by Michele Morin
I heard her footsteps on the stairs one night, jolting me out of a sound sleep and into the familiar world of worry.
Step, click, pause.
The foot, the cane, the balance check.
Exhaling in the dark of my room, I realized . . . no. I had been dreaming. She wasn’t living in my home anymore.
She was walking in safety now, through hallways with sturdy rails, and assisted by M.A.s and C.N.A.s and an alphabet soup of helpers who tended to her every need.
The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done
For weeks, I rehearsed the words I would use when the day came:
“Mum, you know that it’s getting harder and more risky for you to be walking around the house. Your eyesight is getting dimmer, your balance and strength less reliable. You cry every day over the walk to the bathroom. It’s time for us to find a safer place for you with people who can care for you.”
Will this decision ever stop feeling like a thing that needs forgiveness?
When Mum passed away in May of 2017, God, in His mercy, gifted a peaceful and painless passage. In the year since then, I’m thankful that the memory of hard days and relational tension has been swallowed up in healing and forgiveness. Having made that point very clear, I will also confess that Mum’s final days were a wilderness of self-doubt, second guessing, and impossible choices.
I used to say that homeschooling my children was the hardest thing I had ever done, but then came five years of being a caregiver and:
- arguing against irrational choices (No, Mum, people with glaucoma cannot cancel their eye doctor appointments)
- attempting to meet unreasonable demands (Mum, we just had hot dogs two nights ago. I can’t feed the family hot dogs every night)
- defending boundaries and clinging to reasonable parameters of sane living (Ple-e-e-ease don’t put your fingers in the serving dishes) . . .
I thought I had identified my new “hardest thing.” I was wrong.
As hard as it had been to say yes to my mother’s request to live with us;
As exhausting as it was to insist that she make good choices and then shift gears for the same kinds of conversations with four teen and tween sons;
As discouraging as it was to clean up the same bathroom catastrophes on a daily basis—none of this compared to the process of moving her to a nursing home.
As Mum raged and refused, the paperwork process halted and jolted over ground that I thought I had already covered.
With her acquiescence came a slow smolder, and I could see that she did not believe that she was in any real danger in our home—any more than she believed me when I told her that her 3 a.m. movie marathons were waking me up.
“You can’t hear that TV through two closed doors!”
“Oh, yes, Mum. I can. Believe me, I can.”
Rebuilding the Desolate Places
At some point in that season, a friend unearthed and shared some old pictures of my family. I was in my twenties, my sister was visiting from Alaska, and my mum was just about the age I am today. She was smiling—the kind of smile that lingers after a good hard laugh. Those occasions became fewer as her days of caring for my dad came to a close. The day he died, she bundled up his worldly goods and shipped them out along with any expectation of happiness beyond the radius of her chair and the nearest television screen.
When Mum asked to come and live with us, I imagined, briefly, that somehow this would redeem our relationship; that God would use Mum’s final years as a sort of rebuilding of the desolate places that Isaiah wrote about when he predicted a way of salvation from ruin through a Messiah who said:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me
Because the LORD has anointed Me . . .
To comfort all who mourn . . .
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD,
That He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1, 2, 3
That was not to be, at least not on this planet.
Yet, since Mum’s passing, God has been at work in other ways. I have been in the process of sifting through the ashes of loss, trusting Him to reveal the beauty, to give meaning to the years of mourning.
In the wilderness of Mum’s nursing home season, I found that trusting God for “the oil of joy” helped smooth my relationships with nursing home administrators whose frequent messages felt like calls from a school principal about a naughty child.
I am continually trusting for the “garment of praise” to protect my mind from the false guilt that measured every day and every minute between visits as if I could prove myself worthy of God’s love by winning the dutiful daughter award.
Righteousness Springs Forth
On this first anniversary of my mother’s death, I am trusting for strong roots in ultimate Truth, because I know that there is a younger generation learning from my husband and me what it means to value life, and that it is possible to respect a person as a bearer of the image of God when that likeness has become obscured by anger, bitterness, and dementia.
God is always in the process of transforming my immediate and demanding “whys” into “hows” so that my most urgent plea becomes, “LORD, how can this whole experience be transformed so that you are glorified in it?” And, of course, even a year after Mum’s passing, I do not see the answer yet, but as Isaiah trusted and wrote about a salvation that he did not fully experience on this earth, I am also learning the wisdom of waiting:
“For as the earth brings forth its bud,
And the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”
Lord, let it be so.
A version of this post first appeared at Blessed but Stressed, a community of caregivers and faithful lovers of their families.
Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who blogs at Living Our Days. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. She is active in educational ministries with her local church and her writing has appeared at SheLoves Magazine, The Mudroom, (in)courage, and elsewhere. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy, finds joy in sitting around a table surrounded by women with open Bibles, and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photo by Jake Thacker on Unsplash
Oh Michele … my heart aches for you. You’ve attached words to feelings and thoughts that are so difficult to articulate, and I am grateful and blessed to read them this morning. I’m praying for you this Mother’s Day season, my friend …
Thank you, Lois. I know that you are also going through a challenging season as the filling in a generational sandwich. Blessings to you as you live it with such grace.
I relate to so much of this, Michele. It was a very, very sad day when we had to move my mom into a memory care facility. Even though we knew it was in her best interest, it was still so hard. Thankfully she didn’t seem too unhappy there; her Alzheimer’s was already too deep. Blessings to you on Mother’s Day!
Yes, that’s exactly the conflict: you know it’s the best decision for their safety, but you just don’t want to bring it up.
Happy Mother’s Day, Lisa. I hope your special weekend will include some time with the grandchild!
Beautiful post. Thank you for it.
Thank you, Jeannie, for reading! It’s great to meet you here.
I can identify with so much of this! My m-i-l was never argumentative or bitter, but we did deal with guilt about putting her in assisted living and stresses when we brought her home. Thank you for sharing, and may God continually give grace as you sift through memories.
Oh, thank you, Barbara. As you know, this is a continual sifting, and it’s very easy to fall into a trap of “what if.” It’s a powerful demand upon the grace of God, and I’m thankful that He is up for it!
What a beautifully written essay about the heartache of caring for elderly loved ones, Michele. We didn’t have to put either of my parents in a nursing home, but we were headed in that direction with my Dad, when he took his own life. That has been a difficult reality for me to live with and I’ve turned it over to God, the great healer. Prayers for your continued progress toward peace.
What a huge load you’ve had to carry and then relinquish to God. Thank you for sharing your own story. There really doesn’t seem to be a simple and uncomplicated solution to this dance of the generations, and I’m already feeling a bit sorry for my sons, but also working hard to make good decisions about my health and my character in order to make things (I trust!) I little smoother for them.
Thanks be to God for his ULTIMATE healing of all things.
Michelle, it’s so hard to be in the place of caring for elderly parents who don’t want to let go of their independence. That’s one of the takeaways I’ve come up with in dealing with my parents, that I don’t EVER, EVER want to do that to my kids! If the difficulties I’ve had to face will help me be a better patient when my time comes, all this will have been worth it.
Ruth, I’ve had that thought so many times. There’s a big difference between laying down our independence and our preferences from a stance of studied wisdom and prudence and the horrible feeling of being forced into decisions that are long past due. My husband and I are already doing some things to our home and thinking through some choices that will make us more independent down the road and free up our kids in the long run.
Thanks, Ruth, for emphasizing the matter of agency in this process.
Michele, you have so beautifully expressed the difficult emotions which come with caring, honoring, and making decisions for aging parents. Praying for you and for us all as we navigate these challenges of life, for surely, the next generation will also learn from our example. Blessings!
You’ve put your finger on the fault line, Joanne. It’s such a struggle to CARE FOR someone and to make decisions for them while still HONORING them as adults and as our parent. It takes careful maneuvering at times, and it was sad to have to make decisions for mum that I knew she would hate and disagree with. The blessing is that we learn from each other in the process, and then, we know that God is also at work in ways that may be invisible to us at the time.
Blessings to you, Joanne. So good to hear from you.
Oh Michele, I will be back for a more thorough read. This is an excruciating subject for me right now. I am sandwiched between 4 generations, with every generation having its own particular, hugely difficult challenges.
It’s a hard place to be, but I would choose no other. Living a ‘no regrets’ life continues to be my goal. But no one said it would be easy.
I appreciate this reminder that doing the right thing in the midst of all the decisions and choices may not be easy. We’ve got three generations going, and I can’t imagine four!
And I also want to minimize the regrets going forward. Actually, that’s been very helpful in thinking through, retrospectively, our decisions for my mum. Even though it was hard in many ways, I wouldn’t un-do the choice to keep her safe. In the end, she was well right up to the evening before she passed away. God is gracious!
Thank you for sharing more of the story. Even though I wasn’t quite in the sandwich generation while caring for my parents, I did have one or the other son who had moved back home during those times. I will never forget when we moved my parents to a retirement community that provided all the levels of care. My mom basically had to be dragged there and was not happy about the decision. It does leave you with a feeling of guilt.
