God-mother, companion, and “foggy brain buddy” to a sweet child who endured forty brain surgeries before the age of eight.
In-home caregiver to my father-in-law, who died of Parkinson’s disease and my mother, who died of Alzheimer’s.
Advocate for an “adopted daughter” and young mother who lost her husband to cancer.
Close friend to a mom who lost her eight-year-old son to brain cancer.
Most recently, I’ve been a caregiving supporter to my brother, his wife, and his children and their spouses who are caring for my aging father. Each time my phone rings and I see my brother’s number of my nephew Brian’s number, I steel myself for the possible news that my dad is gone. Each time I talk to Dad on the phone, I remind myself that we could be talking for the last time. He’s ninety-one, and he’s already exhausted his options for heart surgery.
“I’m wearing out,” he tells me every time we talk. He doesn’t have to say it. I can hear it in his voice.
I know it’s coming, but still I struggle to prepare for life without parents. Even though my mother died four years ago, her pink robe still hangs on a hook inside my closet. Not a day passes that I ache to see her and hear her laugh.
Caregiving can feel like a wilderness experience. Many of us are walking our loved ones to the gates of death, and we’re not given a guidebook for the journey. Some of us wake up one morning to find ourselves navigating unfamiliar territory without supplies or sign of an oasis in sight. And like the cast on the Survivor television series, people around us can suddenly become motivated by self-protective instincts.
Apart from the grace of God, I could easily have spiritually perished in the desert of caregiving. But my dad helped teach me how to find abundance in desert places. For the past twenty years, I’ve watched him relinquish his freedom and give up what he could have claimed as his “rights.” Instead, he chose to release his past in order to embrace his future. The future my father embraced was a vision for the best possible good of his wife. He chose to live with my mom in a home for residents with Alzheimer’s, even though he was capable of living independently elsewhere and enjoying a lifestyle of relative freedom. I watched as my dad chose contentment out of devotion to my mother. His attitude gave him the ability to enjoy the time he spent serving my mother, rather than enduring it.
I’m grateful for a father who showed me how to seek something better than my own way. Through my caregiving experiences, I was ambushed by God’s grace and changed.
Thank you, Dad, for living a truth I could see.