I Found Him — When Someone You Know Dies from Suicide…and You Are the One Who Finds Them (Part 2)

SONY DSCWhen you are the one who has lost someone to suicide, whether you had been the one to find them or not, the emotions are huge.  The memories haunt.  The loss is beyond what you could have imagined. If you found someone dead, the images are etched in your mind. They are painful. I am sorry. I understand because I know. Take time to let all of this roll around and be processed. For many, if not most, in this situation, getting counseling is so very important. Going as often as you need to go is really quite okay.

If your mind is filled with the image of suicide, get sweet pictures of this person and look upon them. Place them around the house…around you. Think about him or her when they were alive. Remember things you did together, words shared, special moments. Fill your mind with those images. Talk about his or her life with others who care about you. Celebrating his or her life will help tremendously to change what is imprinted upon your mind from that day. These are ways to work through the pain and begin to replace the images of finding one with happy images. This is not a process that is over in a year or even five. It seems to be ongoing but is less and less over the years. God wants your mind and heart filled with Him.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Remember:

  •     You may feel strong anger. That, too, is normal.
  •     You probably feel numb and have difficulty concentrating. Again that is normal.
  •     Be gentle with yourself.
  •     Give yourself time.  Please take care of yourself, and take your healing one step at a time.
  •     And remember that you are a special person.

I journaled in order to express how I felt.  I wondered often what I could have done to prevent this suicide.  I read books on suicide and found that I probably could not have prevented it and should not blame myself, nor feel guilty.

Other things I have found that helped me along this unbeaten path were:

  •    Understand that everyone grieves differently.  You may read about “the stages of grief,” but each person goes through them in their own way.  Your way is the best way for you.
  •    You may deny what happened. Understand that almost everyone does that. It is a normal part of the healing process that you are going through.
  •    Also, unfortunately, there still is a stigma that exists around suicide. Most people do not understand what you are going through. Their words may blame you or are harsh about the one who is dead now. It does not seem fair nor make sense to those left behind.  But stigmas with the word “suicide” do exist.
  •    And please keep in mind that you can decide not to answer any questions that others may ask you. If someone wants to know how your loved one died, you can say that you do not want to talk about it. It is up to you.  No explanation is necessary.  Some people may even ask, “Why did he do that?”  “What could you have done?”…questions that you do not need nor can you even answer.  Giving those questions no answer, or “I don’t know,” or “Please do not ask me this,” may be your best way to handle the insensitivity.
  •    Yes, people can be insensitive. People can be rude. People can be intrusive.  You decide who you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, for how long you want to talk to them, and about what.

Through Jim’s art, I met the wonderful man to whom I am married to…22 years now.  I had a display of Jim’s paintings scheduled to be on our main library’s mezzanine.  Ken was the Art Center’s volunteer to hang those displays.  We met and that is a whole story unto itself, but God worked through tragedy, bringing beauty from the ashes.

“To console those who mourn in Zion,

To give them beauty for ashes,

The oil of joy for mourning,

The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

That they may be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61: 3

Amidst the grief, Kenneth and his dear mother introduced me to Jesus.  I read the Bible, studying it as voraciously as I could.  I talked to Kenneth about suicide and Jim.  He spoke and read verses to me…God’s Truth.  He placed me in the hands of Jesus to teach me all He could to help me know that Jesus is the answer.  I called upon the Name of the LORD and He answered me.  He guided me.  He holds my heart when I think about Jim.  I am sorry he did what he did and that he went through pure and certain agony to reach that place.  But Jesus gave me new life and continuously affirms the beauty of our relationship.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

He wants me whole as I grow to be more and more like Him.  He wants that whole Linda to become holy as He is Holy.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:9

Father, You have saved me from myself and given me a new self in rebirth.  Father, if one is reading this post and has been through the loss of someone they have loved or cared about through the act of a suicide, I pray that Your tender mercies rain upon them and come to reign in their hearts.  I pray that You hold them near.  If they do not know Jesus as their LORD and Savior, I pray that they will seek Your face. Father God, may we each and all know that Your care for us is steadfast.  You hide us in the cleft of the Rock, protecting us, providing for us, and comforting us. Should there be one reading this post who has thought about suicide, I pray for Your saving grace to rain upon them and reign in their hearts.  I pray that they look to You, Jesus, focusing their eyes upon You for You will not lead them astray.  Only satan would do that.  May they rest on Bible verses that touch their hearts. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 … Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?  Ecclesiastes 7:17   May Your Word stand strong before them and fill them with Your Truth.  May we trust in You and only You.  In the Strong Name of Jesus, I lift these precious sisters and brothers to You as well as myself.  You are the Holy One. Amen.