I’m praying for you on the first anniversary of losing your mom. May you feel God’s loving arms around you.
I know this topic of caring for parents and then saying goodbye is a tender one for you as well, Mary. I was grateful for the privilege of reading your thoughts and the responses that bubbled forth as you walked this hard road of loving and grieving.
Thank you for your always encouraging thoughts and for your sisterhood in these wonder years past the mid-point.
Such a lovely tribute to your mum, friend. It’s not always easy, is it? Navigating difficult relationships with grace? So glad you’re choosing joy and praise over the cheap substitutes satan tries to offer. God bless you on this day of remembering for you, friend. xoxo
Brenda, I can’t begin to express how much I’m encouraged by seeing the word “tribute” attached to this piece. It was such a hard season that I struggle always to share thoughts from it without sounding like a hateful daughter, but I know too that my reaction is colored by the heaviness of the hard decision that Mum needed more care than I could provide.
Thanks for your words of blessing.
I’ve just started writing about the Sandwich phase that I am learning to navigate. My kids are tweens/teens and my parents are in their 80s. Thank you for being so frank. I”ll continue to follow.
It’s good that you see that there could be challenges ahead. Setting healthy boundaries now will be a gift for later. If you have open lines of communication with your parents, you’ll be able to navigate these rough waters with much less anxiety.
Blessings to you as you move forward in joy!
I thought I had identified my new “hardest thing.” I was wrong. Oh dear. this puts the fear of God in me!
Chuckling at this, because I remember when it occurred to me that having Mum here in the house was harder than homeschooling. I carried the thought around with me for a few days before I tested it out loud with my husband. Then, years later, it was somewhere in the middle of packing up Mum’s room and seeing her sitting there in her chair, hearing her anger and sadness that I realized I had no idea what heart ache was until that very moment.
Thanks for sharing your story, Michele! It all sounds such a challenge but I love how you describe finding hope in the midst of it.
It’s crazy how God showers hope into the darkest times. I have no interest in ever going through an experience like that again, but it seems to have been the process that was needed in that season for some important sifting to take place.
I appreciate your meeting me here, Lesley. Blessings to you!
Your writing always captivates me, Michele! I cannot, or rather, I don’t want to imagine the struggle. My mom still seems so independent and capable. I’m relieved to know she has, however, planned out her end of life care. I just pray she remains lucid enough to understand that when the time comes. Praying your words comfort hearts hurting with similar burdens. Blessings!
That’s my prayer as well, Liz. We just don’t know how end of life issues are going to play out, and we need to take the grace God offers so that we stay healthy and avoid the guilt trip.
Oh, friend. THIS is why we must take charge of decisions about our own future and TALK about them with our kids. It is so hard when we are forced into making such decisions for them. Could the pain of this last, hard decision have been different if you and your mom (and your sibling(s) had made the hard part earlier, like when she asked to live with you?? Each step in this long, hard journey is exquisitely painful!!
Yes, I’ve thought of this very thing so many times, replaying all the possible BETTER ways this could have been handled. Maybe she should have gone directly into a care facility instead of living her slow, five-year decline in our home. I think I had unrealistic hopes from the start. My story is, in no way, prescriptive, and given the chance for a do over, I’d probably do a lot of things differently.
Michele, thank you for speaking to the hard. My husband and his sister are in a difficult situation with their dad. He has never been a loving father, and now that dementia has set in, he has become unbearable. He is not a believer which makes it even more sad. The Heavenly Father has given my husband the grace to honor his dad and try to do his best with him. He will be moved to a facility in June, he still lives at home with caregivers. Thank you for your words of wisdom! Blessings~
I honor you and your husband for staying engaged with your father in law. When my mother slipped into belligerent or hatefulness, it was heartbreaking, and I truly felt as if I had lost her.
Thank you for sharing your story of perseverance and faithfulness here. Trusting that the process of the move will be seamless, and that perhaps a more stable (and professional) environment will improve his disposition.
What a tough place to be. I cannot imagine how much strength it took to finally make the decision to let others take care of your mom. So glad God has helped you to find a silver lining in all of this.
Thanks, Brittany. Yes, God is still at work in the healing and the restoration process. I’m grateful.
You have had a difficult journey Michele…
My parents are fiercely independent but have medical conditions… I live a 10 hour return road trip from them, it proves frustrating as their location is not accessible by air. I too have chronic health & medical conditions which further complicates the situation with traveling.
My sisters are closer to them & can see them regularly to keep an eye on things…but I am the eldest so I have had to completely hand the situation over to the Lord & do away with guilt…guilt denotes a conviction of wrong doing…we have not done anything wrong! We do our best within our capabilities we have at the time & what is best for the other party. So now I rest in the Lord & visit when I am capable.
