the last days. The patient does need to meet the criteria. I’ve know families that have had Hospice provide services in the home, or a facility including giving patient baths, providing meal supplements or medical equipment, respite for the caregivers.
Thank you Karen for sharing your thoughts! I hope my additions are helpful to others
Thank you for adding your great insights to Karen’s thoughts here. I wish more churches would offer a caregiver support group like the one you described, Vicki. It can be so isolating to be in that role, particularly if a loved one is in your home and in need of lots of supervision or physical support.
An amazing hospice team came alongside my sister and I during our mom’s final days. It was a sudden thing for us, and I am grateful that we had such a good experience with them during such a difficult time. I was so stunned by my mom’s terminal diagnosis that I couldn’t even put good questions together or research options.
I’ve heard from others who didn’t have a positive experience with their hospice choice. Knowing what kinds of questions to ask and what is realistic to expect from hospice is key, I think. Your list is a great start – and the time to begin thinking about these things is the day before a crisis hits and decisions need to be made.