When I was growing up, my Dad’s uncle lived with us for several months during my teen years. My grandparents also cared for two men in their home who had no extended family. “Shorty” and “Mr. Lewis” became members of our family in a way.
Mark and I cared for both his grandma and my grandma when they stayed in our home for extended visits. For the past year and a half, I’ve also been helping to care for my father, making regular trips to Indianapolis, until he passed away a few weeks ago. Personally I believe that caring for aging parents, grandparents, and other relatives can be a mission field in and of itself. In fact, I talk about that in my Empty Nest Full Life book!
My friend Marcia Washburn understands the ins and outs of caregiving, so I asked her to share her wisdom with us today. Marcia is the author of Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers. You can learn more about her and pick up a copy of her book at MarciaWashburn.com.
I have no special aptitude or training for patient care. Like most moms, I’ve bandaged boo-boos and nursed sick little ones. One of our sons suffered from asthma and another with Type 1 diabetes. But other than that, I have no particular inclination or gift for caregiving.
But sometimes God calls us to do things we’re not trained or talented for just to show His faithfulness. Over the years we have welcomed several aging relatives into our home. My husband’s aunt was blind for two months and lived with us until surgery corrected her vision. My mother lived with us during her final nine months while fighting a rare form of blood cancer. More recently, my mother-in-law lived with us for over five years while her memory deteriorated.
Despite my lack of interest or training as a caregiver, God has called my husband and me to honor our parents by caring for them in our home. Whether you’re currently caregiving or you will in the future, here are some strategies that have been helpful to us as we’ve adjusted to caring for these precious elderly loved ones.
I believe God helps us women to slow down during late pregnancy so we will be ready for the slower pace of including children in our lives. It simply takes more time to do each thing, doesn’t it? When serving meals, solid foods have to be cut into smaller bites. Laundry is an on-going challenge.
You can’t just say, “Let’s go!” and walk out the door. You have to plan around nap and meal times. You have to make sure the diapers are changed, the bathroom is visited, and the diaper bag and sippy cups are packed.
Having a toddler prepares you for caring for the elderly. You will find that older adults take longer to do most things, too. They walk slower, eat slower and, sometimes, think and make decisions slower.
If you are accustomed to moving quickly through your day, God will teach you patience when you bring Grandma[i] into your home. Don’t try to cram all of your errands into one morning. Instead spread them out over a few days or run errands while someone else can sit with Grandma.
But don’t totally isolate her from the pleasures of shopping either. This was a normal part of her life. If she is up to it, a short trip to the grocery store may bring great pleasure. Take advantage of the store’s wheelchair carts to conserve her energy. Go home before she gets tired.
Let her do what she can, while she can.
Never forget that she is an adult. Don’t treat her like a child, even if you have to do many of the things for her that you did for your children. Let her help you, even if it’s only opening the door for you as you carry in groceries.
Respect her opinions. Let her decide how to decorate her room; you can always repaint it later. Blend her favorite Christmas decorations with yours. Place her favorite snacks where she can easily access them without having to ask you for every little thing. Cultivate as much independence as she is capable of at this point in her life.
Consider her social and spiritual needs.
It is likely that Grandma will enjoy having you and your children around. But there will be times that she misses visiting with others her own age who remember the same things she does. If possible, arrange for her to spend time with her friends, or help her to make a few new friends if she has moved from a distance. Perhaps you could host a tea party so her friends can see her in her new home. Even helping her chat on the phone or write letters or emails to her friends can keep her from not feeling so isolated.
Most communities have senior centers that welcome newcomers. Or, if she is able, she may enjoy doing some volunteer work in the community or at church. Perhaps you could even host a Bible study for older people in your church.
Take care of yourself.
Realize that you’ve taken on a time-intensive job. Many duties will eat away at your days: direct caregiving, making appointments, filing and following up on insurance claims, ordering and administering medications, preparing taxes and other legal forms, and more. Again, allow her to do what she is able to do, but be prepared to step in when needed.
You cannot help Grandma if you aren’t healthy yourself. Get enough rest, even if that means having someone come in for the night shift. Take time to get necessary medical and dental care for yourself, not just for Grandma. And, above all, don’t skimp on time alone with the Lord. You need this more than ever; meet with the Lord privately to get His marching orders for your new day.
Teach your husband how to support you and how to refill your love tank.[ii] Forgive yourself for times when you are impatient, short-tempered, and are not sure you can (or want to) face another day. God is growing fruit in you and this happens not on the mountain tops but down in the valleys. He really does know who you are, where you live, and what you need.[iii]
Caregiving comes more naturally to some personality types[iv] than to others. It certainly has been a challenge for me. But I can testify that God’s grace is abundant to meet our needs. He will give us grace and wisdom and stamina to do what He has called us to do.
[i] For convenience, I will refer to the elderly person as a female, although many of us will care for elderly men, too.
[ii] See The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman (Northfield Press: 2012)
[iii] Request a free copy of Marcia’s encouraging article, God Knows Who You Are at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[iv] See Why You Act the Way You Do by Tim LaHaye (Living Books: 1993).
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