Resource: http://www.suicide.org/suicide-survivors-forum.html

 

 

beblacksig

I Found Him — When Someone You Know Dies from Suicide…and You Are the One Who Finds Them (Part 1)

SONY DSCI write this from the perspective of the one who found a dear friend after he had killed himself…suicide.

How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.  Psalm 13:2-4

This man, Jim, was 46 and decided that life had no meaning any longer, I presume. I will never really know…just a heart-felt and honest guess.  He was an artist, but had a hard time making a living from his beautiful airbrushed paintings. He was a machinist by trade.  He had some tough relationships over his all-too-short life.  He had been sober for almost 8 years, had quit smoking for 2 years.  He came from a family of drinking. His mother died of cancer. His only sibling was a brother who chose to separate himself from my friend as well as his parents because he had chosen not to drink.

As a friend, I cared about Jim like a sister would care about her only brother.  We were both searching for Jesus at the time we met.  We did not know that, but we were.  We searched in many-a-dark corner, but continued looking.  I never knew him during his drinking years so my perspective is a bit skewed from others who knew him earlier in his life.  As an artist, a weaver, myself, we began doing shows together to try to make a living being artists when I moved into this same city.  Neither one of us made enough to pay for doing what we loved, but we tried for a while.

I finally found full-time work for I needed a steady income.  Jim continued to paint and even went to New Mexico for six months to gain a different perspective while continuing to paint.  Eventually, he moved back here and then had a hard time finding a machinist job.  Things were not going as he had hoped.

I came home from work one day and found an envelope in the mail slot of my door.  It was from Jim.  He had placed his car title, some cash, and a short note of some silly words that meant something to only me, words we had shared. My heart sank, although I could not really know by the note what I was about to face, and yet, I had an idea. I quickly got in the car and raced over to his house. I let myself in only to find the same note there on the table by the door, along with a note to emergency staff should they have found him before I did. I knew now. I tiptoed through the house until I found him. He had killed himself in a manner that did not leave blood and gore for me to find, but he still killed himself. I still found him. That was 23 years ago. As I type this, it seems like yesterday.

Earlier, I said that Jim and I were searching for Jesus. I never knew if he found Him, but he had a Bible with some verses in the New Testament underlined. He had been reading. He had been looking and, hopefully, had found the One and Only LORD and Savior. I will know him in Heaven should he be there. I pray so.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

Suicide is a terrible thing. Having never been around it up close and personal, I could not have imagined that I would have to deal with one in such a way: police interrogation of me to make sure that I had not killed him (which was such an awful experience and is a vivid memory, even today), neighbors wanting to know why all the police, ambulances, and medical examiner were at the house for over two hours, the remnants of his life in a house that I would inherit because he made a will and left his world to me. I had very few other contacts here except through work, so with friends caring about me from afar, the phone calls were long and tear-filled.

There was so much…so very much to deal with, to handle.

I returned to work and took comfort in the busy-ness of that. I sought counsel through a “suicide-survivor group.” I attended only a few times as I just did not seem to need to tell the same story each week to any newcomer. There were people there who had lost a loved one fifteen and twenty years prior. I knew they were there for their own reasons, but I needed the tender love and comfort from my mother, my sisters and friends in other states, and so it was hard being in one state when my comfort was elsewhere. Within a short time, a cousin came from Chicago and stayed for a few days. Then, my dear mother came and stayed for about three or four weeks to help me clean and ready the house so that I could move in within a few weeks. My mother was the best person for me at that time. I needed people I loved and trusted.

Surround yourself with people who understand. Who care. Who are sensitive. And who will support you. Reach out to those people. Never feel like you are a burden to them because you are not.

My boss loaned me the money for the cremation. She honored me by asking if she could help financially in any way. I had no savings and Jim left me what little he had which was not enough to bury him.

When you are the one who has lost someone to suicide, whether you had been the one to find them or not, the emotions are huge.  The memories haunt.  The loss is beyond what you could have imagined.

Please join me for Part 2 to read how I began to heal from this experience, how Jesus met me in my pain, and for some practical advice on how you can recover from a trauma such as this one.

Part 2 will be posted Friday, 8/14/2015.

 

 

beblacksig

Photo: Sony:DSC

Caring for the Caregiver – Part 2

caringforcaregiver

One of the very first things a giver of care should think about doing for herself/himself is to find quiet … find the calm center of the storm, find peace in your mind and heart. Finding quiet is calming down, letting the mind focus on the Lord. Find a physical peaceful setting or find one in your mind. Get away to a quiet place even for an hour, go for a walk, sit-down for a time in the park or in a coffee shop, or soak in a hot bath. This usually means being alone for a time.

