When your first child is born, you wish the hospital sent you home with an instruction book. The same is true when you begin the journey of helping your aging parents. There are many books written about aging, but none of them seem to fit the exact situation you find yourself in.
My dad is 93 and in pretty good shape. He can dress and bathe himself, uses a walker, and is a little hard of hearing. He would be just fine going to a Texas A&M sporting event if we could convince him to. However, my mom is bedridden and has been under hospice care for over a year because of congestive heart failure, and he doesn’t leave her side. I thank the Lord for hospice, as I would be a basket case without their assistance.
In addition to my parents, I am also caring for my 60-year-old disabled brother who was in a car wreck 35 years ago. He was able to live on his own for years, but those days are over; about six months ago I had to have him admitted to a nursing home
This has been a difficult season to navigate. I have learned a lot in a short time. If I ever wrote an instruction book from my experiences, these are the things that I would want you to know based on my last year:
1. You need a lot of patience.
The roles have changed between my parents and me. I have to make decisions that they used to make, decisions that they think they can still make. You will be the bad guy even when you are doing the best you can. Remember that things are just as confusing for the ones aging as they are for you, the caregiver. In addition, always try to have a second set of ears to “hear” what you are being told. Remember to document everything. You will learn more than you ever wanted to know about hospitals, procedures, medicines, filing paperwork, Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, and finances. It’s a very steep learning curve, but every day is a new day, and with that comes renewed grace and mercies from the Lord.
2. Take care of yourself.
If you get sick, you can’t take care of your loved ones. When my brother was in the hospital because of his wreck, the doctor told my parents to go home at night and get good sleep. The doctors and nurses assured my parents they would take care of my brother while they were getting refreshed. Thankfully, that is what they did. Now that I am caring for them, they are fine with me going home so that I can take care of my family and myself. This enables me to better take care of my mom and brother.
3. Be a peacemaker.
You will need to be a peacemaker with your siblings and perhaps with other family members. Hard decisions will need to be made; decisions like whether to move a parent to a nursing home or assisted living or whether to keep them in their home while trying to find competent and caring caregivers. You may even need to consider moving them in with your family. My parents actually made the decision to move to an assisted living facility several years ago, which made transitioning to assisted living easier. That was a gift they gave me without even knowing it.
You will also be a mediator between doctors, nurses, and other caregivers to get the best care for your loved ones. Be extra nice to them. A kind word or compliment will go a long way.
4. Remain humble
You don’t know what you don’t know. Ask lots of questions. Ask for help. If you are my age, then most of your friends are going through the same thing. Learn from one another. There is more than one way to do something right. You will probably find that lots of others have it way worse than you with their aging parents or other loved ones.
In the midst of the hardships associated with caregiving, I take solace in knowing that I am not in control. I have faith that the Lord knows what he is doing by having my mother lying in a bed wasting away while my dad sits by her bed holding her hand, having a conversation with her that does not make sense, all while he can’t hear her anyway. I’ve learned a lot from him. Similarly, I desire that everything I do sets a good example for my husband, children, and grandchildren, especially for how they can take care of me when I get to that point in my life.
Caregiving is truly an opportunity to display what we believe about human dignity. Furthermore, it puts God’s love on display, however imperfectly, to a world that desperately needs it. “Love is patient and love is kind . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4, 7).
From the tiniest unborn life to the elderly at the end of life, from immigrants and refugees to those trafficked against their will, all life matters to God. Join the ERLC in Washington, D.C. on January 17-18, 2019, for Evangelicals for Life, one of the largest gatherings of pro-life Christians in the country. Speakers include Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Steven Curtis Chapman, Keith and Kristyn Getty, and more. Register now to join us!