Thursday, May 10, 2012

Be Strong and Courageous

There are seasons in life that are joyful, happy and just plain extraordinary. Then there are the seasons when you feel like you are overwhelmed, sad and sometimes just plain exhausted. Ever have one of those seasons?

Our mom, AC, has been living with my sister, Robbie and I for about 25 years. We have given her the best care we could possibly provide, but there came a time when we realized we could no longer care for her in our home. Mom is 89 years old now and in the late stages of dementia. We felt it was no longer safe for her to be in our home. We had someone assisting us for 25 hours a week, but the other times were too scary to even think about. Sometimes we would come home from grocery shopping or church and find the water running or that Mom had fallen. On one occasion I remember arriving home to find Mom had been out the front door and we live on a lake. It was frightening to say the least.

So Robbie and I made the hard decision to place Mom in a nursing center where she would receive around the clock care and supervision. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. After giving Mom the best care we possibly could for 25 years I now had to place her in the hands of strangers and walk away. Oh we visit her daily, but still, you have the sensation of just abandoning your parent to the trust and care of people you've never met. Robbie and I didn't want Mom's last days to have to end this way. She raised four children and was always there when we came home from school. We were hoping and praying she would just go peacefully in her sleep one night, but that hasn't happened.

I wasn't prepared for all of the feelings I experienced once we placed Mom in nursing care. I felt angry, frustrated, sad and I was overwhelmed with guilt. I wanted to do more. I wanted to keep her in our home until she passed. But that meant putting my life on hold for an undetermined number of years. It meant being away from home at times and having someone else looking out for Mom and praying nothing went wrong while I was away. In addition, I felt an incredible amount of frustration and stress while caring for Mom in our home. It wasn't because I didn't love Mom. I understand now that I have an incredible amount of love and respect for Mom. But it was because I was limited in the type of care I could provide for her. Often she just sat on the couch staring out at the world going by. She didn't want to go outside or even let us push her around the neighborhood in a wheelchair. She often had mental meltdowns if there was any amount of variation in her daily routine. I kept telling myself we could manage her care, but it was getting more and more difficult. Every time I passed her sitting in the living room I felt guilty that I couldn't do more to engage her or to eliminate her confusion and despair.

Mom also suffered with chronic pain in her shoulders. She took pain pills to help, but nothing seemed to make her comfortable. So when the opportunity came to place her in a facility of our choice, we decided to go for it. The nursing center only gave us about 48 hours to make this difficult decision because they had a long waiting list. If we didn't take the room, somebody else was available to take it. Then we could find ourselves waiting a year or longer for another opportunity in a place of our choosing.

Years earlier our dad had a series of strokes and was placed in a hospital. Suddenly one afternoon the hospital called and said we are discharging your father and you must find a place for him right away. Our mom wasn't able to care for him at home and so we found ourselves scrambling to find a temporary place for him until we could arrange care at home. Unfortunately we didn't have the opportunity or time to choose a preferable place. He only lived a couple of days after being placed in the facility we were forced to select. I promised myself that would never happen again. Therefore, having the ability to select a place for Mom that we felt would give her the best care was an opportunity we didn't want to pass up.

After placing Mom in a nursing facility we found out how empty our lives felt after being caregivers for so many years. We thought we would breathe an air of relief, but instead we found ourselves worrying and feeling guilty. Every time I pass Mom's room in our home, I start to cry. Did I do all I could do for her? Was there a better way? If I had unlimited funds I'm sure I could have arranged for a better situation. However, reality dictates our choices. I pray Mom knows we love her very much and that we just want to do what we feel is the best for her. And she tells us constantly how much she loves us. I'm thankful for that.

The last visit with Mom I sat by her bedside and listened as she sang out loud to Jesus. It wasn't a song I had ever heard before. She was making it up as she went along. She was singing in the Spirit. She sang words of praise and thanks for her family, for God's love and for a home in heaven that she would one day inherit. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I had never heard her sing in such a wonderful way. Her eyes were fixed on another place, perhaps beyond where I could see. I believe she was looking straight into the eyes of Jesus. At one point she looked at Robbie and then me and said, "Help Steve build the church." (Steve is the pastor of our church). "Have fun at church. Enjoy your time there." You have no idea how incredible these words were coming from my mom. Before, she always resented our going to church because it took time away from her. She didn't believe in giving money towards building new facilities for the future. She always seemed focused on herself. But now she was talking about giving, building, and enjoying our walk with the Lord. My eyes flooded with tears.

When we pray and ask Jesus to help us not to have to suffer through the tough times we fail to have the faith that he chooses to take us through those tough times and not around them. The Holy Spirit can give us strength when we are weak. Walking through the difficult times gives us a different perspective. I don't believe I have ever felt such incredible love and admiration for my mom as I do now. I've also had the privilege of seeing the Holy Spirit comfort her to the point of hearing her sing his praises at the top of her voice. Whether I was a Christian or not I reckon I would have had to walk through this hard time with Mom, but I'm so glad I get to do it with Christ by my side. I can't imagine what this would be like without him encouraging me, comforting me, strengthening me and showing me the way with wisdom and direction.

I don't know how much longer Mom has on this earth. Her mind is slowing slipping away. But I do know that even though she isn't always aware of what's going on around her here in this place, she is so aware of another realm. It's a spiritual realm where I believe the Holy Spirit ministers to her and gives her peace. One day, I don't know when or how, she will slip into the arms of Christ and see him face to face. I rest in knowing I will see her again one day, well and whole. We'll sing his praises together. Then I hope to tell her how I wanted to do so much more for her. But then she'll probably just say, "Don't worry anymore. We have all eternity together now." Thank you Jesus for that gift. It gives me hope and courage. As I walk through each day I believe I hear God telling me, just as he told Joshua when he was heading into battle, "Be strong and courageous. I will not abandon you."

Life is wonderful, but sometimes it's also hard, but if you trust God you will be strong and courageous. He will walk through the good times and the hard times with you. Sometimes he will take you around trouble, but sometimes he will walk you straight through to the other side. Trust him daily, but always trust him.

1 comment:

  1. How awesome and encouraging! I am so excited to see how God is ministering to you, Robbie, and AC. Love you guys!