As we begin to quiet ourselves, we usually need to allow the voices, the day’s busy-ness, the stresses of the daily activity roll through our minds, our hearts, and then gradually let it slide away. When these things pop back up, let them go again. Rather than getting upset that we keep bringing the stresses back up, allow them there and then release them again, each time allowing it to remain for shorter periods. It will subside if we let it. Remember, these concerns, issues, words spoken, or words left unspoken, may be issues that have already been resolved, may be un-resolvable right now and need setting aside, or may not even be of our business! Listening and reviewing the day can allow us to step back, look at things from a different perspective, and take some or all of the emotion out of an issue. Then give these things to Jesus. He asks for 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

During the quiet, take time to look at your personal needs. You may be a parent. You may be homeschooling your children. You may hold a full or part-time job. You may have more than one person you are taking care of. You may be married, single, divorced, going through problems in relationship. All kinds of personal concerns surround us. So time may be of the essence and you may think, “I don’t have time for me, Linda. I cannot even begin to do any more and now you want me to take care of myself.” Well, yes, I do. And I know it well. (When I moved Mama here from California, I worked full-time, had been married only 5 years so still felt like a newlywed! Mama needed help in so many ways. Besides her regular medications, the doctor placed her on insulin within the first year here. Her dementia worsened and giving herself insulin became a problem as she would forget or think she had already given herself the shot. I was running over to her place (in a senior residence) twice a day taking her blood sugar and then giving her a shot. My workplace was 12 miles away. My hours were odd two days a week so I had to teach my husband how to do this too. Bless his heart … imagine talking to your mother-in-law and reminding her to take her blood sugar and then measuring the insulin and handing her the syringe? Not easy, I know! My mother was rather strong headed, too! But it had to be done, and we did it and much, much more!

Well, back to our needs. Time or not, we must find some for our care or we cannot care for others. What do you do for yourself? What do you need for yourself? Do you eat nutritionally? Is there a way to do that better? Are you able to exercise? Can you make time to take a class of aerobics, yoga, Pilates, walk regularly…the type that would make you feel better after it was over? You don’t need more stress and taking a class that you feel is a “should” will not be a help to you. Can you watch a video of yoga or stretching at home to help you relax some? Do you have time for family, for friends? How can you make quality time with the people you love and who love you and care about you? Are there hobbies that help you relax … reading, crocheting, quilting, baking, taking a Bible study? What do you enjoy … riding your bicycle, walking on the beach, visiting others, …? And the most important piece of this pie is to spend time with the LORD…sitting at His feet. You don’t have to talk with Him or do anything in particular. Just sit at His feet. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:39-42

Setting time for enjoyable, relaxing treats is so key to a caregiver’s well-being. Caring for another can zap all of your energy, leaving you lifeless. If we are good at caring for others then we surely must learn to care for ourselves. Begin by making an appointment with yourself, spending time writing down those things that are important to you for your well-being. Once a list is in print, prioritize them either by most important to least, or by the amount of time it takes to do each, or how often you would want to do each. Begin doing one thing on your list. Calendar things in daily, weekly, monthly … make it work for you. If you cannot do anything every day, then begin with weekly or every other day. Gradually, work the most important things into your world so you will feel better. And when you cannot do something, please, PLEASE, do not feel guilty. Guilt is the last thing you need.

You are important! YES! You are IMPORTANT! And caring for yourself is a part of caregiving for others that gets neglected far too easily. How can we be wholly there for others when we can barely be there for ourselves? Take time to begin. Just begin!

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  Isaiah 43:2-3a

God tells His people that He will be with us as we walk through the fires of life.  Fires burn, but they also purify, refine.  Caregiving is not easy.  In fact, it is painfully difficult at times, and exhausting.  Yet, He is with us and will not let the fires consume us.  The waters will not drown us.
Father, hear our prayers. We need You and want You in these times of giving care to others. Father, You are our Shepherd and LORD.  Give us the abilities needed for the task. Fill our hearts with Your love so that we may care for those You love, for those who need help, who are unable to do for themselves any longer.  Father, guide us in ways to care for ourselves that we would be more able to be the caregiver whom You have called … able to be patient, loving, kind, gentle, and joyful too. May Your fruits of the Spirit shine through us in all that we are and do for others. Father, give us calm and peace, and may we be the Christ in the eyes of these precious ones of Yours.  In Jesus’ Name we pray and we love.  Amen.

