Today marks the beginning of Mom's fourth week in nursing home care. I am surprised by how difficult this transition has been; I thought the grief of parting would be balanced by the vast relief of liberation from being constantly on call. However, my time commitment to Mom's needs hasn't lessened during this transition time. The time I spend at the nursing home is balanced by a new freedom from the physical demands of caregiving, but another unwelcome surprise has been a sense of grief. Ministering to someone as I have ministered to my mother engenders a special kind of love. We might say that it is impossible to give so much without caring deeply: thus the term "caregiver." In my desperation to be freed of the burdens of caregiving, I underestimated how I would miss the blessings of giving so much.
I was surprised by the steep learning curve of acclimating myself to Mom's new environment. As the person who knows my mother best, it has been my responsibility to learn how to communicate clearly with nursing home staff in an inoffensive way (though being inoffensive can't be my primary goal). I didn't know this would be so difficult. The hierarchy of authority among nursing home administration and staff wasn't immediately apparent to me (why didn't I just ask?). The administrators in the front offices were apparent, but there were bewildering numbers of aides, nurses, laundry workers, and kitchen attendants. And this is such a small nursing home; I can't imagine how much more challenging it would be to learn my way around a larger facility.
This morning's devotion time yielded a clear message for me: Rest! As I sank to the welcoming cushions of my old office couch awhile ago, I was reminded of how my mother--who in her prime moved quickly and worked hard--used to say, "Whew! I didn't know I was so tired until I sat down!" Until I quieted myself before the Lord and sought His directive today, I had no idea how depleted I felt.
When we stay busy in order to distract attention from grief, we rob ourselves of the solace of silence and rest. The awareness of God's healing presence in His ordained gift of rest can be masked by too much noise and busy-ness.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
Psalm 62:1 ESV
Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
my salvation comes from him.
Psalm 62:1 NIV
Here is a summary of today's recommendations for caregivers who are transitioning their loved ones to nursing home care:
1) Your time commitment to your loved one may temporarily increase during the first weeks of nursing home care. Plan for this.
2) Your focus needs to be your loved one's well-being rather than an attempt to be inoffensive to nursing home staff--but try to be inoffensive just the same! Maintaining a balance between being a good advocate for your loved one and not becoming a pain to his/her new caregivers requires much prayer.
3) Don't run away from the grief this transition will bring, or fill your days with tasks that bury the Lord's offer of solace with a weight of busy-ness. Find your healing in His arms as you quiet yourself before Him.
4) At the nursing home, ask this simple question, "Which person should I talk with when I have questions or input about caregiving issues?" I try to visit with the attendant who is charge of Mom's care before I take my concern to the nurse, and I visit with the nurse before I look for an administrator. This provides the opportunity for a problem to be corrected without triggering a correction or reprimand from a superior.
5) Larger nursing homes may have photos and names of staff on a website. This would facilitate learning names, which is important. You need to be able to greet these hard-working folks by name, it's just good manners, and respectful t'boot. It also sends a clear message that you are committed to partnering in your loved one's care, and makes them feel pleased (that you remember them), but also aware that you know exactly who they are should you need to visit with them about a caregiving issue. This is an important part of advocacy for your loved one.6) Be kind to these underpaid, compassionate people who perform the most lowly of tasks for so many people each day. Nursing home workers face burnout as they form emotional connections with terminal patients. They will cry with you when your loved one passes away, and they will cry with the next patient's family, and the one after that. Pray for them.