The added layer of angst for a family caregiver comes from a sense of betrayal and loss because the loved one is drawing yet further away. Oh how we cling to the last vestiges of the mom/dad/spouse/sibling we once knew.
Our new challenge is incontinence. I had naively thought I would not have to deal with this issue. I have always said, "Once Mom is no longer able to navigate her way to the bathroom by herself, she will need nursing home care." In my mind this would be a time when she was unable to stand and walk independently. The choice would be clear-cut. Of course more seasoned caregivers are shaking their heads at me right now; dementia patients often forget proper toileting procedures before they forget how to walk. But I had nevertheless clung to a bit of wisdom offered me by our elder care attorney early on in this journey: "It is transfer issues that put people in nursing homes; inability to transfer from bed to wheelchair, and from wheelchair to toilet, etc." The interpretation I placed upon these words was faulty; I did not envision a time when Mom would be physically able to walk but would lack motivation or a strategy to do so. She waits for "guidance" as she calls the directions I give, and she reserves the right to resent that guidance.
I've adapted to the increased caregiving load. After these years that really wasn't terribly difficult. But Mom's anger and resentment has made our cleanup sessions nearly unbearable for me. She has kept up a constant flow of hurtful words about my motives and lack of competence; and with amazing virtuosity for someone whose thinking skills are so compromised finds her target in my heart. I have felt devastated by her words, which have felt nothing short of abusive.
Today I took this matter to the Lord in prayer and these thoughts came:
Your mother is defending herself because your responses to her accidents are perceived as accusations. She feels criticized and responds with acerbic anger. You can defuse her anger with a low key response and a matter-of-fact attitude. Understand that, at times, her inner voice of self-condemnation becomes tangled in her mind with your responses so that she believes the condemnation is coming from you when it is not. Pray for her as you work, and this will set up a shield from the accusations in her head, and will provide shielding for you as well. The enemy’s barbs are defused of power to devastate when you are praying for your adversary, even when that adversary is a loved one.
Sure enough, when I charted my initial responses to finding her seated in her own waste with no sign of discomfort or remorse, I realized I'd responded with shock and amazement rather than calm acceptance. And, I felt it necessary to explain to her what she had done (because she evidently didn't know), and so made her feel accused.
There was a deep sense of injustice, at first, that after all I've done for Mom that now I should be expected to do this. Yes, I felt God should not ask this of me. But this week the Sunday School material I prepared for the 1st through 3rd grade class at our church outlined the story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet. The Holy Son of our God, our King, kneeling, washing smelly, dirty feet... I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:15).
Jesus didn't give up on us when He found us soiled with the stain of our sin, He cleaned us up and has presented us to the Father as children of God, fit to enter the Kingdom. He did this for us. And sometimes He teaches us--in ways more graphic than we would have liked--how to love one another as He has loved us. The good news is that when He puts us in these situations He also provides amazing help; all that's really required of us is our willingness to go where He sends us and to do what He asks. He provides everything else. I've felt the comfort of His presence and provision of the smallest things I need as I go about this work He's provided me to do.
He'll do the same for you.
Note: I have been prepared for these recent challenges over eleven years of caregiving for my mom. Twenty years ago when my father underwent similar difficulties during the months he was dying of lung cancer, I couldn't face those challenges; I was unable to help him in this way. Don't condemn yourself if you have been unable to minister to a loved one as I've described here. There's no shame in not being able to do a back flip if you aren't a gymnast! God prepares us for the challenges He provides.