 

beblacksig

Caring for the Caregiver – Part 1

caringforcaregiver

Caregiver:  the definition of a giver of care is a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child, or a sick, elderly, or disabled person.  The description of a giver of care who works 24/7 can be joyful, weary, tired, delighted, exhausted, angry, frustrated, energetic, impatient, alienated, lonely, depressed, etc., etc., etc.! Does any of this fit you?

Let’s turn the tables and take a look at taking care of ourselves. This is a key component to caregiving.  A KEY!  The care of the caregiver is vital to the health and welfare of the one who receives the care.  If the caregiver is so rundown that she/he has no energy for the day’s work, she/he cannot give the necessary care in the manner in which it ought to be given. As caregivers, we are usually trying to understand the needs of the person we care for with a desire to do some of this precious care right so as not to confuse, frustrate, or further anger our charge. We desire their days to be pleasant. We also want to love them as they are, not as we wish they could or would be.

As a caregiver of 15 years, I ran the gamut of being extremely weary, unable to get a good night’s rest for ailments of my own, worried, confused about what to do, depressed, frustrated that my sisters lived so far away, coming only once a year (and then for just a little while, not long enough to help me out much or give me a real break), even upset with one sister because she accused me of something that our mother believed about me–this sister chose to believe a dementia-laden lie versus the truth.  I became impatient with Mama, too, for things she could not help.  I felt alienated from “friends” or lonely because of this separateness.  I wondered if I was being a good enough wife while trying to be a good enough caregiver and daughter too.  AAAHHH!  Do you know these feeling, these thoughts?

Pondering such thoughts and feelings made me realize that I was disconnected, exasperated, less than healthy, just plain worn out.  One doctor of mine even asked me if I was “depressed.”  He had been in my shoes by caring for his father and saw signs in me, a long time patient of his for fibromyalgia.  Yet I needed to face myself, my selfish, self-protecting ways.  I wanted to stay in God’s will and honor my mother through to the end of her life.  I also, naturally, wanted to remain in God’s will for my marriage.

James 1:2-4 says,  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  Pure joy?  Oh, I wondered sometimes how I could possibly feel joyful.

As God continually desires to grow us in His garden, the roots grow deeper into His soil, hitting rocks and tree roots, those trials and tests.  It is our reaction to these tribulations that give us the telltale sign of our step-by-step relationship with God.  Our faith in God to bring us through these trials and our willingness to allow Him to grow us to be more like Christ builds the perseverance…hanging in there: close to God, in an honoring manner, trusting Him at every turn, a close and growing relationship with Him.  This relationship depends upon having open eyes, ears, and hearts.  We need His wisdom and He tells us to ask.  We certainly need it in this particular period of our lives, but truly in all periods, don’t we?  James 1 continues,  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.  Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. (verses 5-9)

He will develop us, mature us, complete us … in His time.  We must stay close to our Teacher, spend time in His Word, and bend our knees before Him.  As we face trials, we can be purified in these fires.  We can become more valuable in God’s economy.  He can use us as His giver of care to the precious one He appoints for us.  He is able to guide us as we are willing to listen to Him, our Lord.  He can reshape our lives from ungodly to godly, from not being Christlike to being a reflection of the beauty of Jesus, and to glorify Him in all we do and say.

James 1:12:  Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Some positive aspects that caregiving can offer:
• A closer relationship with God
• Trust in God
• A sense that others are watching your faith in action
• A more mature faith, purified by testing

• The ability to face and handle negative emotions

• Healing of previous hurts, especially involving family fallouts

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9

Let us stop here and ponder: asking for God’s wisdom, about the trials and testing that you are going through in your daily caregiving and how they might lead you to have more perseverance.  Think about God’s ways versus ours.  Think about James 1 as well.  What is God saying to you?

Father, we ask You to come to us in this garden and sit beside us on the bench where we are, weary and worn out.  Father, you know the task of caregiving we hold in our hands.  You know the one we care for.  He or she is Your child as are we, Father.  We feel so weary some days that we wonder if You are even in the vicinity.  Yet, we know You are.  You are everywhere, our Omnipresent God.  We trust You deeply, Father.  Walk down this path with us, giving us wisdom so that we can care for our precious loved ones, or for those we care for as a professional caregiver.  Father, please teach us how to take care of ourselves, better care of our bodies, our minds, and our souls.  Build us stronger spiritually that we would depend upon You for everything. Everything. You are our Refuge and our Stronghold.  Guard our souls and deliver us; Do not let us be ashamed, for we take refuge in You.  Let integrity and uprightness preserve us, For we wait for You. (Psalm 25:20-21) We ask all in the Name of Jesus.  Amen. 

