Two Years Ago

Dear Mama,

It has been two years on January 30th that you passed away and are with the LORD.  No matter how much I have moved along into tutoring three young children in reading and math, continue to blog, and have more time with my dear Kenneth, I STILL MISS YOU!  Can’t help it!

Mama @ Del Mar

You were a beautiful woman, inside and out.  You were fun and vivacious, smart and talented, headstrong and rather outspoken.  You lived close to me for the last fifteen years of your life.  You also lived with me in the late eighties when you came to Washington, D.C. while I was teaching first and kindergarten in the inner city.  You loved to come to school with me once a week and work with some of the children.  They called you Grandma and, of course, you thought that was the best.  The children looked forward to your regular visits.  And, of course, you loved D.C. for that was our last duty station before Daddy died.  You and Daddy were in that city when you found out that you were pregnant with me.  And you just loved the history and art that our nation’s capital offers.

 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”  Exodus 20:12

After being gone from this life for two years now, the tough times — when you were ill, or fell, needing surgery and hospitalization, or when the dementia rattled your mind so terribly — those all seem to be fading in my mind and in my heart.  I recall more of our sweet moments than I do those hard ones, although those do still surface.  Just not so often or so harshly.

Mama (yes, I called you Mom from my early teenage years until the last couple of years of your life when you became “Mama” to me; seems to be the name I call you most often now too)… your love for me, and for all of your family, feels like your heart is wrapped around mine now.  You said some sweet and loving things to me at the end of your life that I cherish.  I just wrote about journaling and caregiving for Soli Deo Gloria Connections.  It is often through those journals that the exact words you said to me are pulled out and into my heart.  I am grateful that I took the time to write, often sitting at the side of your bed as you slept.

Listen to your father who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.  Proverbs 23:22

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Oh, Mama, you loved your baseball and the Chicago Cubs where you were born and raised.  You even came to enjoy the small town games of our minor league team for it was baseball and that is what you loved.   Mama, you even got me to these games.  You loved having this daughter (who really was not a baseball fan) to join you at the games!  (Actually, you can see that I was, truly was, having a good time!)

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In your last years, you had lost a lot of that vim and vigor, yet your heart still loved.  You loved the staff where you lived.  You loved many of those around you.  Most of all, you loved your three girls and our husbands, and your grandson.  Oh, Mama, you would love Parker Lily, your great granddaughter.  She is a dear child.  She would love you too.  You would love Zephyr’s beautiful wife, Kiki.  She is a good mother, Zeph a good daddy.  Nancy loves Kiki so much and is so happy for Zeph.  Kiki and Zeph dress Parker Lily like you would have dressed her…cute, classy, and beautifully.  Oh, I am so sorry you never met Kiki nor Parker Lily.  But you knew about your dear great granddaughter.  With the blown-up photos on your wall, you would touch little infant Parker’s, talking to her, calling her by name.

You also came to know the LORD for which I am ever grateful.  Mama, you are with Him and loving Him in all His Holiness.  I praise Him.

Mama, I needed to talk to you today.  To write this letter to you.  It barely covers any of my memories, but the most important thing I want to say is that I LOVE YOU!!!!!!   So much.

Your ~ linda lou

Thank You, LORD, for giving me this mother.  You have blessed me beyond my comprehension for I was loved by both of my parents.  I have missed my father for 54 years now, but even after all those years, the missing never stops.  The love I still feel from him has not stopped either.  You have given me life and family.  You have blessed me with knowing that Mama is with You.  O LORD, thank You.  Thank You.  I am forever grateful for Your laborers who were ready and went into Your harvest.  May I continue to walk the path that You have made for me with remembrance of my parents, honoring them.  I pray in the Name of Jesus.  Amen.   

Journaling Your Way Through Caregiving, Part 1

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I have journaled since I was in high school.  It has been my way to express myself, to pray, to release emotions, and to create.

My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.  Psalm 45:1

As I praise the LORD, so too may my pen place the words or the drawings down in a creative way that glorifies God.  Not all journaling will be praises, but it can lead to time with Him and time in prayer for those we care for and about.  When we fill our hearts with praise, the power of that praise can come tumbling out on paper.

I willingly took on the care of my mother with the help of facility staff and a Christian woman twice a week.  We cared for her for fifteen years.  I have two sisters, but they live thousands of miles away so their annual visits were really all I could count on from them.

