When I was a small child, I am sure that I was a handful. I KNOW I was a handful. Creative children are always a challenge. It must have taken great patience. When I was four, PC Edwards and I went to kindergarten for one day. One day. For some reason which I have never been told neither one of us went back the second day. How does one get kicked out of kindergarten the first day?
I am writing this sitting next to Dad’s hospital bed. The sentences and thought patterns are interrupted by the gargling snore that my dad has when he sleeps. About every ten minutes I stop and cover him with the hospital sheet he has kicked off. He is at peace for a while. Then he becomes restless. I am not sure how long this will go on. But it doesn’t matter.
Earlier this evening, I watched my mom, his wife for over 65 years, feed him what little supper he would eat. After each bite he would say that was enough. Then she would load up another bite and coax him to eat a little bit more. She is recuperating from the flu and is weak. But it doesn’t matter for her either.
For all of us who are caring for our parents in their last years, it is difficult. But while being difficult it also can be a blessing! What does one do? What does one not do?
Do the best you can based on the current information you have.
Assessing the situation can be the most difficult thing. This a reason why you need to have a very good communication relationship with your parent’s physicians and primary caregivers. You need to be given and understand the best information available to make the next step. All of the family members who are involved in the decision need to have the best information.
When my sister Karen was ill, we soon learned that getting information second hand was not very reliable. Karen would be frustrated with the interpretation that Mom and Dad had given to her doctor visits as well. Finally she began taking a small tape recorder with her to her doctor’s visit. She would then play the tape for us when we would ask. We heard the doctor’s words. This is made easier in today’s world with the phone technology. You can record easily what is said. Most doctor’s welcome this.
Then you make the call and go forward based on what you know.
Stay in your head and your heart.
It is heartbreaking and a helpless feeling. There are times when you can do nothing but be present. In those moments, BE PRESENT! There are times when you are angry with something or someone in the situation. There are times when you will shake your fist at God and scream. It is okay. A broken heart has much grief to bear and share. It is so helpful to make some important decisions BEFORE you find yourself dealing with this.
But also stay in your head. Remind yourself that people say things they do not mean. Remind yourself that your parents are frustrated and helpless too! Remind yourself that life is difficult for all. Remind yourself that God IS present even when it does not seem like it. Make rational decisions that you know in your head are right even when your heart aches.
One of the experiences of life that helps me in this exercise is flying. The airplane takes off in the wind and rain. Then it begins to climb into the clouds. In the clouds you can see nothing! There is a part of you that fears the blindness. But the pilot is not blind. The pilot is flying with certainty. Finally the airplane makes its way above the clouds. Above the clouds the sun IS shining. The skies ARE blue.
So it is with these difficult moments of caring for aging parents. God IS present and there WILL BE an unclouded day.
Do not go it alone.
I do not know how people without a church family do it. This is the time when you let the church BE the church. This is the time when the church steps up. If the church fails during this time of life, it sucks.
Harsh words, I know. But if the church cannot be present during this time, it sucks.
Now having said this, you have to allow the church to be present. This means you have to call when you need help. The pastor and church members do not receive a message from the heavens every morning. You need to be willing to ask for help. You need to let them know how you can be helped.
Help may be food. Help may be in the form of sitting. Help may be in the form of transportation. Help comes in many ways. Surely help is prayers! I had a church member once who was willing to sit with the dying and read scripture. It was her gift. She would read scripture for a while and then just sit. Seldom did she enter into any other conversation. Her presence was the greatest conversation anyone could have.
If you go it alone when death does indeed come, you will be alone. Once one begins to incubate or isolate one’s self, it is habit forming. It is hard to get out again.
Do not make promises you cannot keep.
“Promise me….” It is hard to not make promises when life seems so fragile. Making promises you will not be able to keep is the cornerstone for a huge building of regret and guilt. You are struggling for words to say and deeds to do. What is the best response?
“We will have to see what happens. I promise I will make the best decision when the time comes!”
This response is what I believe to be the most truthful and authentic response. While honoring your parents, it also gives you the freedom to make good decisions in the days ahead.
Spend time wisely.
The river of regrets flows through our lives more than we realize. Your most valuable asset is your time. Spend it wisely. Spend time remembering. Spend time listening to those stories being told. Ask questions you never dreamed of asking. Laugh. Cry. Laugh again. Cry again. Remember more! Concentrate more on being than doing.
The river of regrets can become a small tributary into the sea of blessings. The sea of blessings never runs dry if you spend your time wisely.
Honor your father and mother. It is more than a commandment. It is a blessing you receive and give!