 

beblacksig

Are You Being Spent in the King’s Service?

Dogwood with John 15-12
“’Lord, I am Thine, wholly Thine; all I am, and all I have, I would devote to Thee.  Thou has bought me with Thy blood; let me spend myself and be spent in Thy service.  In life and in death let me be consecrated to Thee!’ Have we kept this resolve?”
from “Daily Help” by C. H. Spurgeon

As a caregiver, I prayed this prayer and spent quiet time with the LORD to help me answer the question… much I did in God’s service and much I did not.

I spent 15 years as the primary caregiver of my mother, along with the staff of the facilities in which she lived. We needed to move Mama near one of her three daughters. For affordability reasons and because I was the one who would be able to be this primary caregiver, we moved her to Texas.  God had much to teach me and the school’s door seemed open to me 24/7 (still does!).

I attempted to hold the reins of control, to hold back the flood of change. None of us wanted to move Mama. A move is hard for anyone, but for one of 84 and strong willed, that proved especially tough. I also have one sister who truly struggled with the move and had words for me since I “seemed” to be the main decision maker in her eyes. Once the decision was made, then I held those reins for I wanted to control the physical and mental downward spiral of my mother as I watched her age and live with dementia and the related fears, anger, frustration, confusion, jealously, and so much more. Those reins were hard to hold though. Eventually, I had to give them and Mama to God.  I could not control her life nor the changes that were occurring.  I had to allow her to live out her days with the best quality I was able to oblige her and assuring the best care from the others watching over her.

During the fifteen years here, changes of residences from a senior apartment to an assisted living to a nursing home happened according to her abilities, her health.  She received the care she needed from loving staffs.  She was still able to watch her baseball games with the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox, plus the San Diego Padres.  She ate fairly well, and got to enjoy some of her favorites like ice cream sodas and sundaes, my home baked peach muffins, and fresh fruit I brought to her each time I grocery-shopped for myself. She was allowed to choose even with the diabetes.  There must be some independence no matter what the consequences.  Even though there was a narrowness of life because of the need for a nursing home, I found ways to broaden the opening.  We attended a local AA baseball game once or twice during each season, ate lunch out together when she was able or in when she did not feel up to going out. I would bring a meal treat to her as often as I could. We spent time together most every day, just the two of us, or in a small group for a Bingo game or a favorite karaoke singer.  Decisions were hers as often as she was able.  I followed through with her choices when I could.  And if not, I did as she did when I was a child saying, “We shall see, Mama,” and, by the next day, her dementia-riddled mind had usually forgotten.  But, at that moment, she was satisfied because she had made the decision.

Did I keep the resolve?  As best as I could.  I wanted God to orchestrate the care I gave to my mother.  I wanted Him to open my heart to her love, accepting it with the love He gave to me so that I could give back to her.  I wanted to be able to accept the hard and not-so-good days that often came with dementia and being 86, 98, or all those in-between. I wanted God to shield me from words that hurt, but also to help me not take those words personally when they came like grenades.  No matter what the day brought, I wanted to be able to love my mother unconditionally.  God loved me unconditionally (and still does) and I had His love through which to love my Mama. And I did.

I shared my life with many other residents at the various living facilities too.  I learned their names, addressing them when I would see them.  I sometimes was able to touch them on their backs with a little rub or by holding their hands.  I talked with them. I stopped for a conversation or a prayer.  I sat with them when Mama was asleep, when I could dawdle.  I smiled at them.  We all need someone who cares about us.

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”  John 15:12

I resolved to be near my God so that I would obediently follow His will for my life, and for my Mama’s life in regards to my part in it.  More than once, I was called to the home because she was not feeling well and needed comforting. At times, she needed to eat something in order to raise her blood sugar (rather unusual for her!) so I would feed her (usually running to get her just what she would desire at the moment…eggs and bacon, an ice cream soda…!).  She, ever so sweetly, would tell me, from time to time, how much she loved me or how much she appreciated all that I did for her.  I returned the love with hugs and words, but my heart felt like it was overflowing.  I knew God was with us.  I prayed I was being spent in the service of my LORD.  (Mama was not always one to get “mushy” yet when she told me how she appreciated something that I did for her or what I meant to her, I knew that her words were really coming from her heart. She became more precious to me with each passing moment. At those moment, I felt that I was being spent in His service.)