As a caregiver, no matter what your individual circumstances may be, there will always be many things that cause you to need an outlet of some kind.  There usually are unrelenting demands, no time for yourself, stress, and frustration.  You may feel a physical toll on your body, loneliness, anxiety, even depression.  On top of these and other stresses, if there is a struggle with family members over the way you do things or have an accusation tossed out about you by an angry sibling or even by a dementia-riddled mind of the one you care for, you feel burdened and weary.  Feelings as a giver of care well up and can be a heavy weight upon you.

I found that journaling was a way for me to release some of these thoughts, stresses, and emotions, plus it gave me a way to organize tasks and to pray.  But you might ask, “How do I find time to journal with all I have to do?”  A few possibilities for a time out might be while the care receiver is napping and you have time to sit, or while waiting in the doctor’s office, or even starting your day 20 minutes earlier or staying up a few minutes longer.  Yes, there will be some days or weeks without time at all.  That’s okay.  I am not suggesting you begin journaling so that you will feel guilty when you cannot.  Just do the best you can!

I like to have a journal the size that I can carry with me so that I can journal when I have time, wherever I am.

There are many ways to journal.  The written word is the most common, done in any kind of notebook or journal-type book.  It can be a place to express emotions, pray, organize things to do, dates, or appointments.  You may want to write down various events that occur in the days of your care recipient, such as changes in behavior or habits, illnesses or hospitalization, etc.

A number of resources may be of help as you begin this part of your journey:

Budd, Luann, Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth

DeSalvo, Louise, Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives

Goodwin, B. Lynn, You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers  (http://writeradvice.com/ywmtdw.html)

Karpinski, Marion, A Guided Journal for Caregivers – A Journey into Renewal and Well-Being

  • Pennebaker, James W., Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma & Emotional Upheaval

Using prompts can help you get started: “Sometimes I wonder…,” “If I let myself cry…,”  “I wonder what my mother would write about me.”  Here are a few resources where prompts may be found:

  • http://www.agingcare.com/Articles/Journaling-for-Caregivers-148782.htm
  • http://www.caregiving.com/articles/blogged/community-caregiving-journal/ (journal prompts)
  • Another way to journal is to draw or doodle, using a sketch book.  That may include expressing emotions whether wild or calm.  Sketching pictures or freeform doodling can help you describe what you are going through, name people to pray for, express feelings with colors, write Scripture using an art form.  I use colored pencils.  I find this method to be extremely soothing
  • (MacBeth, Sybil, Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God; http://prayingincolor.com)
  • A calendar with large areas at each date allows for writing short snippets to help with recalling an event or behavior, dietary changes, etc.  Cutting pictures or words from magazines, making a collage to express feelings or thoughts can be a creative way to journal.  Copy down a quote that means something special, adding your own notes.  Choose a song to reflect upon that brings your heart comfort and peace.  Or write a list of special memories.  The ways can be endless.

I like to have a journal a size that I can carry with me so that I can write when I have time, wherever I am.

If you want your words to remain completely private, I suggest writing or drawing.  Then, tear up or shred the paper.  Writing things down does help to vent and give expression to what you are feeling and going through.  Nobody needs to read it!

Father, You love us and care about us and the precious person you have placed in our care.  We pray for Your wisdom as we endeavor to do Your will and for Your ways to express that which is curled up inside of us, to draw, doodle, and color the creativity You have given us, to pray in Your Son’s Name, to place our lives in Your hands through ways written on a piece of paper.  Even, Father, when we make lists of things to do or groceries to buy, may we always be mindful of You.  Father, guide us and teach us as we lay the pen to the tablet.  Etch Your Words before us so that we stay close to You.  In the Name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

beblacksig

See Part 2 of Journaling Your Way Through Caregiving

Is Giving Care Different During the Holidays?

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Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,….

Christmas is coming. This time of year can be joyous as we celebrate the birth of our LORD and enjoy family and friends. Holidays can bring stress too. Being the main caregiver can add additional stress, changing the entire dynamics of the traditions of your Christmas (and other holidays).

