by Sharon Williams
It can happen in an instant. Life can change as quickly in the moment it takes for a slipper to catch on a sticky spot on a floor.
My dad lived in the house that he, along with my mother, had owned for many years before her passing. When we called or visited him, we began to hear about falls. A knee gave out. His foot shifted inside the slipper when he changed directions. He probably cracked a rib. It hurt to hiccup and gasp. It hurt to stand up. It hurt to lie down.
The realization dawned that my dad needed help. My husband and I pondered and brainstormed, but in the end, there was only one option. My dad could not come to live with us, as he could not navigate the stairs outside our mobile home, so we sold our trailer and moved in with him.
It was a mixed experience that included sadness, joy, fear, peace, resentment, guilt, giving, and love – sometimes all within the span of a single day.
Was it hard? Yes. A thousand times yes. It was hard to see the swelling in my dad’s feet and legs. It was hard to see him rock back and forth in order to get up out of the recliner. It was hard to see the utter devastation on his face after his doctor gave him difficult news.
There were good moments, too. Sometimes after I sat and listened to him reminisce, he said he enjoyed talking with me. Over time, my husband and my dad developed special bonds. My dad would smile and ask my husband, “What’s on the menu for tonight? Can I get one of your egg extravaganza sandwiches?” The two of them spent many pleasant evenings watching Property Brothers, Love It or List It, and White Collar.
Did I feel guilty? Yes. I think guilt comes with the territory. Sometimes, I chose to hibernate in the bedroom with a book instead of spending time with my dad. He was desperate for conversation, and I was desperate for solitude. I worked 65 hours a week at two different jobs. During my 40 minutes between jobs, I needed to change clothes and eat supper. I often found myself hoping that he would doze off so I wouldn’t lose precious moments from having to talk with him.
Caregiving created some moments of tension between my husband and I. Absolutely. When my husband placed wine coolers inside the refrigerator that sat in the garage, I felt caught in the middle between my husband and my father. If my dad knew there was alcohol in his home, he would be hurt and angry. After several intense conversations with my husband, the wine coolers left the premises. We also experienced tension when we lay in bed and talked at night. I was always reminding him to whisper or speak more quietly. My constant shushing wore us both down.
Was I afraid? That question is an understatement. I was terrified. My dad was a large man, and walking was becoming increasingly difficult. What would happen when he could no longer get around? How would we care for him? Medical care costs money. Would we need to sell the house and put him into a facility? Did places exist that had specialized equipment so the staff could move him? Would my husband and I need to rent an apartment? I lived with an underlying sense of panic. I knew we were approaching a cliff. I just didn’t know when we would topple over the edge. There were times I attempted to broach the subject of the future with my dad, but the words stuck in my throat. The few times I got something out, there wasn’t much response. I suspect he felt as clueless and as scared as I did.
My dad went to be with the Lord one morning after falling at the dentist’s office. His morning had been difficult and humiliating, but his death was quick and sudden. I was sad to lose my dad. I was also flooded with relief. Caregiving had brought us to the edge of a precipice, but we had not plummeted to the bottom. My dad would not live through our nightmares about his future. His faith in His Lord was strong, and he was ready to go. God had answered my prayers that there would be no hospital stays and no hospice.
As I reflect on the experience, I can say I’m glad we did this. Amidst the pain, brokenness, feelings and fears, there was love. All of us tried to think of each other more than ourselves. All of us loved in the best way we knew how.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.
What helped me most during the time of active caregiving? My dad sometimes spoke of an aunt and uncle who remodeled their home so they could care for aging parents. Their story touched me, and I felt privileged to serve in the same way they did.I was also helped by a quote. Mother Teresa once remarked that if we want to change the world, we should go home and love our families. I recently read that her exact words were a bit different, but no matter. That statement meant the world to me. It provided a meaningful framework for our changed lives. And I was helped by friends who were willing to listen to me without trying to fix my problems. Their listening ears provided the perspective I needed during a time where there were no easy solutions.
Our lives may have changed in an instant, but God was also changing us day by day as we walked with my dad during the last years of his life. I’m thankful that we were able to make those years better for my dad and were able to ease his loneliness.
Now that Sharon Wiliams is officially retired, she babysits grandchildren five days a week. She usually has three or four reading projects going and is continuously adding titles to her “books to read” list. She just finished a year-long photography course, makes occasional attempts at sketching, loves to practice piano, and plays with kiddos once a month in the church nursery. She and her husband enjoy living in beautiful, green Oregon, and they especially treasure the forests and waterfalls nearby.