My mom has had three trips to the Emergency Department already this year. She’s had twice as many falls. Every time the telephone rings, I tense up. It’s often a nurse, and it’s often bad news.
In the final months of my father’s life, when he was in assisted living an hour away and Mom was living with us and needing around-the-clock attention, I posted frequently on social media. It was my outlet, my way to process and communicate with friends far away.
One time I posted that I felt like Dad was being left out and so I managed to squeeze in a short trip up the mountain to see him, even though I was tired and stressed with caring for Mom.
The responses I received made me feel loved and cared about. My friends gave me strength and courage to keep going.
Some friends would affirm my decision.
“You’ll never regret spending time with him.”
“You will always be glad you took the time to visit him.”
“What you are doing is holy work and it’s important.”
Other friends would offer me an excuse, a way to let myself off the hook.
“You have done enough, more than most children would do.”
“Nobody will fault you. Anybody will understand if you don’t go next time.”
“You’re paying for assisted living. They are there for your dad so you don’t need to be.”
As I read their responses, I noticed a difference in who wrote them.
The first group had been caregivers themselves, sometimes many years earlier. Their input counted more for me because they’d lived it. They’d done it; they’d suffered; they knew what it’s all about. And they could speak from certainty about how to give care with grace.
It also told me that they did not regret their own choices, years later. They’d given of themselves sacrificially, and they’re still glad they did.
That doesn’t mean the second group got it wrong. I appreciate what they had to say. These friends’ concern was for me. They were encouraging me to take a break and remove some of the burden from my shoulders.
The trick is balance. As a caregiver, if you don’t take care of your physical and emotional health, you won’t be able to be there for your person. You need to find an equilibrium that works for you. I need to make sure my husband and I get some time together. And that I get some time alone.
The second group was trying to tell me it doesn’t need to always be up to me, alone. There are times I cannot go and do, for a host of reasons. When those times arise, I will entrust my mom to the Lord and try not to worry.
I’m not the one in control here.
But for now, for this season, caregiving is my calling. I am certain this is what the Lord wants me to do.
And so I will continue to go to the hospital, visit the assisted living. I will keep going and doing and giving, because it’s the right thing. It’s my mom. I don’t want to miss this final and sacred chapter of her life.
All we can do is show up. We try to be cheerful and helpful, to treat our loved one with grace and dignity. Caregivers, if we can do that, we’ll have no regrets.