As caregivers, you may be wishing that the holidays were over or anticipate them with a dread because you just can’t handle the stress of all the “doing” that you find is expected. You may find that you have been alienated by your caregiving duties. Friends don’t call or come by as they once did. You can’t find anyone to watch your care receiver so you may go with your husband to his office party. You have family coming into town to see the parent you care for and you hold resentment towards one or more of them for their lack of support or for telling you how to do something even though they never offer actual help. You dread the encounter, yet do not want to start an argument. You just wish it all were behind you. Your care receiver struggles to recognize pictures accompanying Christmas cards, getting agitated for their lack of memory. Or they don’t recognize where they are because the Christmas tree is taking up the corner where a certain chair is the rest of the year. These issues may occur year-round, but with the added expectations of holidays, you almost would rather skip them. Know that you are not alone.

Many people laden with family expectations, caregivers or otherwise, go through the holidays hoping they will be over soon.  Rather than wish we could bury our heads in the sand, keep in mind that you can begin anew, set down parameters that work well for you, and remember what Christmas is really all about.  A Savior came into the world over 2,000 years ago.  He is our peace, our Prince of Peace.

For a Child will be born for us,

a Son will be given to us,

and the government will be on His shoulders.

He will be named

Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 

Isaiah 9:6

Jesus is our all and worthy to be praised.  During these times, let us keep our eyes focused on Him.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.  To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17

As Paul directed Timothy, Jesus reminds us that He is with us.  He is our “perfect patience,” guiding us through each day, through this time of year.

Ways to hold Jesus’ “perfect patience” during this holiday season:

  • Maintain a regular routine for both you and your loved one. The one being cared for must be considered of prime importance.  He or she may or may not know what time of year it is. If they are very sick, a holiday may mean nothing to them because they just don’t feel up to doing anything or being around crowds. Many need peace and quiet; others need to have the family gathered with the delight of children. Knowing their needs are a must. A person with dementia/Alzheimer’s usually needs to have little or no confusion or frustration in their environment.  Try to prevent loud noises, whether that be music or conversations.  Keep one room as a ‘quiet room’ for a nap or for a refuge from all of the hubbub.  Taking them to another’s home or a strange place can cause confusion.  Be conscience of the foods offered, making sure he/she eats/drinks properly.
  • Take care of yourself: staying healthy, both physically and spiritually, includes eating right and nourishing the soul.  The care receiver can often sense that you are tired, stressed, or burdened.  By caring for yourself, they see a loving, focused giver of care.
  • Allow yourself to say “No” to obligations or invitations.  You may have to limit just what you are able to do.  Decide early, letting family know.  Tradition often has to be exchanged for whatever is better for you and the care receiver.  Live up to the expectations that Jesus sets for you, not anyone else’s. 
  • Permit yourself to say “yes” to offers of assistance.  Don’t be shy to ask either.
  • Be positive and hold onto the beauty of Christmas.  Holidays are for memories, joy, and reflection.  Spend time talking about past times, special memories, looking through photo albums.  A care receiver may need this too.  Even if the care receiver doesn’t join in verbally, you may catch a smile or they may close their eyes to savor those moments.
    Memories affirm a sense of being valued and loved.
  • If the care receiver is able, involve them in decorating or making some of the food.  (Mama had special ornaments that she enjoyed seeing up every year so I made a point to have her tell me where to place them, letting her do what she could.  One year, both of my sisters were here for Thanksgiving.  Rather than have turkey and dressing, we made ravioli which Mama’s Italian father had made all of his life.  We three girls made it as Mama shredded up the spinach and directed us.  She loved it, especially the eating.  We were told it was “close to Grandpa’s.”  We have precious memories of that day.)  Play Christmas music.  Sing together.  Watch a Christmas movie from the era of their memory.
  • Depending upon the care receiver, friends and family visits can be important.  It is usually best if just one or a few at a time are with the person.  If the loved one lives in a nursing facility and cannot come to the place where the family is gathering, then small groups should go over and spread the joy out throughout the day.
  • Pray with or over your loved one.
  • If you have family members coming to your home and they have not seen the care receiver for a long time, sharing changes that have occurred since their last visit can be helpful if ongoing communication has not happened.  Sometimes we have estranged family members who are going to be there.  For some, nothing you could say will be heard or taken to heart so silence may be the best way to handle that.  They just need to spend time with the person. (My mother would often be so ‘together’ when my sisters would show up, but over their week’s stay, ‘the Mama’ I dealt would usually appear! If the visit was short, one sister would go away wondering what my problem was for she say nothing much changed.) My best advice would be to just let it happen as it will.
  • Gift-giving: If you are a family member or friend of the caregiver and receiver, visits and certain gifts can and should be given year-round.  Giving the caregiver a break is a wonderful gift: hiring a professional respite team to care for the loved one, or care for the loved one yourself.  Take meals from time to time, but often.  They can be prepared, frozen, gift certificates to local restaurants.  Asking if the caregiver needs anything often is answered with a “No,” but that usually is not the truth.  Offer assistance and then do it.  For the care receiver, gifts of music, comfortable clothing, bird feeders, photo albums, puzzles, games, are all possible gifts.  Think about the caregiver when giving a gift to the receiver for if a gift causes more stress on the one giving care, then it really is not a gift.
  • Sharing our faith with one another is really what Christmas and Easter are about.  Our stories of God’s saving grace should bring us joy no matter what the situation is with the one needing care.  He is the source of joy.  His river never runs dry.  The one with limits now needs to hear this beautiful story no matter how sad you may feel about their condition or impending death.  Our faith may have stemmed from them.  They need to hear how they made a difference in your life. If they do not know Jesus as their Savior, sharing your faith is the most beautiful gift you can give them.  You may never know if they accept Christ but God knows their heart and takes them Home if they asked Jesus into their lives.  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrew 11:1  We all need to be reminded of God’s forgiveness and His promises, especially the promise of eternal life.

