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.