My aging parents’ deteriorating condition was overwhelming. Along with my mom’s slippage into Alzheimer’s disease, my dad was hospitalized with an infection.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." My only brother left the care to me. Maybe he feared that Dad would go first, leaving him to deal with Mom. She had good traits but had always been the more complicated parent. Both of us had struggled in life to accept her uniqueness, my brother more than I. During Dad’s illness, he had wanted to tuck Mom away in a nursing home. "No," I insisted. "People can receive care at home."
Managing Dad’s care and finding in-home assistance for Mom in Ohio, fell to me and my husband, even though we lived 1,300 miles away. After numerous trips and phone calls with hospitals, physicians, and care-givers, we moved Dad home to recover. However, a few weeks later, he died suddenly. Grief hit along with the details of planning his funeral and what to do with Mom. Dad had been her full-time care giver.
I had to try bringing Mom to our home in Florida. "We’re her family," I asserted. I couldn’t leave her alone in a facility in Ohio. "Who would visit her?" I questioned.
Because of the difficulties experienced growing up with Mom, it was more important than ever to me. I knew my heart could use some adjusting. With my brother’s withdrawal from her care, I sensed that God was offering me an opportunity. And, deep down, I wanted to be transformed more in the image of Christ.
Although I was certain it would be very hard, still, I believed it would be even harder in life if I missed this difficult journey and its potential refining benefits. 1 Peter 1:6-7 states,
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
We moved Mom to our house, while we anticipated the unknown. Well-meaning friends and co-workers warned us not to let Mom live with us, saying she would drain our energy and ruin our marriage. Nevertheless, I had to try and know that at least I had been willing. People asked what we were planning, "I don’t know," I confessed. It wasn’t a long-term plan, just day-by-day.
At first we tried to rotate care of Mom with our daughters. But none of us were prepared for her erratic behavior common to Alzheimer’s patients. At seventy-five years old, Mom wanted to return to her childhood home. She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t leave and accused us of holding her hostage. She had no memory of her parents’ deaths, fifty plus-years of marriage, or her own children and grandchildren.
At times, Mom thought my daughters were her sisters or peers. Sometimes she asked me, "Are you our mom?" It was only when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror that she noticed the difference, "Oh … is that me?" she quizzed us.
To say the least, it was extremely challenging for our entire family. We were suddenly providing round-the-clock care for a person who didn’t even know us, along with clearing out Mom and Dad’s home. Responsibilities also included managing her medication, paying Dad’s medical bills, choosing Dad’s headstone, taking Mom for check-ups, to the dentist, and etc. Mom couldn’t give us any input and I felt the weight of making the best choices for her, asking God for help in making these critical decisions.
With God’s help, we started on an unknown journey and everyday brought the unexpected. Some days she hid her medication instead of taking it or flushed her food down the toilet. Another day she threw her sandwich in the neighbor’s bushes. One time I found her pouring her drink down the bathroom sink and I scolded her, "Mom, just tell me if you don’t want it."
She looked remorseful and said, "I’m sorry. I won’t do it again." Then, it was I who felt badly.
Mom also sometimes mixed up her days and nights, getting up and dressed at midnight. And I was now bathing and grooming the woman who had given me life. It felt awkward and uncomfortable.
After a couple of weeks of upheaval in our house, we heard of an adult day care at a local church. She had been a pastor’s wife and going to church seemed to please her. It also helped to fill her days with activity and relieved us of some of the seemingly endless hours of care.
Each morning I bathed, dressed, fed, and dropped Mom off at day care, before driving to work. Soon I started to enjoy coordinating her clothes with her selection of earrings. Mom always loved looking nice and it was important for me to hold on to bits and pieces of her personality. The director at her day care would compliment her style, "Esther, you always have matching earrings!" she said. Her comments caused me to beam like a little girl who had lovingly dressed up her mommy doll.
One day, as I was helping her button her blouse, she said, "You really care about me, don’t you? I can tell." Her words ministered to me, encouraging me that although I couldn’t communicate to Mom that I’m her daughter, the love of God was being expressed to her in my practical day-to-day care of her.
The more I cared for her, seeing her human weaknesses intensified with the disease, the more I recognized my own. How could I be upset with her, when I had so many myself? Sure, she had failed in ways as a parent, but so have I. And, in seeing these weaknesses, instead of my love dwindling for her, the greater it grew towards her.
A quote by C.S. Lewis states, "This is one of the miracles of love: It gives the power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted." Through caring for Mom, I caught a glimpse of how God doesn’t love us less because of our weaknesses, but even more because of them.
Somehow, her dependency on me made me more aware of my dependency upon God. I realized how much I depend on Him to help me through each day of life. Also, of how I am unable to truly take care of myself and need His guidance and care just to survive daily challenges.
The resentments of the past melted away. A change happened inside my heart, one I had hoped would occur. After getting through the initial feelings of despair in trying to care for mom, God did a tender work in me. I found that caring for her wiped away unloving feelings and replaced those with a genuine deep fondness for her.