When her father and mother-in-law needed help, she thought her work had prepared her. She was wrong. Get her practical advice.
Posted in , Aug 24, 2017
A number with my hometown area code popped up on my cell. What now? It had been one emergency after another since my elderly father had moved into a care community 170 miles away. This was the nurse calling. “Your father is having trouble breathing,” she said. I rushed out of my office and made the three-hour drive to Ord, Nebraska, only to find Dad sitting there reading the newspaper and joking with the nurses. “Good to see you, honey,” he said with a wave.
“He’s feeling better now,” said the nurse who’d called me.
Crisis averted—for the time being. But there would be many more trips over the next few years, to see not only my ninety-something father but also my mother-in-law, who lived in a nursing home an hour away. My husband, Brian, and I discovered how stressful long-distance caregiving can be. In my job at Home Instead Senior Care, I’d interviewed dozens of experts on caregiver stress. I’d assumed I knew all I needed to know. Wrong. I had a lot to learn firsthand. Here’s some of it.
Don’t let guilt get you down. Every time I visited my mother-in-law, I remembered how she’d implored me decades earlier, “Please don’t put me in a nursing home.” She had worked in a home for the handicapped for years and dreaded ending up in a facility. But in her late eighties, she became so frail that a nursing home was the only responsible option. Brian and I and his extended family simply weren’t equipped for the level of care his mother required.
We found a good place not too far from us in Omaha. The care was excellent, and her dementia was a solace of sorts; she often didn’t know where she was. But the guilt? I had to remind myself over and over that doing the responsible thing was the right way to take care of my mother-in-law as well as Brian and me.
Short and Powerful Prayers for Caregivers
It is heartbreaking. I underestimated the emotional toll of watching someone I love slowly decline. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that this was part of the cycle of life, it was devastating. My father was a World War II veteran, a leader in our church. He had built houses for a living, and as far as I was concerned, he could fix anything. In those last few years, I wanted to fix Dad. I wanted to change nature’s course. I wanted to do the impossible, to make Dad well again. In reality, all I could do was give him my love and my prayers.
Caregiving can be expensive. Brian and I were fortunate in that we didn’t have to provide funding for our loved ones’ care, but there were other costs for us—lodging, vehicle repairs and travel expenses. And many people are not as fortunate as we were. The costs can practically bankrupt families. To the extent you can, try to set money aside for caregiving.
There is a reversal of roles. I had thought helping aging family members would be like rearing our 25-year-old son. But caring for a loved one who cared for you is a dynamic fraught with pitfalls. Your parents never stop viewing you as their children, and they don’t always take your advice. For instance, we begged Dad to wear a medical alert pendant. He refused—until he rolled out of bed and spent half of one night on the floor.
You lean on your faith as never before. Dad had always said he didn’t want to die alone. I prayed I could be with him when the time came. The last week of his life, he was admitted to the hospital in Ord. I asked if he wanted to go to a bigger hospital a couple hours away. Maybe they could do something more for him there. No, he wanted to be in the town where he’d lived his whole life. We put him on hospice care. Slowly he slipped into unconsciousness.
That last day, I read to him from the Book of Revelation, the passage where John describes heaven. Then I sat quietly with him. He died an hour later. We were together until the end, which was a great source of closure for me. It punctuated my caregiver journey.
That journey is filled with both joy and pain. If we are prepared for it, it can deepen our faith.
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