As a caregiver, life can get rough. Your selflessness sometimes takes a toll on you, both physically and emotionally. Know that you are never alone. You are doing the work of angels and they are watching over you.
Most of us have been caregivers on some level. Checking in on a neighbor. Calling an elderly parent. Babysitting.
Sometimes that care becomes an all-consuming way of life. Though it may be temporary, it is one of the most stressful times you'll ever be called on to endure.
I once cared for my husband's paternal grandmother, Rosetta. She got Parkinson's disease, a cruel degenerative ailment that at first causes muscle weakness and tremors and eventually leads to paralysis in the throat and digestive tract.
It got to the point that I became her full-time caregiver and, rather than make the 15-minute drive and leave my family to fend for themselves, we moved her in with us. After a few months, dementia set in and she had fewer and fewer moments of lucidity.
I loved her dearly. She showed me in her eyes every day how much she appreciated what I did for her.
During this time, I literally could not leave the house. I couldn't go for a walk, attend church, grocery shop or any of the normal errands most people do. Despite my being cut off from church attendance, I have rarely felt closer to God than I did during those long months of confinement. I felt his love and appreciation just as powerfully as I felt hers. I was caring for a daughter of God and it meant something.
Don't get me wrong. There were tears, sleepless nights, changing linens sometimes three or four times a night, responding to the dementia rather than trying to reason with her and massive exhaustion. The sponge baths. The gagging and choking on food when the paralysis started. The daily exercise sessions to fight off atrophy. It all added up and when you add in three teenagers, a toddler and an estranged husband, it couldn't get much harder.
Still, I gained tremendous insight into the errand of angels. I knew I was being watched over and cared for, finding strength beyond my own and a capacity for love I wish I still had today.
Caregivers, here is what we all need to remember:
We are doing the work of God
We are here on earth to care for one another as Jesus did. When we do good to others, we are doing good to him. When we hold a small infant, put a Band-Aid on a skinned knee or take a meal to a sick friend, we are doing the work of God. When we are caretakers in any capacity, he will see to it that we have the strength we need to do his work. That is a promise.
There are angels watching over us
I once had a friend who told me that angels who watch over us are the people who have gone on before us that we have cared for. Though I can't prove it, I love the idea. There has been lots of service I've rendered to friends and family who are now gone and it is a sweet thought that they are now returning that kindness by watching over me and those I love.
My unwillingness to leave Rosetta was personal and had many factors figured in, but it is critical for caregivers to give themselves respite. Find another earth angel to come and sit long enough for you to get out and smell the roses. You must have down time to recharge your batteries, even if it is only long enough to catch a quick nap.
Toward the end, I was able to get a visiting nurse to come in and bathe Rosetta and feed her. Many insurances have provisions for a few hours of outside care. Take advantage of it. These folks are trained to take your place and give you assistance.
Find a support group for caregivers. Even if you can't attend at the moment, have someone you can call and cry to — someone who understands what you are going through. You need a way to unload the bad and make room for more love.
In the end, it was aspiration pneumonia due to choking that took Rosetta. The doctor had told me in the beginning that it is the kindest way to go. She died in my arms and I cherish that memory. As women, we are able to be there and participate in the beginning of mortal life. I was able to be there as she passed through that door into eternal life. It was sacred and I am blessed for having done the work.
Caregivers, you are not alone. Every tear you dry, every boo-boo you kiss, every diaper you change makes you that much more dear to God.