My husband & I have had a discussion with our respective adult children & what we have in place & what our wishes are when or if the time comes for care. Neither of us want to be a burden on our children…life is hard enough! I believe the key in all this is….having the hard discussions with our loved ones before the need arises & while we are fully lucid for us to make our own decisions for care which takes that burden away from our adult children. 🙂
I enjoyed our tea time together when you dropped by,
Geography certainly complicates things! We struggled with that when my husband’s parents were in decline, and at the time we had a very young family, so were limited in how much help we could provide. And you said it well: Guilt is for wrongdoing, not for this.
I struggle with how to think about caring for aging parents. Like you, I don’t want to be “a burden” to my kids, and yet I was glad to be able to do for my mum whatever I was able to do. I think there’s a healthy balance we need to achieve in this–not that I’ve been successful at it!
Thanks, Jennifer for trusting us with your story here.
It is never easy seeing your parent in a nursing home. But sometimes it’s beyond our control. It’s been 7 years since my mom was placed in a nursing home due to being incapacitated from a stroke. She was only there 4 months before she passed away and I feel that was the blessing – God knew she did not belong there! Blessings to you and your family as you continue to grieve!
Roseann, thank you for adding your story to the collected wisdom here.
The reality on this planet is that sometimes people are just to ill or incapacitated to be cared for in a home environment. I was grateful for the safety and the special handling mum received during her stay, and, like you, I was thankful for her sake when she was promoted to heaven.
Blessings to you!
I chuckled over “I used to say that homeschooling my children was the hardest thing I had ever done” until the new hardest — caring for Mom. I can relate , both as home educator and caregiver. Saying the same thing. My mom, too, eventually needed skilled nursing care. It’s so hard. “Will this decision ever stop feeling like a thing that needs forgiveness?” Perfect line. So true. So encouraging to know others struggle too. Thank you!
I had the same response to your words: “So encouraging to know others struggle too.”
Thank you for sharing your own hard story. Even though we know the decision is the best one for all involved, it’s not an easy choice to make. Ever.
Oh Michele, what a hard decision and experience. I’ll be holding to the gentle wisdom and grace you model in these words (and your life) toward aging loved ones.
Yes, it was hard. And I think tough decisions are exacerbated by shaky relationships. I really want to keep the lines of communication open with my sons so they will know I value their voice and to work on keeping an open mind as I age. As our worlds get smaller, we have a tendency to fall in love with our own opinions about important things and to stop hearing others much-needed input.
Always so good to hear form you, Bethany!
My husband and I recently moved in with my 98-year-old mother to help her. The days can be trying and they are getting more so with each passing month. I dread the next step if she’s no longer able to get herself out of bed in the night to go to the bathroom. When we get to that point, then my story will probably run along the same path as yours as she fights the need to be in a nursing home.
Jennifer, I’m so sorry for the load you are carrying right now. That mobility issue is so crucial, and for whatever reason, sometimes the aging person just does not see the danger that comes with a fall. They don’t realize they are at risk, and fight to stay in their home.
Don’t wait too long to have the conversation, and also: be mindful of the long trail of paperwork that has to happen in order to get your mum to a safe place. Just finding an available space in some areas is a waiting game.
Blessings to you, and thank you for sharing your story here.
Thanks for writing this. I can completely relate to this scenario and we did the same with my mom who is still asking when I am going to take her to her home, three years later. She also reaches for food before anyone else has taken a bite or said the blessing and she is NOT starving. It is draining and so difficult, but there is beauty in the rock of our salvation and he loves to sharpen our rough edges against his glory. I marvel at the sweet spirit my mom can display in the midst of her awareness of all she is losing. The verses you close this out with are my life verses. So precious to us gardeners:) Much love and freedom from shame in all you have done in love! Margaret p.s. I look forward to meeting you in person one day:)
The heart breaking question came with every visit.
And how wonderful that those verses have been a framework for your days and for your own hard journey with your mum. Thank you for reminding me that there is no shame in what we have done from a motive of love.
It’s so difficult to reconcile the loving decision that look like choices that need forgiveness. You were a good, loving daughter to the end. Thank you for your transparency.
It’s been so wonderful to share this story here, especially because of the climate of supportive, non-judgment, but also because so many readers have walked the same difficult path. Thank you for this encouragement, Ingrid.
It’s so difficult to reconcile the loving decisions that look like choices that need forgiveness. You were a good, loving daughter to the end. Thank you for your transparency.