We love, because He first loved us.  1 John 4:19

Father God, these precious moments with my mother were far more than doing her laundry or taking her for lunch or cleaning up after her. They were about being Your daughter in her presence. They were about being Your child for her in whatever way she needed me. They were about staying true to You while being there for her and for the other residents too. You are now, and were then, my Beacon from which I was guided. Thank You for lighting my path to be Your best for my Mama. Thank You for loving me so that I could love her as I did. I loved her so, Father. And I miss her now, yet it is with a peaceful heart that I came to know that I did my humanly best to keep Your resolve in the midst of many a moment…sweet ones or extremely difficult ones, all beautifully filled with Your Grace. Thank You for Your forgiveness when I failed to be in Your service for her (and now, LORD, too). Thank You, my Abba Father, for putting these tears of mine in Your bottle for they come, even now. You are the most beautiful Lighthouse, LORD. I am so grateful that You are my LORD. In the Light of Your Son’s Name, I pray. Amen.

How are you keeping this resolve? 

 

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Careful Medication and Eldercare

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A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.  Proverbs 17:22

As caregivers, one very important task is to make sure that our care recipient remains safe to the best of our ability.  Keeping hope and joy alive around them is also a vital component for their mental and spiritual well-being.  Gracing them with unconditional love assures them that their comfort and best interests are a priority.  As you well know, this is not always easy.  “A joyful heart” is not always a simple matter to come by.  And that “good medicine,” medications themselves, can either be a hindrance or a help to one’s joy or safety.  A caregiver’s attentiveness to this most vital of issues is a must.   

Most people, as they age, need medications.  They are great if used correctly and safely.  They also require caregivers to have a watchful eye as to what is happening to their care recipient:

  • Are there changes in behavior and/or personality?
  • Do they complain about their body, such as digestive tract issues or headaches?
  • Are they sleepier than usual?
  • Do they trip or even fall?
  • If a new drug is added to the regimen, are they any side-effects or reactions?
  • Be aware, and as up-to-date as possible, of side-effects, contraindications of drugs for diagnoses given for the care recipient.  Many people become over or under medicated.  When changes are noticed, and if they are self-medicating, question the ability of that person to dispense their own pills.  Talk with other family members if they are a part of the caregiving team about what they might be noticing.  Make notes.  Keep an updated list of all medicines being taken, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, other nutritional products and herbal remedies.  Keep the list with you at all times. 

Reactions to medications vary with each individual and with particular drugs.  For older adults and people with disabilities, medications, whether prescription, over-the-counter, alcohol, herbal remedies or alternative-type medicines can help or they can harm. When not used appropriately or safely, medications can cause untold consequences.  Changes that occur with aging and with disabilities can cause people to suffer what are called medication-related problems (MRPs).  But these medication-related problems are often preventable.  Caregivers can help to identify possible MRPs.  Side-effects or “symptoms” of MRPs may include: excessive drowsiness, confusion, depression, delirium, insomnia, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, incontinence, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, falls and fractures, changes in speech and memory.  When these symptoms appear, they should be considered “red flags” that an MRP may be occurring.  Yet they may turn out to be unrelated as these same side-effects can occur under many physical or mental circumstances.  But when these effects interfere with daily functioning, a health care professional should be informed immediately, just in case.

Before prescribing any new drug, the doctor should be aware of all the other drugs and over-the-counter medications the patient is taking.  This is when having that list of medications with you is necessary.  The doctor should want to know of any new symptoms or illnesses.  If possible, care recipients should be given the opportunity to present the doctor (or other professional) with accurate and complete information about health conditions.  It is important to share new medical problems by fully describing the problem, indicating how long it has been a problem, if the problem has been experienced before, how it started, what was done to relieve it, and what worked or didn’t work.  For seniors with cognitive impairments, caregivers are the ones to describe the concerns.  Often, the elderly do not tell the doctor the whole story either.  Mama would go in and tell the doctor how great she was feeling, yet I knew better.  She either had forgotten or she did not want him to know that she was less than perfect.  This makes it very difficult for health care professionals to assess just what is going on for the proper treatment.  So be prepared to step up to the plate.

Have conversations regularly with the professionals involved in your care recipient’s care.  They may include a doctor, a physician’s assistant, a nurse, a pharmacist, an aide, or a host of others.  This team should be available to you, the caregiver, providing support and knowledge.  You gain confidence through the team and can then be ready to act, to assist, or to do it all.  If you have concerns about the ability of your care recipient being able to give themselves the medications, you need to address those concerns with this team.  It is so important to be on top of the medications and any problems because your attentiveness can lead to less medication-related problems, better outcomes, and improved daily functioning.

