I Might Need to Go Home…

I think I may need to go home for a bit.  This is my 11th day straight of being here with my sweet nonagenarian. I have three more days to go and then I’m going to have my break down, cat scan and meltdown. But, even while I am having them, I will miss him. I will miss his silliness, his voracious appreciation for Waffle House and his “I-can-try-this” spirit. 

While there’s so much fun at his house, including, this time, a 4th of July visit from the Giselbachs, and a birthday party for my daughter Hannah, there are also some compromises you learn to make—compromises in cleanliness and order, schedules and nutrition. You learn to cut corners. You learn to improvise. You learn that there are some smallish things you just allow to blow away in the big wind of making life the best it can be, even in its decline.

For instance: 

  1. You compromise on the definition of a dirty towel. “This one could hang around for one more bath.”
  2. You’re up for sleeping very late in the morning if the nonagenarian is game (which is a rarity, for sure.)
  3. You give in on your eleventh visit to “the House” and order a waffle at the place that bears the name of that perforated disc of unprofitable calories. 
  4. You find  a lot of entertainment value in watching high school kids that you’ve never heard of playing basketball and you even start rooting for something called “east” in said game. 
  5. Although your husband is a clock repairman, you ask him to disable the striking function of that clock in Dad’s bedroom, just hoping it might be the culprit in the gazillion night time  trips to the bathroom. 
  6. And that dog! What is so good about that ”best dog he has ever had”?? Best is not what I use to describe that flower-digging, trash retrieving, shoe chewing, mud-slinging, child- mauling, yard littering, deer chasing mutt. But I love that dog, anyway. He brings great joy to the one who thinks he is Lassie reincarnated. 
  7. Does it really matter if birthday presents are wrapped in Christmas paper in July? I think not.
  8. Do you have to have swim diapers for babies to get in the pool? They’re nice, but nah. 
  9. And does the P-H level in the pool have to be right on? Do all the leaves have to be swept out? I’ve had a great time in a lot of creeks, so I guess, no. 
  10. Can pants with jelly, coffee, mud and ketchup on them be worn to worship? Sure, just make sure it’s all on the tie, too. You need a match. 
  11. Clean carpet may be overrated anyway.
  12. You can’t worry about money you poured into a pool that’s still cloudy or plants that got dug up, or medicine that got spilled in the dish water, or hearing aids that got microwaved in a bowl of jelly beans. Irretrievable=Forgotten.
  13. Trade-offs are important. Sometimes you trade a few blood pressure points for a great dessert and a happy camper in the ward. 
  14. Sometimes the safest walker is not the coolest one. So you go for cool and stay very close by.
  15. When you’re more tired than you’ve ever been, you go ahead and do those band stretches and can lifts right along with him. You know you need them anyway and he is 94! You know he’s got to be even more tired than you!
  16. Rejoice about the mud in the car. It means he is still going places and that’s why you bought those mud mats anyway.
  17. Don’t fret over contradictions like “Why is a ninety-four-year-old man applying something called ‘Youthair’” ? Fretting uses up brainpower.
  18. Don’t worry that you cannot explain everything to his satisfaction. Sometimes you just have to say “Well, I know it might be better sometimes to do this your way, but today, we are going to have to do it like this.” or “I know you are capable of doing this alone, but we are always going to do this together….That’s just how it is.”
  19. It’s really okay to put the towels in the machine with the dress slacks occasionally. Sometimes you just have to choose between dirty and fuzzy. I pick fuzzy.
  20. It’s okay to use Clorox wipes on everything…really. Remember, what kills a mouse in a laboratory probably won’t kill a man, and this man’s been through World War II already.
  21. Does it really matter if something way back there in the refrigerator is getting moldy? Does it really matter right now… tonight? Probably not. After all, you are here and you are getting out all the food for all the meals and you can probably recognize mold when you open it later.
  22. Does it matter if he wants you to order enough black Pilot pens on eBay to almost certainly outlive him (I mean 100 of them)? no. Someone will use them. 
  23. Does it matter if he wants to engage every stranger who has on an Alabama shirt, hat or even carries an Alabama keychain …I say, does it matter if he wants to engage him about football? No. In fact, people usually even enjoy that. 
  24. Is six eggs a day too many for one person? Well, it’s hard to criticize the diet of somebody who’s made it to 94. 
  25. Is it always just wrong to have the window open in one room while the central AC is running? You have to really think about this one, but when it makes the person who freezes in July comfortable in his little bedroom at night while still making everyone else sleep a little better in those precious hours, I say “God bless it!”  

See, here’s the thing. Contentment is comprised of compromise. If you’re unwilling to compromise the happiness and well-being of the one who provided for you when you were small and extremely dependent, you learn to live with other, smaller compromises. After all, he probably did without a few luxuries, made a few sacrifices, got up a few times at night and expended some energy even in some tired times to be sure I made it to this place of calling more of the shots. It’s all good. 

I’m surely not perfect at this care-giving thing. My sisters are both better than I. I come to the end of the rope sometimes before I’ve tied the knot. I talk in maxed-out decibels sometimes when I’m not sure the hearing aid is really at fault. I sometimes cry and I fall asleep in unusual places. I’m pretty sure my judgment is impaired at times. I can get to a point of poor listening and quick response. And today, I told the doctor, “There’s one more thing I need to tell you.” …and then I totally forgot what that thing was. I think something about Dad being forgetful. 

But I’m hoping the care we can give him is still better than the alternative care by people who do not know him. They might not be willing or able to make all the compromises. They might not even know about the place we are going where there are no necessary compromises, which is really the catalyst for all our decisions for all of life’s challenges.  I know that some good people certainly have to rely on care from outsiders.  I get that. It’s a  difficult compromise we may yet have to make. But for now, it feels right to make other, more insignificant compromises for contentment. Protecting life and nurturing it on both ends of the spectrum, from unborn to elderly, are responsibilities from God. Sometimes compromises: financial, social and practical, are required to try and make sure we do not compromise spiritually. The key is making them with joy. We are still blessed by much joy in the home of this nonagenarian.

 

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…]