Sister to Sister: Dear Caregiver…

images-2Dear Caregiver,

I saw you trying to talk your mother into wearing that hearing device for worship. Nothing doing, though.  I saw you pick up the song book when she dropped it…and then the Bible.

I saw you shhhhushing your father when he talked out loud during the communion. I saw you discreetly wipe the grape juice spill from his tie.

I saw you holding your child, the one who was born so prematurely…the one who can’t hold his head up and who has that loud congested pattern of breathing. I saw you just look down at him and smile when someone sitting in front of you stared back toward you out of sheer (and rude) curiosity.

I saw you entertaining your Down’s child while all the other children were in their classes.

I saw you marching those six ‘spic’ foster children down the aisle to your pew—the pew with all of the coloring books and kids “sermon sheets” scattered everywhere. I saw you apologizing to Sister Jones when she gave you that speech about how we have a cry room for children who are disturbing the service.

I saw you weep a little when your aged mother struggled to reach the notes for “In the Sweet By and By,” but did not miss a syllable of the words in any of its verses.

I saw you unfolding the walker, pushing the wheelchair, and wiping noses and drools. I saw you picking up dropped things– pills, pieces of food, and conversations.

I heard you laughing about old times with people who can well remember those, although they can seldom remember what happened five minutes ago.

Then I saw you at home— washing sheets and sorting socks, changing diapers and crumbling cornbread into glasses of buttermilk. I saw you cleaning toilets, scrubbing dentures, burning trash, raking leaves, carting off fallen branches, and cleaning out gutters. I saw you carry in that new mattress by yourself and I saw you getting out that ladder to change out light bulbs. I watched you wash curtains, patios and cars.

You are one of the few women that I’ve ever seen washing feet in the real “service” sense of washing feet; you were washing them for people who can no longer reach their feet.

I saw you at the ER, the clinic, the pain center and the pediatrician’s office. I saw you in the hospital room, the waiting room, the therapy room, and the nursing home room. I’ve passed you in the retirement center, the trauma center, and the homeless shelter. I’ve seen you feeding, reading, treating and pleading. I’ve seen you laugh because the other alternative is crying and I’ve seen you cry when you are too tired to laugh any more.

I’ve seen you treating pain when your own pain must surely be, at least, comparable and I’ve watched  you clean someone else’s house that was already cleaner than the one you live in.

I know your husband and your children, too. I know that they often miss you, but that someone has taught them to be unselfish, too, and so they are content to support you as you care for others.

I see your suitcase that rarely ever gets put in the closet. I’ve seen your Delta credit card statement and your frequent flyer miles statements. You accumulate them quickly and then use them up going the same route for which you accumulated.

I’ve seen your pocketbook that has your checks and bank statements and someone else’s, too. I’ve seen you file two sets of tax forms, mow two yards, stock two pantries and keep the oil changed in two cars.

I know you sometimes are reimbursed for expenditures, but I also know that’s not always the case. I understand that some expenditures of emotion and time and stress are not reimburse-able. You don’t get reimbursed for the nights of sleep you lost rocking that baby or for the back pain you experienced during and after lifting that elderly gentleman. You don’t get reimbursed for the humiliation you suffered when the dementia kicked in and your mom, who has never used a curse word in her life, yelled obscenities at you in the foyer before worship. You don’t get any payback for sleep lost in the middle of the night when a child is sick or frightened or for the panic that ensues when you can’t reach your elderly parent. You don’t get reimbursed for time lost looking for things lost: hearing aid batteries, telephones, post office box keys, reading glasses, sippy cups, pacifiers, medications…even cars in parking lots.

I’ve noticed that you really do enjoy what you do because you really love that person who is so utterly dependent on you. But I also can’t help but notice that sometimes your job is not pretty. Sometimes it’s embarrassing… sometimes smelly…and always demanding.

I’m proud of you, though, because in all the situations, you keep learning. You’ve learned how to use Pampers or Depends, Orajel or Polident, Gripe Water or Miralax, video monitors or blood pressure monitors, high chairs or lift chairs, developmental therapy or occupational therapy and walkers or…well…walkers. You’re spending your time waiting –praying–for things to develop and grow, or watching–praying–while they fade away and fall out.  It really is a circle of life. Helpless to helpless we go in the natural course of this life.

But sweet and very strong Caregiver, you do what you do, not because you have to do it…not even because you know it may be necessary for someone to do it one day for you. Look around. Not everyone who could be caring for a loved one IS caring. Not everyone who will one day need the care is giving it today. There are many people who ultimately need care before they ever stop to give care. You, on the other hand, are one of many irreplaceable people who gives some of yourself every day to make life happen for people who just can’t go it alone…people who are valuable, people who have eternal souls, many of whom will one day be whole and burden-free on the other shore. You provide necessities, comfort and security for them till that sweet day of release.

You are the light of the world to a life shadowed by disability, the salt of the earth to one who, but for you, faces days of tasteless monotony, the city on a hill for someone who desperately needs a reason to look up. You are spending your time with “the least of these”. You are spending time with the Lord.

And in this precious process, you are happy. There may be some tears and some angst here and there, but you count even those days as blessings. You are doing exactly what you want to do. [Read more…]

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