Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Morning Encouragement for Caregivers

In one of the Lord of the Rings movies, the elf princess Arwen's father urges her to take the ship to what is the elven version of Heaven, the Undying Lands. Arwen sets out to obey her father, whose desire is to spare her pain. But she sees a beautiful child in a vision, and understands that in addition to the inevitable grief and death that are part of being human, there will also be joy and life. She chooses a mortal life instead of embarking on a journey to what is essentially Paradise.

I remembered this movie scene this morning as I lay in bed, exhausted; asking the Lord's permission to stay home this morning and rest.

As a caregiver I have chosen only to postpone Paradise, not to forgo it. In my imperfect way, I have attempted to follow the example of St. Paul, caregiver extraordinaire. In Philippians 1:20-26, Paul says that he will choose to stay and minister to the people the Lord has entrusted to his care, even though to depart would be much better for him. Paul was talking about whether to die or to live, but I think his words can be extended to include the choice made by all who accept the anointing of caregiver; whether to choose the 'life' of going our own way and pleasing ourselves, or the 'death' of laying down our lives for the sake of someone we love.

As caregivers we have a unique opportunity to follow the example of the One who is the ultimate provider of care to those who are in need, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ's example of dying in order to live is a template for all Christians, but as caregivers I think we have a special opportunity to learn how to give as Christ gave.

I think the Lord set Arwen's story into my mind this morning to remind me that there is also joy. Being needed is a great blessing. Like most of you, I serve in the role of caregiver not just to my Alzheimer's patient, but to a number of others as well. Sometimes the care I provide is more as an intercessor and confidante than in terms of actual physical labor, but the commitment to be fully present for those who need me is definitely there. It is as though once we as caregivers say to the Lord, "Here I am, take me and use me as you will," that He wants to double and triple and quadruple the blessing He is able to provide through us. And aren't we blessed as a result!

I get tired and cranky. Worse than that, I become afraid, and fear blinds me to the Lord's comforting voice. But this morning I'm aware of His gentle compassion and the warmth of his approval, and I remember that in this caregiving journey, there is indeed joy. I pray each of you can find
the joy today.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


When a loved one is stricken with Alzheimer's disease, there is almost always an accompanying sense of guilt-producing shame on the part of the caregiver. In response to emerging aberrant behaviors in one who was formerly competent and admirable, the caregiver's shame creates a desire to protect the loved one from being unfairly judged by others. Most caregivers attempt to "cover" for their loved ones who have dementia, but some take it so far as to attempt to avoid an official diagnosis. This can't go on indefinitely, because untreated Alzheimer's disease tends to progress in ways that become hard to hide.

Another sad secret is that when dementia strikes, the patient loses the ability to hide sinful behaviors. These tend to emerge and, depending on the individual and the specific nature of the negative behavior, cause varying degrees of difficulty. Since there are no sin-free people, this is a universal problem, and it is one that has caused sorrow for me; not because I was previously unaware of my mother's sins, but because now other people can see them clearly as well.

I love my mother fiercely and protectively. I remember her as she was pre-dementia, when she was my closest confident, my number one admirer, and the person who could be depended upon to pray for me any hour of the day or night. When I look in the mirror I am blessed to see a strong resemblance to my mother. I love her so much that when she is gone from me, the ways that I resemble her physically will be a comfort to me; a way that she will remain with me for all of my life. I am determinedly glad, too, for the ways I resemble her spiritually.

However, Mom has become, in a word, crotchety. She peers at her world from beneath a ferocious frown that I know to have been borne of suffering, but is interpreted by others as anger. Just recently a young nurse responded negatively when Mother barked out a cranky sounding remark and then, in a failed attempt at humor, uttered an expletive when the nurse helped her to the scales and Mom was told how much she weighed. The girl was shocked, and acted thoroughly affronted. I just wanted to pull out a home movie of my mother from 25 years ago and force this young woman to watch it through and to admit that my mother was admirable then, and behind the facade of dementia and old age, she is admirable still.

And Lord preserve me from people who would corner me to tell me of the latest strange or amusing thing my mother has done. I am aware of my mother's oddities. I wish that other people who interact with Mom would understand that, during the rare times I am not the front-line recipient of Mom's dementia related behaviors, I can be kept on a need-to-know basis!

I guard my mother carefully and sometimes I keep her separated from social interactions in order to protect her. I try so hard to protect her from the judgments of other people. Sometimes I have fear that other people misinterpret my commitment to keeping Mom apart.

During prayer time one morning I felt the Lord say to me, "You have false guilt concerning your mother. There is a sense of shame I would have you release to me."

This morning I understand that my commitment to protect my mother is praiseworthy, and not shameful. My prayer for myself and for caregivers who read these words is that we are able to pray for our care recipients, love them, and then to leave in God's hands how they are perceived by others.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Count Every Moment

Over the past few months, I've become uncomfortably aware of the passage of time. I feel helpless against the inexorable flow of an ongoing parade of moments that can never be recaptured, moments that are bringing me closer to final partings that will cause my heart grief.

This morning during prayer I heard the Lord say,

"Stop trying to make every moment count, and instead, count every moment."
This led me to a feeling of despair, because I envisioned a brow furrowing focus on the passage of time; a helpless observation of days that can never be recaptured. But further clarification came:
"As a teacher, you have striven to recognize the value of each individual child; treasuring their unique characteristics. You have not looked at them as a mass of unidentifiable grains of sand. You have sought to treasure them individually, as the Lord treasures them."

"Individual moments of time can be likened to the students you have cherished. Each of them has value in God's sight. Each is unique, and precious."

"Indwell each moment, and you will see that not one of them is lost. It is more as though each moment well spent is placed in God's bank. The only moments that are lost are those that are not counted. Count each moment as being precious to the Lord."
For today, I will abide in the Lord in the moment I am in, and pray to see the beauty of each precious moment He has gifted to me.

Scripture: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).