A few things to discuss with this team if the recipient is wanting to remain independent and handle the medicines themselves:

  • Will their memory function allow them to take the right medicines at the right time, in the right amounts what it needs to be?  Can they care of themselves?
  • Can they read the labels or should a large print label be ordered for them, if available?
  • Can they hear the provider’s instructions when given?  Ask the doctor or pharmacist to speak louder, if need be.
  • Does their dexterity (i.e., arthritis, Parkinson’s) allow them to open bottles, break tablets, prepare injections, eye drops, and inhalers well enough to do this themselves?
  • Can they schedule the various medications themselves without making mistakes?
  • One other question that needs to be asked but is not as pertinent to self-medicating as it is to just  helping: Are they having difficulty swallowing pills?  Are there other forms of this medicine that could be substituted?
  • A caregiver is key to noting these types of problems, sharing them with the medical team.  Being prepared to handle the medications may be your next step in the school of caregiving.  

If you do become the medicine giver, you must be as sure about each drug as you were expecting your recipient to have been when they were self-medicating.  When the drugs are purchased, ask any and all questions you can think of if you have not administered them before.  Usually, there is a pharmacist available to go over the important aspects of administration and side-effects.  You may need to prepare and administer injectable drugs, such as insulin.  Be certain you understand the dosage and how to inject.

I began giving Mama her medication shortly after she moved to Texas.  She had recently been diagnosed with vascular dementia, plus she had been diabetic for many years.  Soon she was placed on insulin.  Mama needed help in taking her glucose readings and then to establish the correct amount of insulin along with the correct type of insulin for a particular time of day.  She was injecting two — a short acting and a long acting.  She had blood pressure and cholesterol meds, thyroid plus a few other pills.  It was very confusing for her.  I also wanted her to maintain some independence while holding onto her dignity. As an example, I let Mama prick her own finger as she had done for years and place the blood on the glucometer.  Then with the proper dosage and type of insulin in the syringe, I would hand it to her so that she could self-inject.  She learned and remembered the sequence of needle placement which remained important.  She had some control over this process for many years.  Plus she seemed pleased to have me do the part that threw her for a loop.  I believe she was relieved that there would not be a mistake for she also understood that concern.

  • Store all of the medications in a designated location of the house, but not in the medicine cabinet of the bathroom or in the kitchen cupboard because heat and moisture can cause deterioration.  Be sure that they are stored out of reach of children who may visit, especially if there are non-child proof containers.  If the medication needs refrigeration, they should be placed in a container in one particular safe place in the refrigerator.  Medications that are taken by mouth should be kept separate from those used externally, such as ointments or creams.  Discard expired medications.  Never give your care recipient’s meds to anyone else or vice versa.
  • Medications are in high use these days.  Be knowledgeable and careful, and most of all, handle this step of caregiving with love and a smile.  Make it a light moment as you hand the pills to him or her with joy in your heart and that smile on your face.  They need some parts of their days to be joyful for both themselves and for you.    

…even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you.  I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.  Isaiah 46:4 ESV

Father God, we ask Your guidance in all we do for the precious ones You have placed in our care.  May we hear Your voice as You tell us just what to do for each one of Your children.  May we be available to Your call.  I pray for each one of us who has stood to Your call and said, “Count me in for I will be obedient to You, Father God.”  Let us have eyes and ears open to be aware of those things which are so vitally important.  Let us not fall down on this beautiful, although difficult at times, calling.  Let Your love flow through us to the one we are to care for.  Should we become weary, hold us up as well, LORD.  In the Sweet and Healing Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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Journaling Your Way Through Caregiving, Part 2

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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 began this series about journaling and caregiving, I shared how important writing my thoughts and feelings is for me.  In Part 1, I gave a variety of ways to journal.  Today, I want to share why journaling can be good for your well-being.

There are many benefits to journaling.  A journal does not argue with you nor talk back.  They allow you to vent, release bottled up feelings, relieve stress, and can clarify thoughts and ideas.  They give voice to things felt inside such as guilt, anger toward yourself, the care receiver, or even family members.  Journals can hold your frustration, heaviness, and can take some of power away from these feelings.  They allow you to rationalize some your required decisions, see both sides of them by writing down pros and cons.  In a journal, you can list or organize events of the care recipient whether physical, emotional, or mental, symptoms noticed and behavioral changes, doctor visits with the outcomes or listing the questions needed to be asked prior to the visit.  Notes can be made of other appointments, medications taken and any changes in medications, plus any noticeable changes of the care recipient when trying a new drug.  Records of eating habits and changes in habits can be duly noted.  Journals work for bills needing to be paid, or tasks that need doing, or just making a grocery list.  If you are a paid caregiver, keeping track of tasks you do, but family may be unaware of, may help with future pay increases.

