Lessons Learned (8 things I've learned from caretaking)

I thought I was pretty grown up, until my dad had a stroke in 2009.  That's when I realized I really didn't know much of anything.  Anything of importance anyway.  

I've been helping my folks, 90 and 93, for five years now.  Before that, skipping around the world as a career Air Force wife, raising three children, teaching, writing, hitting the gym, trying new recipes….my life was adventuresome and blessed. I never thought much about aging, let alone my folks' aging process.  

After Dad's stroke, it was right in front of me.  Not long after the stroke, Parkinson's began to appear in his limbs.  Mom's hearing began to get worse.  Then, she needed back surgery.  Then, she fell and needed hip surgery.   

My folks moved to an assisted living facility a mile from me.   That first year, Mom fell and badly broke her shoulder...more surgery.  Dad developed a brain bleed and needed surgery.  They were both diagnosed with some dementia.  Within a span of five years, my parents went from independence to wheelchairs. 

I have lived with a persistent sadness ever since.

Before you click away, thinking, what a gloomy post this is, let me say I have learned more about myself and God in the past five years than I learned in the decade prior. I’d like to share with you what God has shown me.

1. If you are genuine about serving the Lord, you must be unattached to your own agenda. Whatever game plan you have for your own life, be willing to toss the playbook aside if God changes the rules.

2. Watching your parents decline is sad. At some point, they are not going to get better. There’s no way around that. However, it’s OK to be sad. Grieving our health and youth and vigor is expected. It helps us to remember this world is a temporary pit stop. We were never designed to be on the planet forever. God has a permanent home for us that will dry all tears and bring lasting peace.

3. My glaring impatience revealed itself early on in caring for my folks. I didn’t know how locked in I was to having my own timetable until I was forced to move at a geriatric pace in order to help Mom do anything. It hit me how selfish I was. I think of Christ, who met everyone right where they were, and spoke immediately to their soul, not to their disabilities.

4. Right when I think I’m not comfortable taking on more responsibility as a caretaker, God gives me another thing. It’s happened more than once. I think He likes to mess with me. What I’ve now accepted is this – until my folks are in heaven, God is going to keep giving me things to do. I’m the one He has placed in this position, and if I trust Him, I will be OK. So the question becomes, daily – do I trust Him? (Yes, I do.)

5. Our kids are watching. How I care for my parents is how they’ll care for me.

6. God is good ALL THE TIME. Not just when the folks are stable, and I’m getting enough sleep. But, when Dad’s in the hospital, and Mom has a UTI, and there’s no hot water at their ALF, and my house is a wreck, and I’m not getting any writing done. He’s good even then.

7. There can still be laughter. Mom calls her pantiliners “i-pads.” A resident at the ALF takes her teeth out to eat and tucks them in her bra. We still celebrate the holidays together and share stories (sometimes the same ones) and go to the ice cream shop and pray together at church. Aging takes the body’s strength and acumen, but it can’t eradicate the spirit, which is where God resides. That’s the connection that will not be broken.

8. Someday, probably sooner than I will be ready for, God will call my parents home. This season of my life will end. I don’t know what God will ask me to do then, but I pray I will be unafraid. He is leading me though this unexpected journey, and I believe He will continue to guide me in whatever adventure He has lined up next.

My folks today


Mari said...

What a great post! I can relate to a lot of what you're saying because I've been in the same process with my Dad. He's only 83 and still lives at home, but I set up his meds for him, go to appts and have had a few too many ER visits.
Thanks for sharing!

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

Having had to care for my aging parents who are both now deceased I can relate to your post today. We don't like to think that our parents will ever need help like that but too often they do. I know that my faith was tested somedays and truly the experience made me a stronger person for sure.

Retired Knitter said...

Wonderful post the first time I read it on the other blog - and again today. In fact I will share my own feelings on this exact same topic on my blog at some point.

I can relate to ALL the things you wrote. Before mom began to decline I used to go to church with her every Sunday - not for me, but for her. Her belief in God was paramount and she tried to instill that in her two girls - but with less success. I attended because it was important to her - for her I went. So over the years I had slipped away from my traditional faith practices. I still believed in God - but not as a constant in my life.

Taking care of my mom over the last 8 years actively and 2 years before that distantly, I have learned the lessons she was not able to plant in me herself - mostly because God doesn't go away if ignored. And he doesn't help only those who ask for help.

Over this decade I have consistently had the right people, in the right place, at the right time, to help me when I needed it - especially when things looked very very grim and I had lost my ability to cope. I don't believe that is an accident - it has happened too many times in too many unusual situations. At first I thought is was seryndipitous - just a lucky stroke, but over time I recognized it had to be the hand or spirit of God there for me even though I didn't ask or invite it.

I am still not a traditional organized religion person, but my relationship with God now had NEVER been stronger.

And "persistent sadness" - words that rang with my soul!

Thank you for such a wonderful post.

Holly said...

What a great post and great reminders. Have a wonderful day!

Cathy said...

It's so hard to watch our parents declining. My parents are both in their 80's and both have some health issues. So far, they are still living alone in their condo. They do pretty well. Dad still drives but gets lost pretty easy, so he just drives in town only. Mom has lost most of her eyesight, but she still does her own housecleaning, with dad's help. They are pretty amazing and I just pray, I can handle the aging process as well as they have.

Thank you for your post and reminding me of the things God is teaching me too.

TLC said...

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Jo-Anne Meadows said...

This wasn't a sad post but a wonderful post about love and learning. My dad had lung cancer in 2009 and before that I never thought about dad ever dying or being anything other than a strong man who could do anything

Creations By Cindy said...

Oh I can so relate! I truly enjoyed this post and never have truer words been spoken. God will bless you more than you can even know for your service to Him and those you love so dearly. With the help of a sister we cared for aging grandparents for almost 9 years, worked, raised our children and life went on. Now we are caring for our mother who is only 74 with early demensia.We are also caring for my husband's mom (helping with her weekly needs) I could write a book....But I will say this so I don't blow up your post with my words....When I lay my head down at night....all is well with my soul! God is pleased! Praying for you. It is the caregiver that needs our prayers cause those being tended too are going to be okay!!!! Hugs and blessings, Cindy

betty said...

I think those were all valuable lessons you learned and are learning and I think it is great you are sharing them through different sources. Care giving is hard work and I know it can wear someone down, but I think you laid out some really good thoughts about it that others may be able to help themselves with on their own care giving journey.


Tronster said...

Awesome and powerful post. I find that Jesus brings me through many hard times, difficult times to make me stronger. I stopped by on the A to Z Challenge, but I have read several of your posts. My God bless you and your family. Thank your husband for his service.

Wendy Klik said...

Stopped by from One Word Wednesday and I am glad that I did. I really think it helps to share this journey with others going through it too.

Lisa Moles said...

I agree that when we first start to speak of our lives as caregivers - it's a bit of a downer. And then we go a little deeper and can appreciate the gift we've been given. The great responsibility we've been entrusted with. And the lessons...I can relate to each and every one of them. I looked to heaven today as I was taking my car to the garage after leaving the rehab center with mom talking to my son on the phone who is home sick with a high fever and worrying about my daughter who was in the middle of state testing for reading comprehension and texting my husband who had to be out of state this week... And I thanked Him for giving me a sunny day and a check engine light that magically went off and a perfect song on the radio and legs that still walk and a face that still brings mom a little joy and peace. Thank you so much for sharing.

Paula Kaye said...

I don't find this post to be a downer in any way. It is inspiration. I helped care for both my mom and step-dad (may they both now RIP) and now for my husband and grand children. Being a caretaker is never easy. And God never gives us more than we can handle....I hope!