This is a very hard post to write. I’ve been composing it over the past few weeks, struggling to find the words to express in some coherent way, the struggles and joys experienced while caring for my elderly Grandmother.
How does one share just how painful it is to see a beloved soul struggle with the simplest daily tasks? How can I explain the sorrow felt while watching the hands that used to paint, tremble while holding a spoon? Will economy of speech suffice when I try to paint a picture of the confusion etched upon her lovely face as she tries to recall what month we’re in?
Words are insufficient and I’m humbled by my naivete as I continue to struggle while providing the compassionate care that this dear woman not only desperately needs, but has earned by virtue of the many years of life she’s lived and the love our family has for her.
It’s not easy. In fact, it is perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Caring for my very large family, nurturing the young lives daily entrusted to me, being a good wife (and sometimes not so good!), is a constant challenge. The sheer volume of work…cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. is at times, overwhelming. Add to the equation the 24/7 care needs of an elderly person experiencing progressive dementia, not to mention the 6 to 7 times per night that she awakens needing assistance and the situation seems fraught with challenges. How do I maintain the balance between my God-given vocation of wife and mother, and that of caregiver to an elderly person?
Adult children have an obligation and the bible mandates that they are to care for their elderly parents. From the Cross, Jesus gave the care of His own dear Mother to John, who from that point took Mary into his own home. My mother and father have taken Grandma into their home. Mom nursed Grandma through a life threatening injury and two serious illnesses. Working part-time and providing all of Grandma’s care, the hard work had begun to take it’s toll. My uncle would take Grandma home with him for the weekends to give Mom and Dad a bit of down time, but it’s just not enough. I begged Mom to let me help, convinced that I could give her a break and create a myriad of wonderful memories with Grandma; that I’d be able to easily accommodate her needs with the needs of my children and husband.
But there have been so many unforeseen difficulties: Grandma is remembering less and less. My favorite memories of her home in Greenville, SC…she has no recollection of, whatsoever. A topic discussed over coffee in the morning, is forgotten within moments of my leaving the room to return with a second cup. This morning I dressed her and groomed her and a few moments later she asked me when I was going to help her get dressed.
To quote my mom: “Something is missing…”
Indeed. Grandma. She’s lost, and I’ve been trying desperately to find her in the midst of the many activities that comprise her daily care, the conversations and funny stories I prompt her to remember.
Yet there is still so very much that is clear! She knows me. She knows who I am, who the children are…she has not forgotten us. She may forget that she’s been to the bathroom already, that she’s eaten lunch, that she’s gotten dressed, but she knows us. And so all is not lost…as a matter of fact, I’ve found quite a few things.
I’ve found a renewed sense of appreciation for the simple tasks that I perform daily. Washing the dishes, walking up and down stairs, washing my hands…I do these things so effortlessly, but many are impossible for my Grandma.
I’ve found that caring for a disabled person is one of the most noble causes. Although it is exhausting, there’s a real appreciation for the dignity of the human person. I do everything I can to never lose patience with her, to show her that she is a valued person, that her challenges are inspiring, rather than burdensome.
I’ve also learned that this responsibility is far too great for any one person to manage alone. God bless my mom…she has been through a lot over the past few months, with no road map, no blueprint and no instruction manual. Having spent that past few weeks with only a single day off (to visit my daughter and new grandson in the NICU), there is no way to describe just how exhausting full-time elder care can be. Exhausting, yet rewarding…her appreciation for even the smallest kindness is too touching for words.
In a couple weeks, Mom and Dad will return to pick up Grandma. She has an appointment with a new doctor, whom we all hope will steer us in the direction of improving Grandma’s quality of life, rather than maintaining the status quo. We are trying to plan how best to help Grandma from this point forward, cooperating with one another to do the very best we can for her. Please keep us in your prayers…