Father, I pray for each one who is a caregiver facing the holidays with mixed feelings.  We are so very thankful that You sent Your Son into this world to bring salvation and love, forgiveness and mercy.  Please hold us close to You and remind us of why You came for us and why You have placed us as the giver of care to one of Yours.  We pray that we have Your words ready and accessible to share and that Your love shines into the outside world. We lift each other up for You know where we are this day. You know the price may be high in the task You have called us to do.  We also know that You give us the strength, the countenance, the ability and Your love to do the job set before us.  We thank You, Father, for going before us in all we do and in all we are.  We pray in the Powerful Name of Jesus.  Amen.

beblacksig 

 

Memory’s Music

 

Soothing Moments

Let me introduce my Mama to you. She has since passed away to be with the Lord, but in this picture, she was 98 years old with dementia and diabetes, living in a nursing home within two miles of my home.  This picture was taken on her last birthday.  She has earbuds in her ears, attached to an iShuffle, listening and singing to a French opera singer from her childhood days, Lily Pons.  She listened to Christmas carols sung by the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, a few patriotic songs sung by Kate Smith, and a musical piece called “Maple Leaf Rag,” composed by Scott Joplin in 1899.  She sang, even reaching the extremely high notes of Lily Pons.  She directed the music with her hands.  She played the piano with her fingers on the arms of the chair when the “Maple Leaf Rag” came on.  She would tell me stories about her Italian bricklaying father who made all in the house be quiet so he could listen to opera on Saturday morning radio programs.  Mama loved that time with her father and playing this music brought that whole scenario back to life for her. She told me stories of her Chicago upbringing and about all of the vaudeville shows and silent movies with the good music being played by the live piano or organ player. I downloaded these tunes for Mama about two years before she died.  She enjoyed music so when she was awake and in the mood to listen I would put those earbuds into her ear and she loved it.  She was amazed that the “little bitty thing” could hold all of that “great music” for her to listen to.  Even though I could not hear her music, I knew what she was listening to for she told me each piece, the singer or the piano player.  And she would want me to hear it too!  This became quite a special event for her and I absolutely loved it, for her sweet sake!  Music takes us to places and things remembered, may it be as children, teens, adults, or to landings in our journey through life, a special moment, or a special person. With today’s internet, the music from era upon era is available. I was actually quite amazed to find Lily Pons (whom I had never heard of) who began singing in the late 1920s. Mama would have been in high school at that time.

Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
lift up a song to Him who rides through the deserts;
His name is the LORD;
exult before Him!
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in His holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;…. Psalm 68:4-6a

Music needs to be something that the person can relate to so finding out the tastes of a person is important.  Hopefully, the one you are desiring music for can tell you his or her favorites, as was the case with Mama, or you can recall the favorites, or there is a family member or friend who can name tunes that would bring back a fond memory.  I found that songs of a varied mix, maybe four or five of one artist, four to ten of a certain type of music (Christmas, spiritual, ragtime, country, Big Band, etc.) interspersed with singles of just one particular type make for a delightful combination for the listener.  The listener doesn’t seem to become weary of the varied flavors of music for it spans much of their lifetime, their likes, their memories and sweet times.     

