TITLE: Reluctant Caregivers: A Tale of Two Sisters
By Bonnie Kronberger
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Reluctant Caregivers: A Tale of Two Sisters
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”
Charles Dickens—A Tale of Two Cities
The role of caregivers was thrust upon them, without invitation or consent, and they found themselves on the road to the worst of times, and miraculously, the best of times.
This is the tale of two sisters being held captive by their loved ones. Linda felt captive by her mother’s continual presence in her home and being tethered to her husband’s fears. Bonnie felt imprisoned by her husband’s mind that could no longer reason, leaving old and new hurts unresolved.
Each sister knew caregiving was not something she could do well in her own strength. Both doubted they could do it well even in God’s strength. But to their relief and frequent amazement, the sisters experienced God’s power and wisdom being revealed and even magnified in their weakness.
Linda’s caregiving challenges came to an end just as Bonnie’s came to light. The individual tales weave back and forth between them. Linda’s story unfolds gradually as God shows her, through significant flashbacks, how He had already prepared her for her assignment. Bonnie’s story is straight forward, with practical, creative caregiving insights gained through God’s very present on-the-job training.
This tale is offered to other reluctant caregivers to encourage them in the hope that the seemingly worst of times may also include the very best of times.
Life on the Ranch
Caregiving a spouse is not usually on one’s bucket list for retirement. As most bucket lists go, we shy away from the hard knocks and trials of life. Nevertheless, living keeps on giving.
I’m not sure when people begin dreaming about retirement. Somewhere in their fifties, I suspect. Hearing about all the snowbirds traveling to warm places for the winter brings dreams of leisurely recreation and visits with the grandkids.
In my heart I knew retirement lounging was just a dream. My husband had no such longing. His idea of adventure was to retire after thirty-something years of teaching high school to buy a cattle ranch. My dream after a career of elementary teaching pictured a rocking chair, a good book, and a cup of coffee.
God, in his goodness, led us to a 700 acre ranch in the beautiful Coast Range of Oregon. We named it Gloryland Angus Ranch, because everywhere we looked we saw God’s glory. Whenever life got hard, I’d hop on an ATV and go to the top of the mountain. The ride began along the coolness of the creek, among the shadows of overhanging tree branches. Reaching the top I would gaze upon mountain ranges, as far as the eye could see, shrouded in haze. This trip always refreshed my soul.
Ranching brought various adventures but not much relaxation. In retrospect, I must admit to good memories of the hard work. Gordon, my husband of fifty plus years, and I worked well together and our Angus herd grew. We made many improvements to the place, providing a wonderful gathering spot for family and friends.
My tale begins when some of Gordon’s behaviors were enough outside the norm to spark my awareness. I had been noticing some of his actions and conversations were a bit bizarre. Could I possibly be looking at dementia in the beginning stages? I realized I was helping him with many more tasks than usual. He could no longer hook up the farm equipment to the tractor without me directing the steps. He couldn't find tools in the shop. I recall him trying to attach an extension cord to the vacuum plug. He would quizzically look at it saying, “What the heck?” Watching from a distance I offered no help. He finally plugged the extension into itself. I wondered what was going on.
The place required lots of work to keep it operating well. Quick thinking, strength, and dexterity were necessary to safely accomplish all the tasks. We’d been operating the ranch for a few years after retiring from teaching. Our sixty-five head of cows birthed calves each year and feeding and caring for them kept us busy. We managed pretty well for a couple of oldies; Gordon being seventy-four while I was sixty-eight. But the last time we loaded the calves onto the trailer for transport to sell was an eye opener for me.
We had several men help but Gordon always insisted on being in the pen with the animals, pushing the panel forward to force the calves into the trailer. It was very dangerous business, because if one calf decided to turn back, the others followed, and men and panel had a hard time holding them. Once it was obvious the calves were turning and coming back, you had to be able to jump out of the way or get smashed by panel or calves!
We used a light shocking prod to keep the cattle moving. I remember asking Gordon to let the younger men do the panel pushing since his agility and ability to get out of the way was compromised. But he insisted it would be fine. He also held the electric prod. Everyone worked hard trying to get the cattle loaded but Gordon couldn’t remember to push and use the prod at the same time. Instead, he’d wave it like a whip. The calves were eventually loaded without incident, but it was clear to everyone that Gordon had become a safety liability.
What to do? It seemed logical I should take matters into my own hands and make changes to our operation before something bad happened. But Gordon seemed unaware of his declining capabilities and resisted my suggestions while accepting my help.
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