TITLE: Reluctant Caregivers: A Tale Of Two Sisters 5/20/19
By Linda Lawrence
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I seldom struggle with fear. However, if pressed, I would confess to two fears. One, someone in our family getting Alzheimer’s. Secondly, my mother having to live in my home.
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Mom was the first to suspect she had Alzheimer's. We talked on the phone every two or three months and she started expressing concern about losing things and her inability to help the kids with math at the school where she was a part of the Foster Grandparents program. The principal assured her she was good at loving and encouraging the kids. The teacher would handle the math. It sounded like the same memory struggles I have—what we must expect as we grow older.
I flew to Nevada from Oregon to go with Mom and Dad to the University of Reno's Alzheimer's Center for a diagnosis. Dad confided to me he knew he wasn’t a caregiver. He expected her to take care of him. Nevertheless, Mom’s suspicions were true. She did have Alzheimer’s.
The next time my husband and I visited my folks we were shocked to see how much they had aged. They had both stopped coloring their hair. Mom had always been particular about her feminine and coiffed appearance, striving for Dad’s approval. But now she had let her hair grow out long—to try to charm Dad. But it was unflattering, making her look ten years older. His obvious disdain for Mom’s valiant attempts to please him had taken its toll, draining her joy. Dad spent most of his time in a recliner, using either his inhalator or oxygen. My heart sank at the sight of tubing from an oxygen tank taped along the hall from the bedroom to the living room, stirring my hyperventilating aversion to nursing homes.
During a late night talk with Dad, he confessed to having a very difficult time being patient with Mom's growing inability to complete simple tasks, to find her way home from the grocery store, to find her way from the bedroom to the kitchen. I was concerned, knowing of Dad's low tolerance for Mom's weaknesses.
I remembered Mom’s one fear--confided several years earlier. “I’m afraid if I ever need to be cared for . . . “ Mom paused, then whispered, “There will be no tenderness.”
Mom deserved tenderness. She had cared for many elderly men and women as a home health worker. I had heard Dad harangue her for serving these people beyond the call of her paid duties. To him, she was a do-gooder who didn't know boundaries. To her, the helpless were precious and she would do whatever she could to help them—while trying to keep out of trouble with her husband. I admired Mom’s serving heart while understanding Dad’s irritation with her. Mom had patiently and tenderly cared for Dad during his recovery from a stroke, but my father seemed incapable of tenderness or patience towards her. I'm not a naturally tender person myself but that whispered cry, fearing harshness when she was vulnerable, softened my heart for a moment and I made her a rash promise. "Don't worry, Mom, I promise your children will see you are cared for with tenderness.”
As Carl and I drove back to Oregon, we wondered aloud if we would see them both alive together again.
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Dad had another stroke and Mom spent her days at the hospital caring for him. On Thanksgiving Eve Dad was in a coma. Mom had said and sung all her last goodbyes to him and slipped away for an hour to attend a Thanksgiving service at her church—and when she returned he had slipped away into eternity. It was finished. Her days and nights of rejected love were over. She phoned her children, went to bed, and slept.
I arrived at noon two days later, imagining how Mom was coping. I assumed she would be confused and despondent, but when she greeted me at the door I was dumbfounded. Music filled the air and Mom’s open arms invited me to enter into her joy. Her full skirt floated gracefully as she swayed to the music, singing like Miriam, dancing in thankfulness for God’s salvation and the beginning of the journey to the Promised Land.
My mind whirled as Mom’s body twirled, trying to grasp how Mom could be so obviously overflowing with holy joy. What had happened? I was the first to hear her story.
That morning she woke up, alone, suddenly fully conscious of being both orphan and widow. Then, she remembered a promise to the fatherless and the widow. Gradually the words of Isaiah surfaced: “… Do not fear… you will forget … the reproach of your widowhood… the Lord has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit… For your Maker is your husband… I will have mercy on you—says the Lord, your Redeemer.”
For most of her married life her husband resented her love for her Lord. As the Redeemer’s tender compassionate words sank in, it dawned on her she was no longer a married woman, but a widow. She was free to take another husband and the implications of her Lord’s words filled her with joy.
Rejoicing in her freedom to give herself to her Maker wholeheartedly, without restraint, Mom said she began dancing and shouting, “I qualify!”
I arrived just as the dance was winding down. But from that day on Mom never stopped dancing in her spirit.
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