Over-the-ear headphones work better than earbuds as they tend to stay on the head better.  The earbuds tended to fall out, as I quickly found out, repositioning them from time to time.  Mama could not deal with the iShuffle’s intricate method of operation so I was there to forward a piece or shut it off completely.  Some people may not like either the headphones or earbuds so a small speaker may be the ticket.  Years ago, I had a small cd player/radio for Mama with built-in speakers.  (The staff and I used music to soothe Mama during her paranoid and hallucinatory dementia stages, especially at night.)  If the elder knows how to use the player, that makes it easy, but if not, then someone nearby needs to help.  Over time though, I got an iShuffle and downloaded just her music for just her enjoyment.  Because I was dealing with a constantly changing staff at the nursing home, I kept the iShuffle in my purse, always having it with me on each visit.  I would see what mood Mama was in and decide whether or not to use it that visit.  Using it from time to time also keeps it special.  (Nursing homes are finding music works well during a transition in a daily schedule: if someone is hesitant to take a bath or eat or get dressed, music may take their mind away from the task at hand, allowing them to flow into that which needs doing.)

The memories associated with the various music may take a bit of time to surface.  Yet, for others, they bubble to the top immediately.  Even though we may spend a lot of time putting the music together on the device, patience is our key.  Allow the person time to listen and become accustomed to what they are hearing.  If the person is responding, don’t be shy about joining in as they sing.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!  Psalm 98:4

Well over two years ago, I wrote about this topic.  I had been using music with Mama for some time.  In the news, I was seeing articles relating to music and the mind, brain function, and such.  I want to share a website called “Music and Memory” where they have been studying and encouraging the use of music with the elderly, especially those who have shut down or are depressed.  This is a short video about Henry.  I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.  You will be so encouraged to take up this mantle and bring music to one you love.  http://musicandmemory.org/

Another website that includes music as therapy is “Validation.”  This video does not use a device but the beauty of spiritual music brings a woman to life:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrZXz10FcVM

LORD, I thank You for giving people the creativeness to write, sing, and play music, for the ability to so appreciate different kinds of music, and to bring memories to the surface through music.  I thank You for these wonderful elderly who can express themselves, for some…a breath of “FINALLY” can come out because of music, for others a freedom to sing, dance, whistle, direct the band, and clap.  Thank You, LORD, for the staff and the families who use this way to bring about changes for these special folks.  I am so grateful You allowed me to use this well before ever seeing such articles and videos.  Mama enjoyed this self-expression, not that she needed to come out of a shell, but that she was so happy with her kind of music.  I am so blessed, LORD, because You showed me this way for her.  I give You all of the glory.  All, LORD, ALL!  Amen.

 

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He Has Dealt Bountifully With Me

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(I am blessed to be a guest devotional writer today over at Granola Bar Devotional.)

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I would cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long” as I would leave the nursing home where my mother spent the last five years of her life. Due to a terrible fall and surgery, Mama would never be able to fully walk again. Previously, her mind had slipped into a roller coaster of dementia-ridden fear, repetition, accusation, jealousy, confusion, and hallucinations. Diabetes turned to Type 1 at age 85, making her insulin-dependent until the day she died at age 98. Then in her last year of life, she got an extremely painful, odd cancer.

I loved my Mama dearly and she loved her family. I loved to see her smile, hear her laughter, feel her motherly arms around me.  She lived near me the last fifteen years of her life where I watched and lived her life daily so also watched the hard side to aging.

Mama was one of those 1940s gals who went to work for the war effort. She married a Navy doctor. She owned a dress shop. She raised three daughters alone after Daddy died from Pancreatic cancer. We were only 12, 10, and 7. She had her hands full raising us in the 1960s and 70s, but she did. She loved us through the hard places, never giving up on any of us. She took care of herself. She was just an amazing lady.

As her body and mind deteriorated in her aged years, I saw my proud, strong mother become dependent, confused, in pain. Mama could be so afraid over something imaginary, be so angry or jealous with those who cared for her; her blood sugar would drop so low that she required hand-feeding, or the pain of the cancer would be intense. Anguish built up in me. I would hold on, quietly praying for Him to calm us both. As I left her in the care of others, I would cry out to God, “How long, O LORD?” Not that I wanted her to die for I would (and now do) miss her terribly, but watching her go through so much for so long, I just wondered if God had forgotten her.