Journals can be a place for both positive and negative issues, concerns, habits.  They can be a record of events, memories, appointments, changes.  They can handle questions you have for the family, for God, for yourself.  Thoughts can be finished in them, thoughts you began during a moment of quiet.  Journals give unconditional acceptance and they offer silence.  You may be able to gain a new perspective, restore a bit of sanity too.  Journals offer a balance to this life when things seem and are hard.  It is a place to find joy or gratitude in a moment.  Praying can be calming and can be a reminder as to how and when God answered those prayers.  Writing poetry can be a creative outlet that may be much needed.  Even writing down recipes can give the family something new to try around the table.

Studies have found that journaling reduces anxiety and stress by giving some relief, allowing the journalist ability to handle some of life’s stresses far better.  They have found that there are less doctor visits, improved lung and liver function, lowered blood pressure, even a relief of some symptoms of asthma and Rheumatoid arthritis.  It can even lessen depression, and placing one in a better mood.

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.” And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Matthew 13:51-52

Jesus spoke to the scribes who became His followers. The word scribe here refers to a clerk, public servant, secretary or recorder, possibly a teacher of the law.  As a scribe, and as we understand His word, the storehouse is filled with the treasures of this new creation that we continue to become, plus it can contain God’s truth, grace, salvation, and love.  We can draw from all as we write before our Creator!

If the mind of the care recipient still holds memories and they are able to communicate, let them write thoughts and feelings.  Journaling just might be good for them.  If they cannot write, but can tell you stories, you might be able to write their words as they tell you about their past.  If they ask over and over what day it is, you might have them journal every day the day of the week, the date, the weather, and even some of their feelings in a word or a few.  When they ask again what today is, draw them back to this journal.  Possibly with recall, they will be able to find this information on their own.  Using a journal to draw, scribble, or doodle can also be a way for them to release that creative spirit, even enjoy themselves for a few minutes (and give you a break as well).  I recently did a workshop on journaling and caregiving during National Caregivers’ Month.  We gave new, blank journals out to all there.  A caregiving wife gave her husband one of these journals and doodled some swirling lines on one page, then handed him a few crayons.  He completely lost himself in this activity.  As I wandered around the room after I finished talking, I saw that she had written on his completed page, “G… really enjoyed himself.”  She saw what this small activity had done for her husband and could possibly help her when she needed a few moments for herself or other duties.    

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”  Revelation 21:5

These are precise words to a prophet with a specific assignment, yet God can commission His children to write for His purposes.  God could have communicated with mankind in any way He pleased.  One way He chose is the written word.  Even if no one else ever sees the words you write, He may be using them for your edification, for your learning, to show You His love for you.  Do not shy away from using this tool.  Be open to His voice as He speaks to you through His Word and the words you place on the pages.

Father, as You walk with us through this journey of caregiving, show us why it is so important to express ourselves through the written word, through coloring or doodling.  I pray that we are able to place our lives in Your hands as You guide us to open floodgates or open pinholes of emotion, stress, duties, or familial relationships.  May our minds be set upon You 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.   

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I would like to share a few other resources with you.  Some may help with the journaling and others are may be a benefit in giving you islands of calm amidst chaos or stress:

Brackey, Jolene, Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia: A Journal for Caregivers, Fourth Edition

Boss, Pauline, Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping With Stress and Grief

Carter, Rosalynn, Helping Yourself Help Others: A Book for Caregivers

Free, Betty, Quiet Moments for Caregivers – Devotional and Worship Ideas for Care Givers and Care Receivers

Out of print but available online through used bookstores; excellent devotional.

Hughes, Holly J., Editor, Beyond Forgetting, Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer’s Disease  (http://www.beyondforgettingbook.com)

Levine, Carol, Living in the Land of Limbo: Fiction and Poetry about Family Caregiving  (anthology of short stories and poems about family caregivers written by renowned authors and many others)

Mace, Nancy L. and Peter V. Rabins, The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss, Fifth Edition (**I highly recommend this book for reference and important information.**)

Newmark, Amy and Angela Timashenka Geiger, Chicken Soup for the Soul-Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias, 101 Stories of Caregiving, Coping, and Compassion

Rosenberger, Peter, Hope for the Caregiver: Encouraging Words to Strengthen Your Spirit 

Sheehy, Gail, Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence