When my son was young, I would periodically take him to an ice cream shop whose specialty was its 21 flavors. After he had spent a lengthy amount of time looking at all the options, he would select vanilla. It drove me crazy! But come to think of it, I always selected the one flavor I liked the most too. I wonder now if the selections were just too much to process, so he stuck with what was familiar.
Decades later when my mother was housed at an Alzheimer’s care facility, I watched how the staff helped the clients make food selections when they had an outing at a restaurant. First, they selected a venue that was elderly-friendly and understood the possible limitations of the group. The facility’s staff had the waitresses offer their clients two meal choices rather than give them an entire menu to select from. They realized that having too many decisions to make can be overwhelming to an Alzheimer’s patient.
Likewise, a caregiver can also become frustrated when their loved one can no longer make a selection quickly. You can lessen the frustration for both of you by offering a smaller pool of options, whether it’s what to wear or what to eat. Yes, your loved one’s world does become smaller, but providing limited options can give them the dignity of being able to choose for themselves as long as they can.
We all know the commercial that ends with, “You’re in good hands with___.” I remember a time when I must have thought my name went in that blank. My mother had gone from eating everything on her plate to eventually barely eating or drinking anything at all. I had been trying everything I knew to get her to eat or drink something even when she would close her lips or clench her teeth.
I was running to the nursing home both before and after work. One evening as I started toward the nursing home again, God seemed to say to me, “Why are you making these heroic efforts? If you trust Me, why are you trying to do all this yourself?” Others were vising my mother as well, so I realized that my extra efforts were just an attempt to control the situation. I was trying to make sure my mother was still alive because I was going to make sure she was eating.
The epiphany I experienced was that it was not God’s desire for me to be a caregiver who was frazzled, stressed out, or sick and still saying, “It’s in God’s hands.” We sometimes try to keep circumstances and results in our own hands, but the truth is we cannot sustain life. We care for our loved ones the best we can, but we have to realize that everything truly is not just in “good” hands, but in God’s hands. And He gives us the ability to step back and let Him take over.
I recently read an article that encouraged people to focus on what they can do rather than give in to what they can’t do. That may sound reasonable, but the truth is, there are just some things we don’t even want to do. The first time I had to take care of my mother’s personal hygiene, it was not something I even wanted to do. But it required immediate attention, so I dealt with it.
When I used to question my aging grandmother why she hadn’t completed what I (erroneously) thought was a simple task, she’d say, “Baby, I just ain’t got no mind to do that!” It was a strange answer to me, but time and experience have taught me what she meant. You have to have the mind (desire or will) to do something before you can even muster up the strength to do it.
I am reminded of the verse that says God works in us both “to will” and “to do.” The first part means He gives us the mind to want to do what is right; then He gives us the power to do it. As you face difficult tasks in your role as a caregiver – especially those you would rather not have to do – first ask God for the mind to complete those tasks willingly, then ask Him for the strength to do so.
As a busy caregiver, you may feel as though you don’t have the time to connect with old friends. But this consideration is not just for you, but for your loved one. Is it possible to connect them with an old friend? One Sunday afternoon I followed an unction to take Mom’s friend, Mrs. Foster, to the nursing home to see her. Mrs. Foster sat with Mom in the cafeteria and showed her love as much as she could by holding Mom’s hands, rubbing her arms, smiling and laughing with her, and encouraging her to eat.
Once back in the room, I rolled Mom’s wheelchair to where she could sit directly in front of her friend and left them to talk to each other for a while. As I walked out the door, Mrs. Foster again held my mother’s hand and reminded her of the good times they’d had together and how much she missed her. I’d like to think Mom had some moments of lucidity during the visit because there was a point later when we saw a tear escape from the corner of her eye and she made a face at her friend.
The next day my mother went into a health crisis that would lead to her demise within less than 3 weeks. I was so thankful her friend had been able to spend some time with her before that. Years later, Mrs. Foster was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; and since she was already my friend, it was easy to visit her throughout her illness and show her the same love she had shown my mother. I enjoyed being around her, and she always had a big smile for me because connecting with an old friend is always priceless.
As a caregiver, I wasn’t aware of all the financial options I had as a taxpayer. This is information well worth knowing. When you have time, check out the article AARP publishes “Important IRS Tax Tips for Family Caregivers” at www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2017/tax-tips-family-caregivers.html
One friend’s book about his faith struggle with a terminal illness and his initial refusal to seek medical care reminded me that not everyone needing a caregiver is a willing patient. Even those who seek medical treatment sometimes refuse to follow the medical directions given. Then there is the small cluster of Alzheimer’s patients who unknowingly become aggressive or resistant to receiving help.
Where does that leave you when you are longing to provide the needed care? We have all seen cartoons or fantastical shows with the hero slipping into a closet and reappearing in a colorful costume. At this point, the hero shows his magical powers and saves the day, right? You may be wondering if you can purchase such a costume or its superpowers online.
I think of the many times I looked into the eyes of what some would call a “hard-headed” student and inwardly prayed for them – and myself! Prayer became my secret weapon for changing the situation for the better. I also used it a lot when I was a caregiver. Consequently, even when a person in need of care from you refuses, consider using this secret weapon. They won’t know you are praying; you won’t have to argue with them, and you will have peace no matter how the situation works out. Dust off that secret weapon and put it to good use.
Illnesses, weddings, and funerals have a way of bringing out the craziness in people, wouldn’t you say? Yet some people are wise enough to use occasions such as these to bring hope and healing into families.
One son whose mother is in the final stages of cancer and now receives Hospice care recently said, “I’m her caregiver 24-7.” His father, who has been remarried for decades, periodically drives several hours to relieve his son. He sits at the bedside of someone who was once a significant part of his life and is willing to also be a comforting caregiver. What resonates with me most about this is that the son has become the bridge to reconnect a relationship that had at one time been broken. He could easily have turned his back on his father’s offer of help even though he needed it.
Caregivers will have opportunities to build bridges by allowing estranged loved ones to reconnect and provide support in instances where those offering to help are trustworthy and genuine. When such opportunities arise, remember that the bridge goes both ways and will benefit you as well.
One credit card commercial challenges us to think about our finances and ends with the question, “What’s in your wallet?” Similar to that, metacognition is simply thinking about your thinking; and life will teach you that what’s in your head has a way of determining how you feel and what you do.
When you are a caregiver, there is always a lot of stuff in your head. And it is mostly about what the future will hold for your loved one or how you will ever manage it and your life at the same time. But stop for a moment and try a little metacognition. Think about the things you are saying to yourself, the things that plague you night and day.
Now put them to the test found in the book of Philippians. Is what you are thinking true? Is it pure? Is it worth praising? Is it lovely or admirable? If it passes tests like these, then it’s worth thinking about. If not, get it out of your head and think about something else worth your mental time. What’s in your head?
Decades ago, we smiled, danced, and sang along with the popular song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It was a nice idea. But is it really possible to be happy all the time? What about when the nursing home you had trusted gets slack in caring for your loved one? Or the home health care nurse isn’t as pleasant with your mother as you once thought she would be? The list goes on and on for caregivers. At any given point things can fall apart.
The good news is that we don’t have to be happy about that or about any similar circumstances . Things go awry sometimes, so we don’t have to beat up on ourselves because we are not happy about it. There are times we just have to cry. Yet, it is possible to be joyful all the time.
You see, happiness is based on circumstances – on what is or is not happening. But joy is based on the realization that despite all that is going on, God is still in control. And in His own time and in His own way, He will put things back as they should be. Your sense of joy and peace can be restored. Think of what it looks like when a mother or father quietly goes around the house straightening a mess that has been made. That is what joy is – envisioning what it will look like when things are made right again. It will happen; so that is what will help you smile. And because of that, don’t try to be happy – be joyful!
You never signed up for this, did you? The day may come when you feel stuck with all that being a caregiver requires of you. Surely you had other plans – like your own life, right? But some things just seem to fall into our laps. We may even check the mirror periodically to see whether there is a blinking light on our forehead that says, “I’ll do everything!”
Telling someone else honestly that it’s tough, or that you don’t understand why things are happening the way they are, or even that you don’t know why you have to be the caregiver are all ways of admitting the anger you may feel. Actually, it’s healthy to acknowledge your anger and frustration – as long as you are not directing it toward the person(s) in your care. Also make sure that it’s not destructive to anyone else, yourself included.
I often tell friends or acquaintances who are grieving to call me and scream into the phone if they need to. Admitting pain and anger rather than pretending everything is okay allows you to move on. After you’ve found a healthy way to admit the anger and release it, (notice I’m not including my phone number on the internet), take a deep breath and pray for the strength to go on. You are still very much needed.