He had not. God never left either of us. The number of Mama’s days were in God’s hands. He is the LORD Who sees, Yahweh Roi. God was drawing Mama closer to Himself all along through beautiful avenues. He drew me into His arms of peace, of hope, of gentleness. I can sing with joy for He, indeed, dealt with me bountifully.

Memory Verse:
“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
– Psalm 13:5-6 (ESV)

Prayer Prompt:
“Father God, I rejoice and sing to You. You truly have dealt with me bountifully and lovingly….”

Originally published @ @ Granola Bar Devotional…

This post has been linked up through Granola Bar Devotional FaceBook as well @ https://www.facebook.com/GBDevotional

31 Days of God-Woven Moments – October 22

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I write because I follow God and this is what He is having me do these days.  I share my life here on this new kind of paper.  As God weaves my life, He has given me beautiful God-Woven Moments, experiences that He wants me to share with you.  I cared for my Mama for fifteen years and I am blessed to be able to write about giving care.  Please join me today…

Preserving Dignity

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Dignity: the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed

Weaving dignity into a tightly woven piece of art called caregiving is of vast importance.  Care recipients depend upon caregivers for the physical aspect of their care, but we far too often forget that emotional and psychological wellbeing is vital to one’s wholeness.  Many things can sever an adult’s self-respect and dignity.  It can happen slowly over time or quickly through a stroke, heart attack or accident.  Loss of abilities, such as driving, walking, talking, doing basic care for themselves, or losing the ability to make decisions often means loss of independence.  That loss is usually what eats away at one’s dignity.  Independence is an asset that lends value to life.

Even to your old age, I am He,

And even to gray hairs I will carry you!

I have made, and I will bear;

Even I will carry, and will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4

As a caregiver, what can you do?  First, learn to see your care recipient through the eyes of God’s unconditional love.  God sees them as His beautiful creation.  So should we.  This should cause the preservation of dignity to be central in our caring.  We should be empathetic, aware of and sensitive to their feelings and thoughts.  Try slipping into their shoes for a better understanding of what they might be going through.  A relationship based on dignity and respect is key to the way we give care.

We can show respect of privacy by closing a door while you help them dress or use the bathroom.  Knock before opening any closed door.  Get their permission before sharing any confidential information, whether it is to family, staff, or friends.  Respect their right to make choices, if they are able, so they can feel some sense of control over their life.  By treating them with dignity, we are listening to their concerns, asking for their opinions, including them in conversations.  Never talk to others as though they are not even there, and try to speak to them as an adult whether they understand or not.     

The care recipient usually knows us and we know them.  We know their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, and their needs and desires.  I needed to let my mother make some of her own decisions.  Some of her wishes were dementia-driven.  Rather than tell her “no” or argue with her, I walked gently, working around her decisions to keep her calm.  There were times when she wanted “2 eggs over-easy, bacon, toast with strawberry jam” and she wanted it now.  Now was 8:00 P.M.  The nursing home kitchen was closed; we had no IHOP then.  I found a little cafe that cooked breakfast 24 hours a day.  I could drive there, order a Mama-breakfast and she would be thrilled, eating it like there was no tomorrow.  Yes, it was hard on me, but it was worth it to see the pleasure she had eating her favorite meal. It can prove to be more important to let them make decisions for themselves (or think they have) than to try to control each issue. Decision-making is hard to give up after they have done it for many years, but when we want the best for them, we, too, must be willing to relearn.  Dignity can easily be lost in our overprotectiveness or always knowing what is best.    

