I thought I was pretty grown up, until my dad had a stroke in 2009.
That’s when I became a caregiver.
And that’s when I realized I really didn’t know much of anything. Anything of importance anyway.
I’ve been helping my folks, 90 and 93, for five years now. Before that, skipping around the world as a career Air Force wife, raising three children, teaching, writing, hitting the gym, trying new recipes….my life was adventuresome and blessed. I never thought much about aging, let alone my folks’ aging process.
After Dad’s stroke, it was right in front of me. Not long after the stroke, Parkinson’s began to appear in his limbs. Mom’s hearing began to get worse. She needed back surgery. Then, she fell and needed hip surgery.
My folks moved to an assisted living facility a mile from me. That first year, Mom fell and badly broke her shoulder…more surgery. Dad developed a brain bleed and needed surgery. They were both diagnosed with some dementia. Within a span of five years, my parents went from independence to wheelchairs.
I have lived with a persistent sadness ever since.
Before you click away, thinking, what a gloomy post this is, let me say I have learned more about myself and God in the past five years than I learned in the decade prior.
I’d like to share with you what God has shown me.
1. If you are genuine about serving the Lord, you must be unattached to your own agenda. Whatever game plan you have for your own life, be willing to toss the playbook aside if God changes the rules.
2. Watching your parents decline is sad. At some point, they are not going to get better. There’s no way around that. However, it’s OK to be sad. Grieving our health and youth and vigor is expected. It helps us to remember this world is a temporary pit stop. We were never designed to be on the planet forever. God has a permanent home for us that will dry all tears and bring lasting peace.
3. My glaring impatience revealed itself early on in caring for my folks. I didn’t know how locked in I was to having my own timetable until I was forced to move at a geriatric pace in order to help Mom do anything. It hit me how selfish I was. I think of Christ, who met everyone right where they were, and spoke immediately to their soul, not to their disabilities.
4. Right when I think I’m not comfortable taking on more responsibility as a caretaker, God gives me another thing. It’s happened more than once. I think He likes to mess with me. What I’ve now accepted is this: until my folks are in heaven, God is going to keep giving me things to do. I’m the one He has placed in this position, and if I trust Him, I will be OK. So the question becomes, daily – do I trust Him? (Yes, I do. Ultimately.)
5. Our kids are watching. How I care for my parents is how they’ll care for me.
6. God is good ALL THE TIME. Not just when the folks are stable, and I’m getting enough sleep. But, when Dad’s in the hospital, and Mom has a UTI, and there’s no hot water at their ALF, and my house is a wreck, and I’m not getting any writing done. He’s good even then.
7. There can still be laughter. Mom calls her pantiliners “i-pads.” A resident at the ALF takes her teeth out to eat and tucks them in her bra. We still celebrate the holidays together and share stories (sometimes the same ones) and go to the ice cream shop and pray together at church. Aging takes the body’s strength and acumen, but it can’t eradicate the spirit, which is where God resides. That connection will not be broken.
8. Someday, probably sooner than I will be ready for, God will call my parents home. This season of my life will end. I don’t know what God will ask me to do then, but I pray I will be unafraid. He is leading me though this unexpected journey, and I believe He will continue to guide me in whatever adventure He has lined up next.