Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Confinement of Caregiving

All of us find ourselves dealing with difficult people from time to time. In fact, I’ve noticed that once in awhile, I am the difficult person with whom someone close to me has to cope!

A few days ago I received a prayer request from a friend who has the daily challenge of interacting with a difficult person of her own. As I prayed, the story of Jonah came to mind; and I remembered the strange way the Lord made provision for him: “But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

I wrote an email to my friend saying, “Being confined by any situation not of our choosing can be viewed as a provision from the Lord. God has gifted you through your difficult person. As you've learned to cope with her, you’ve gained virtues of patience, long-suffering, and forbearance.”

As I proofed the email I’d written to my friend, I realized that my words could be applied to a caregiver’s relationship with his/her care recipient. Taking care of someone who has dementia is certainly confining emotionally and usually physically as well. To think of my caregiving duties as a situation the Lord has provided for me reminds me there is no circumstance He has not designed. This is a liberating thought that gives freedom from the misconception that “If only this situation was different, I could be happy.”

If you have been provided a difficult caregiving situation, I hope you are encouraged today by the thought that God plans blessing for you and not harm through the circumstances that seem so confining now. Jonah didn’t stay forever in the belly of that fish! For caregivers, the knowledge that caregiving responsibilities will someday come to an end is bittersweet, because when that day of freedom arrives it will mean that our loved one has departed. God is with through these confining days of caregiving, and He will be with us when this time is done.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Encouraging Word for Christian Caregivers

The loneliness of caregiving is intensified by the fact that we tend to think something is wrong when we are in relationship with other human beings but still have a sense of isolation, of not being understood or truly seen; of being alone.

We need to accept that as long as we are at home in the flesh, we are away from Christ; and that this terrible homesickness and longing we feel can’t be satisfied by other human beings. We must accept as a fact of earth-bound life that we will feel lonely; that the only satisfaction for our heart’s needs is in our Savior’s face. We can access Him now, through the Spirit. Things that feed the flesh tend to weaken our perception of Him. Once we recognize this it becomes easier to discipline the flesh.

It’s difficult to accept that happiness--true, complete, lasting happiness--does not exist for us apart from Jesus. We can begin to participate in that happiness now, but flesh wars with the Spirit; and not until we leave the flesh behind will we be truly at home. Accepting this doesn’t have to do with spiritual maturity so much as it has to do with faith and the willingness to accept that on this planet, we are never going to have things just like we want them. Perfection can be found only in the Lord; it does not exist in the material world.

This acceptance is necessary before we can truly let other human beings off the hook for satisfying that aching emptiness within our hearts.

When circumstances require us to assume caregiving responsibilities for a fellow human being, there is a spiritual and emotional transition that must occur. We must come to understand that mature Christian love is Christ’s love, and Christ’s love makes no demands based on personal need. His only demand of us is that we become perfect as He is perfect. We can be perfected because we are perfectly loved by the Lord. That process will not be completed until Heaven, but it can begin now.

When I was a little girl, a dear friend of my mother's, Ruby Roberts, lost her husband to cancer. I was around eight-years-old and could not fathom living alone, as Ruby was doing following her husband's death. I asked her, "Are you lonely?"

She smiled and said, "I am alone, but never lonely. Jesus is with me."

As Christian caregivers I pray that we are able to participate in Christ's presence to the degree that we can say with Ruby, "I may be alone, but I am never lonely."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Name Game

An occupational hazard of taking care of a loved one who has dementia is fear. Almost every day some minor memory glitch finds me grappling with a low level anxiety that doesn't ever completely recede. I'm afraid that what has happened to my mom will happen to me.

I've never been great with names, which is unfortunate, because I've been a teacher for 30 years; and an almost universal pet peeve of students and former students is running into a teacher who does not remember their name.

