When I am old...

Tracey was very kind to bring attention to "Washing the Feet of the Saints" in her Christian Women Online Blog post yesterday. In her post, "...when I am old..." , Tracey humbly shares her rather brief employment at a nursing home when she was a very young adult, and how she has been blessed to witness the generations in her family as they have lovingly cared for each other over the years. Tracey - thank you - and welcome to all of you who have found your way to this place by way of Tracey and Christian Women Online.

Tracey mentioned how touched she was by the black and white photograph of my parents' hands here. I wrote the Beauty of Winter about that photograph, a section that was cropped from a photograph taken by my nephew Michael White. It is a stark reminder to me of both the sanctity of human life, and the desire we have to reach out to those we love in our time of need.

Tracey also indicated that I am presently a caregiver - if only it were so. My father died 7 years ago, and my mother 5. I miss both of them more than words can express, and would give almost anything to have them still with us, but that would be selfish. I am comforted, however, to know that they are no longer encumbered and trapped by the diseases, pain and suffering that characterized their final years on earth and firmly convinced that they are rejoicing in their eternal life with Christ in Glory.

My caregiving years began on the road, as I traveled back and forth from my home to my parents' - more and more frequently, as their health deteriorated over time. My brother and his family, who lived in the same house with my parents, met most of their needs before my father's death, when we moved my mother into our home.

My father was in a nursing home for just 2 1/2 months before his death. Despite my objections, my mother had been rather insistent that my father move into the nursing home. Though it was a nice, clean facility, I believe that it was living in the nursing home that ultimately led to his death. Over the 2 1/2 months that my father was in the nursing home, my mother's health rapidly spiraled downward. After 3 hospitalizations and as many stays in the rehab center connected to my father's nursing home, my mother went from walking to using a cane, to using a walker, to not being able to walk or stand. When dad entered the nursing home, mother was able to perform all her activities of daily living and manifested only minor memory impairment. Two and 1/2 months later she couldn't even brush her own teeth and had no short-term memory - and no one - not even her team of doctors - knew exactly what had happened.

Two weeks after my father's death, with bedsores on both heels, dehydrated and malnourished, my mother made the three hour trip in a medical transport van from the rehab center to our home. It was a time of unparralled grief for me, and the beginning of the experience that I hope to share in much greater detail - offering hope and encouragement to others - here at Washing the Feet of the Saints.

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"I see to the necessary things now"

Over the weekend, I discovered a teaching on what it means to honor the elderly by Walter Wangerin - a writer, Lutheran minister, and University Professor from Valparaiso, Indiana. In this teaching, Pastor Wangerin shares the poignant story of his friend Melvin - a touching example of honoring through family caregiving:

"By the smell in the room I knew what Melvin was doing. He was cleaning the waste away of his mother. He was washing her and changing her diapers. My friend Melvin was keeping the commandment of God, honoring his mother. While he was doing it, he was singing, singing in the tongue of her childhood, in German softly. [Singing in German ] And then I understood something else, too. His mother was not in pain. His mother was in joy. She was also singing at the top of her lungs "Yaah, na na na nah!" and I have no doubt that the woman felt as beautiful as she did when she was a child running free in the fields with a yellow dress and with a ribbon in her hair."

Pastor Wangerin concludes his teaching with these words:

"When I am asked: How is the nation? What about the community? Will it last, Walt? Is it healthy? Then I think of Melvin, and I say the signs are good. When anyone of us with elders grant unto that elderly the honor of God so that God becomes the nexus between us and the older generation, then generation by generation we drop deep roots. The honor itself becomes the very stuff of our society. And yes, yes, we shall live long in the land that God has given us."

As I read Pastor Wangerin's story about Melvin and his mother, I remembered a book - Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch - that my mother gave to me nearly twenty years ago when it was first released. It is the story of a boy and his mother...and the song the mother sang to her son from the time he was a newborn - a song that expressed a love for her son that transcended time and circumstances. In the end, the roles are reversed, and the son not only sings this same song to his newborn daughter, but to his elderly mother , as he tenderly rocks her in her time of need.

"I'll love you forever

I'll like you for always,

As long as I'm living

my Mommy you'll be."

"Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone."
Psalm 71:9

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This looks interesting...

"State working on plan to help elderly stay at home"

According to this article the state of North Dakota Department of Human Services has determined that:

Helping seniors and the disabled live in their own homes is the goal of a quadrennial plan that state officials have nearly completed.

And it is an admirable goal - except that it continues to assume that the responsibility for keeping the elderly at home or in the home of family caregivers lies with the state and not with the family.

The draft of a report outlining their plan for achieving this goal can be read here.

Last evening I had a long conversation with a young mother who was curious about my plans when Emily leaves home, and wondered if I would return to my nursing career. I explained to her that I made the decision after my mother died to no longer keep up my certification - that I had been away from nursing too many years to safely practice without considerable re-education, but that doesn't mean that my education and skills cannot be used in a different way.

Helping families to understand the stay-at-home options for family caregiving and giving caregivers the confidence and tools to do so apart from government/tax payer support is my goal, and like the state of North Dakota, I'm working on a plan.



Divine appointments

Yesterday was the last Thursday that the ladies ministry Emily babysits for met for the summer. During the school year, I attended the study, but for a variety of reasons, I decided not to do so over the summer. Instead, I have scheduled doctor's appointments, or brought in my laptop and worked in the church lobby while Emily worked in the nursery.

Except for the group of men from a local halfway house that cleans the church building, the ladies in the study group and one or two ladies that work in the pastor's office, no one else usually comes into the church on Thursday mornings and the front doors are kept locked.

Yesterday, I was working on my laptop, when I an older gentleman came to return a wheelchair that he had borrowed from the church. After we decided on a good place to leave it where someone would put find it and put it in its proper place, I returned to the couch near the front door where I had been working, and the gentleman occupied the chair near by. Something in our conversation had prompted him to stay - though I can't recall what it might have been.

The gentleman told me that he and his wife, both in their early 80's, had been members of the church since the 1950's - that he had been a deacon and had served in multiple leadership positions over the years - but that caring for his wife had made it impossible for him to be involved like he had been.

He told me that his 14 year old grandson was at home with his wife, which was why he was able to leave her for a while, and that she had recently been discharged from a rehab center where she had recovered from surgery for a broken hip; and as our conversation continued, he revealed to me that she suffered from dementia, as well. "She has learned to use the walker," the gentleman explained, "but if I don't watch her all the time, she forgets and tries to walk without it. I'm afraid that she will fall again."

As he continued to describe her dementia, I let him know that I understood. We shared a variety of caregiving experiences and challenges, like helping someone with dementia understand that a loved one has died. I told him about my mother and how she would say, "I haven't seen your dad lately." Instead of reminding her of dad's death and watching her grieve all over again, I learned to repond with, "I haven't seen him either, mom."

The genleman told me, "They tried to get me to put her in a nursing home."

"What did you tell them?" I asked.

"I told them that maybe I will have to some day, but not now. That this is why God let me survive a heart attack 15 years ago, and as long as I can care for her myself, I will."

We talked for quite a while before he concluded that his grandson might be worried and that maybe he should leave. I told him to contact me if there was ever anything I could do to help - and I hope he knows that I meant it.

And I silently prayed for him, thanking God for this divine appointment. I hope I was able to encourage him, Lord. I prayed for the rest of his family - that they will be like Aaron and Hur and hold up their father's arms if he grows unable to do so himself.