Our tasks may start as simple, but they usually change over time.  I never imagined I would be cleaning my mother’s bottom, helping her put on a dry diaper, or feeding her.  There were times when her inappropriate actions caused her to be treated like a child by administrative staff.  Many of her inhibitions were loosed with dementia.  My mother, Italian and Irish, was a feisty woman, a proud one, but some situations really took a toll on Mama’s dignity.  My mother did not like to be told what to do, nor to be put down.  As she aged, it became part of my job to restore her self-esteem.  I learned to slough off indignities by talking about how she took care of my sisters and me.  I talked about the dress shop she owned and all that entailed being an entrepreneur, or about her WWII experience at the Naval Supply Depot typing up supply orders for all the ships at sea.  She also loved to talk about her life as a Navy doctor’s wife.  On her silly side, she loved to tell me how “gorgeous” or “beautiful” she was as I gave her a bed bath, or how “cute” her own bottom was, always with a twinkle in her eye.  She made light of those hard moments and I joined her with laughter.  These were our ways of coping with indignities.  To find the best ways to get through these hard moments is your task.  Caregivers who enter into the world of the person they’re caring for can accomplish more for that person’s dignity and respect than almost anything else. Listen to them.  Encourage their telling you about the life they once led, their passions, their daily routines, and their memories.  All of this still matters.  Be a good listener.  It does not matter if they repeat the same story.  Respond so they know you are interested.

   Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.  Proverbs 31:25

Doing what a caregiver must for the physical comfort of your care recipient is extremely important, but do everything with compassion and empathy.  You will feel so much better because you provided dignity and happiness in the midst of having to do the tough stuff.  You will also create your own enjoyment in the caregiving process.   

Something else I found that brought respect for my mother was to frame many of her photographs, beginning with her childhood on up through her 80s.  I placed them around her room.  When staff members would come in, they could ask Mama about a certain photo, “Who is that beautiful lady?” “When and where was this?”  “What were you doing here?”  These conversations became protracted because Mama’s longterm memory was excellent; she loved to tell her stories.  Making an album or wall collage of grandchildren also gives them pride to share. The staff began to see my mother as a woman who had a childhood, who had been a professional, who had parents, siblings, a husband and children.  They no longer saw Mama as just an old person who, one day, might be angry and demanding, or happy and loving on another.  Mama became real and respect grew.  The loss of independence takes so much away from a person, yet knowing that they are being heard, cared for from the heart makes such a difference in the way the one being cared for handles their own inabilities. 

Caring for someone of the opposite sex can be difficult.  They need to be treated in the same manner as I have shared here, but when a person has never had his daughter see him privately, it is hard.  As the caregiver, ask how they would like you to handle the situation giving them choices.  Be calm, bring humor if possible, and be dignified in the way you approach this.  If they know you are lovingly caring for them, they will adjust with time.   

You are God’s gift to His creation.  You are His hands on earth.  Be delighted.  What you are giving is better than any other gift you could ever give.  Yes, it may be tough.  Caregiving may test you to your limits, but often those tough things can bring rewards so great that you will feel wonderfully blessed.  I know that I can still feel the hugs and the kisses on my cheek, and hear Mama’s laughter as well as her words of endearment and gratitude to this very moment.  Yes, fifteen years was long and hard, but there were so many precious moments.  I would never exchange those years for the freedom of not caring for my mother.

And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.”  Matthew 25:40

Father, I lift up each giver of care whom You have placed with one who needs that care.  I pray for patience and tender love as they care for another.  May we always remember that dignity and strength and respect are from You and that we would look to You for guidance as we take each step in Your will.  Teach us how to laugh and love in the hard moments, to bring joy and delight to those we care for, to do all we must by wrapping those tasks up in dignity and respect so that the recipient feels special, and to listen with empathy as though we are right there in their shoes (or slippers).  Father, we want to love as You love, feel as You feel, and be Your hands, voice and heart here on earth.  I ask for Your hand upon us as we walk this walk.  In the strong Name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen.

beblacksig

 

Photo: @ Critty Joy
To catch up on the previous days of this 31 day challenge, you can find them listed here.

Tough Decisions in Caregiving

I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to share what I learned over the fifteen years of caring for my mother, my precious Mama.

OldandYoungHandsClasped

As a caregiver, there are constant decisions that must be made and many, if not most, are tough ones.  Relying upon God is so important when making these decisions for they affect a loved one, ourselves, and often others in the family.  If you are the one to make such a decision for someone who has lost the ability to do so for him or her self, truly turn it over to God.  Don’t try to go this alone.  Sharing your concerns with a spouse, a grown daughter or son, a brother or sister, (depending upon whom you are caring for) may be a step in the right direction, but sharing it with the LORD is the way to get His dependable answer.  He will direct the path intended for all concerned.

In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will direct your paths.  Proverbs 3:6

Praying is the key, a must. The quiet time we spend with God in prayer is precious time.  God can reveal His plan to our still, calm, and quiet body, mind, heart, and soul.  God is our Stronghold, Tower, and Refuge.  Ask Him questions.  Share your feelings.  Tell Him your frustrations and struggles.  But be quiet, cease striving, and know that He is God of all, including you and the one you care.

“Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”  Psalm 46:10 

Once His guidance is clear to you, it is time to move forward.  Whatever decisions need to be made particular to your case, you are not alone for God is walking with you.  You may need to research the assisted living or nursing home facilities in town.  Maybe you have to go to the state office where Medicaid is handled.  You might need to seek the advice of an eldercare financial planner or attorney for the procedure to shelter some of the income if one spouse must go into a nursing home while the other one must continue to be able to live comfortably, or you may need their advice to qualify your care recipient for Medicaid.  There might be a shift in medication with new side affects so making an appointment with the doctor to discuss these changes may give you reassurance of the physical or mental safety for your loved one.  Possibly, you might choose to search out those side effects by looking online at Physician’s Desk Reference (PDRhealth) or read those tiny words on that thin paper attached to the medication.  If you are working, you probably need to find out about the Family Medical Leave Act, how and when you can take time off to help your parent, child, or husband without being afraid of losing your job.  These are but a few of the many issues that can creep up and lead to caregiver overwhelm.  Take each one to the LORD and then, with the LORD, you can move ahead one step at a time.

Breathe in God-peace as you take each step.  Absorb God-love into your very heart.  Feel God-comfort as He wraps His arms around you.  You need and deserve these God-wrapped gifts; so does your loved one.  As you walk in His will, He is with you.

A dear one in my life was caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s disease. His mental abilities were diminishing quite rapidly and decisions were needing to be made, one after another.  This dear one, his wife, had been caring for him alone since the diagnosis, but the ground seemed to be moving faster than she was able to keep a steady gait.  His behaviors, his memory-loss, and more had left her worried about his safety and the safety of others as he crossed their paths.  Her stress level increased daily, thus increasing her own health concerns.

She went to the LORD.  She spent time looking at local facilities that would take an Alzheimer patient.  She had her daughter go with her to the ones that were the choices she would make if and when she needed to place her husband in one.  Then fears arose:  how would others perceive her if she placed her husband in a nursing home?  Would they consider her a failure in her wifely duties?  Was she not strong enough to do this job even though she seemed able?  What about the cost?  Could she afford this?  Would she need to create a trust for the money issues?  Where would she get that legal help?  Was her husband eligible for Veterans benefits since he served in World War II?  All those “what if” questions crept into her heart and mind and did not seem to vanish.  Both she and her daughter went to the LORD on the husband/father’s behalf.  The LORD strengthened them, giving answers to these many questions as each one arose.  When the time came, she filled out one application to a special care nursing home.  She received a “go-ahead,” but at the last minute, the door closed.  She applied to a second facility.  They required her husband to be admitted to a psychiatric ward for evaluation for which she was willing.  After a week in the hospital, after a number of issues were resolved, her husband was able to be placed in the second facility.  Proper medication had been determined while in the hospital, and his adjustment to the medications and the facility began to smooth out.  God was with them.  The place and the timing were His.  The whole family agreed that the right thing was done.  And the wife had relinquished her guilt and burdens to the only One Who could carry them.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

Making such decisions are stress-filled and can leave the caregiver exhausted and spent.  Plus, the physical strain of being on duty 24/7 if living with the care recipient, as well as the emotional roller coaster ride, take their toll on the caregiver’s body, mind, and life.  For this dear one, the strain of carrying these many concerns along with giving care to her husband was wearing her down faster than the Alzheimer’s was taking him.  She needed help.  And her help was in her LORD. 

In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help.  From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.  Psalm 18:6  

Father, as we come to these cliffs of decision, we may find that we must jump or back up and wait.  LORD, we pray for Your Fatherly guidance.  We ask that You lead us, holding us near to You.  May our physical ears and heart-ears be open to hear You.  May we be willing to leap forward into Your loving and secure arms or wait with the patience You give us.  Thank You for loving us through these tough decisions and for reassuring us that, with You, nothing is impossible.  You are our Ever-Present God, our All-Knowing LORD.  You deserve our worship and our praise.  We fall before You on bended knees and lift our voices to You in awe, knowing that You already know how it is all to work out.  Your plan is perfect.  Thank You, Abba Father.  In the Mighty Name of Jesus, Amen.

beblacksig