Wal-mart is a treacherous place under the best of circumstances, but during the Christmas season everything that oppresses me about the store is multiplied about tenfold. Crowded aisles along with a ridiculous over-abundance of color, lights, and purchasing choices all combine to cause me sensory overload. I tend to retreat inside myself to the point that I might not immediately recognize my own children if I met them cart to cart in the produce section. Unfortunately, it is when I am rushing through the aisles in my Wal-mart induced haze that I am most likely to meet a former student.

Teachers are not helped when parents choose to bestow similar names upon their offspring, who almost always resemble one another. I think of three little boys in our community who are named Tyler, Timothy, and Trent*. These three little T's do not only have names that begin the same; their resemblance to one another is strong. I have actually prayed not to confuse these guys' names, only to find myself calling Tyler, Trent; and then running through each name in succession until the child in question (often with an air of resigned disgust) corrects me.

Last night at Wal-mart a tall, rangy young man with a full beard and long, blond hair asked the dreaded question, "Mrs. Born, do you remember me?"

I actually thought that I did. "David?!" I said.

"Close," he responded. I'm his brother, Daniel. We do look alike. I chatted pleasantly with him for a few minutes and went on my way. I actually felt somewhat self-congratulatory that on a moment's notice I'd managed to find a family resemblance in the 20-year-old I'd last seen when he was six.

In the very next aisle a beautiful young woman approached me. "You probably don't remember me," she said.

Sherie???" I said.

"No, Sheila," she replied. Sherie is my sister and she's over in the clothing department if you want to say "Hi."

In retrospect I don't know whether to feel happy that I was able to remember the correct families or sad that I did not instantly recall the right name for each of those precious young people who greeted me last night. Perhaps I'd best choose to accentuate the positive.

One strong positive has just occurred to me; after approximately 15 years (and 15 pounds or so) they were still able to recognize me!

My former students each possess a portion of my heart, and I hate when I don't recognize them or fail to call them accurately by name. Once again I fall back on God's grace as today I say a prayer for Sheila (and her sister Sherie) and Daniel (and his brother David).

Scripture: "...though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15).

*The children and their same first letter names are real, names are changed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Alzheimer's is Bad, but God is Good

Years ago I saw a TV show that contained a scene I've not forgotten, although I have no idea now of the plot surrounding the imagery that's stuck with me over time.  An infant was lying inside a special containment area because the child had to be protected from environmental dangers.  When medical personnel needed to minister to the child, they placed their hands into long gloves through specially designed portals in the clear box that held the sleeping infant.  The baby was completely shielded from bacteria and allergens that might be in the room.  Oxygen and food were somehow given through sterile and sealed portals such as the ones that held the gloves. 

That scene has been in my mind today as I think about the saying, "Everything comes to us by God's hand."

Sometimes, people who have been terribly hurt by life events take exception to this and similar statements.  I don't blame them.  If I believed that God had afflicted my mom with Alzheimer's as a sort of blessing in disguise, I would certainly object to the idea that life events that cost us terrible sorrow are actually good in some cosmic way we can't yet see.

In my early days as a caregiver, I struggled with the facts of my mother's suffering and the burdens I carry because of her Alzheimer's disease. I cried out in prayer and sought help through Scripture, aware of the Holy Spirit's comfort and help.  In chapter ten of my book,  My Mom Has Alzheimer's: Inspiration and Help for Caregivers, I recorded the guidance God graciously provided in response to those prayers:  
God does not willingly bring grief or suffering (See Lamentations 3:33;) His will flows over all that is grievous and changes darkness to light (See Psalm 18:28;) all things are incorporated into and transformed by His perfect will (See Romans 8:28;) where time and eternity touch, His will is done on earth as in Heaven (See Matthew 6:10;) we can’t yet perceive what we will one day see clearly because we walk by faith and not by sight. (See 1 Corinthians 13:12.)
 We are like that infant in the scene I described at the beginning of this post.  No outside influence touches us that is not covered by the protection of God's Hand.

Alzheimer's is not in any way a good thing, but the Lord has blessed us through it.  The blessings have come by the Lord's protective power and not from the disease itself.