We Need Caregiving for Caregivers of Parents with Dementia

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

A few days ago, I had someone praise me for my “witness.”

This person was referring to the fact that my family and I are taking care of my elderly mother. I wanted to interrupt this person and tell them the truth of it, which is that my “witness” is shot full of holes.

Caregiving for an elderly person with dementia can seem like a piece of cake early on in the process. But as it progresses, and more of their brain switches off, it becomes increasingly fraught.

On top of that, I keep getting sick. Not, terrible sick, but bad enough to suck all the life out of me and make every day feel like a march through knee deep mud. I’ve had two colds in two months. Colds aren’t much of anything, unless you’ve got asthma. But put a cold together with asthma and no sleep and all the rest of my life right now and you’ve got a recipe for lungs that just won’t work.

That’s what happened in March. I somehow did not get pneumonia, which the doc assured me was what happened to most folks. But I did get such a bad case of on-going, never-stop asthma that, as he told me, “Your lungs aren’t moving air.”  Enter the miracle of antibiotics and steroids, and I got all healed up and back in the race again.

Then, along came another cold. It sent Mama to the er last week. Now it’s gone down into my lungs and formed an alliance with the asthma. I’m probably going to have to do the antibiotics/steroids all over again.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to understand that my “witness” is a weak and faulty thing. When I’m lying on the sofa, coughing and hacking, I’m not exactly doing a good job as a caregiver. Mama, who can no longer follow a book or a plot on tv, and so is no longer amused by either books or tv, demands constant amusement.

When I’m sick, I can’t do this. Instead of working with her to keep her wound up and moving, I end up letting her sit on the sofa like a zombie, or I send her to her room where she falls asleep. That’s not good care of someone with dementia. But it’s all I can do when I’m sick.

I’ve never resented the spring storms the way I have this year. They set off my arthritis, and somehow or other the stress with Mama seems to make that worse. Plus, I feel the weight of taking care of her in a storm in a way I never felt the weight of taking care of the kids when they were little.

Compared to her, they were ez pz. When they were very small, I just picked them up and did what needed doing. When they were full-on kids, they did what I told them in difficult situations without argument.

But Mama is a never-comprehending rubics cube. She trusts me and will do what I ask of her. But if I’m not there, she fights whoever is trying to help her. That adds a dash of salsa to the storms that, for some reason, seems too much.

That’s what I’m dealing with right now: Too much. It’s all too much. And I’m not sure why.

I think I’ve solved the doctor thing. I simply went on a doctor hunt, and it turned out that I landed on the right square early on in the search. The doc and the staff at the er last week were kind, and they understood my situation almost without my telling them. That was a blessing.

Everything is do-able. Today.

That’s the only promise a caregiver for someone with dementia has: Today. Or, maybe not even today. It may end up that all you know is that things are going good right now. In an hour, it can change, and you are dealing with a full-on hallucination or making a fast trip to the er.

But for today, for this minute, I have loads of help from my kids, and Adult Day Care, and I have prescriptions that seem to be working with Mama and my only problem is that I Do. Not. Want. to go to the doc myself.

I would rather eat dirt than go spend another $160 at an urgent care place to get a script for antibiotics and steroids. But I know that primary care docs with their $20 copay take about 3 weeks to see you, and this isn’t worthy of an er (which is much more miserable than going to an urgent care facility, anyway) so, I have to do the $160 do to get a couple of scripts that, to be honest, I could write myself.

See how I whine? See how negative I’ve become?

That’s what I’m talking about when I say my “witness” is less than shiny bright and pretty.

In truth, Mama’s dementia is doing at least as bad a job on me as it is on her and I can’t figure out why. I hit some sort of wall when she stopped sleeping at night. I know part of that wall was simple exhaustion.

One of the two hardest nights of her dementia so far was last month, when I was sick and she would not stay in bed. I felt so lousy, and she was up and roaming and had to be managed all night long. Before these new meds, she argued with me and refused to go back to bed and had hallucinations that terrified her and made her unmanageable.

That night was about 30 years long, and the next day, I was so sick I had to get medical help for myself.

Then, when we put her in the in-patient diagnostic and she just slept through the night and didn’t do any of this for them so they could help us with it, I hit some sort of despair point. I cried for days and couldn’t stop crying. We finally managed to get a script that actually does help, that not only lets her sleep at night but clears the hallucinations.

Things should be all better now. In fact, they were looking up, then we got this blamed cold. The high wire act of dementia care is such that something as simple as a cold can cause everyone to fall off and into the net. That’s what’s happened to me.

The thing I hang onto is something a man whose name I never learned told me years ago. I taught a class at Youth With a Mission in Hawaii a few years back. It was a glorious experience, spending an entire week in that beautiful Christian environment. Everyone I talked to was a spirit-filled, all-in Christian who wanted to change the world for Christ.

One evening, I was sitting out, watching the sunset, when a man with a baby joined me. We got to talking and he told me the story of how he came to adopt this baby. Long story short, the baby had no one, and he was reluctant to take on raising a child at his advanced age. But when he and his wife did adopt the baby, the child blessed their lives with love and wonder as only a baby can.

“God only wants to bless you,” he told me.

I keep thinking of that comment when things are difficult with Mama. “God only wants to bless you.”

I believe that, and I know it’s true of me and my situation right now. Mama has been a blessing to me all my life. Seeing her home is not a punishment. It’s a gift. A blessing.

That thought is what dries my tears and pulls me back out of despair. I write these blog posts as unsparingly as I can because I think that as a society we need to face up to the fact that we not only abandon our elderly, we abandon their care givers.

Care for people who have dementia is a act of life and love. It is pro life for real. Euthanasia, which is being pushed as an “answer” to dementia and a “relief’ for caregivers, is satanic. It is from the blackest pit of hell.

What we need to do as a society is take off our blinders and help people who are caring for their family members with dementia. We need something like the Rain Teams that Christians once formed to help people with AIDs, only for families who are caring for loved ones with dementia.

Care of the care-giver is a forgotten piece of the equation of caring for our elderly. I can tell you that as the dementia gets worse the caregiver begins to need love and support every bit as much as the person they are caring for.

My “witness,” such as it is, is a call for us to do better. It is not a “witness” of my heroism and perfection. It is, rather, a witness of my weakness and failures. I am not a cheerfully self-sacrificing saint. I am everyman and everywoman, just muddling through and hanging on and falling flat and getting back up.

I do not fall into raptures of grace when I am dog tired and at my wit’s end. I sit down and cry. I am not always reasonable. I do not always do the right thing.

I am you. And me. And every one of us.

That, and not some idea of perfection, is my witness. It is why I can say without equivocation that caregivers of elderly parents with dementia need help. They need love. They need comforting and support.

The Lord only wants to bless us. And the first blessing comes from His command that we “Love one another.”

All His blessings are blessings of love and life. Seeing Mama home is a blessing of love and life. If we rise to this challenge that I am making and will continue to make, and help caregivers of people with dementia, we will be blessing ourselves and one another with love and life.

I write about Mama with as much honesty and raw reality as I can. The reason is that I am issuing a call. I am calling Christians to formulate means to help caregivers of people with dementia in the simple, human ways that they need help. Put life and love back in their days of chaos. God wants to use them to bless you.

All God ever wants to do is bless each and every one of us. And the first and only true blessing is love.

Every Minute is an Hour When You’re Waiting in an Emergency Room

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

If you want to feel like your life lasts forever, spend it waiting with a sick parent in an emergency room.

Every minute in the er is an hour, every hour is a day, and the days are as close to eternity as we will get in this life.

I spend quite a bit a time in emergency rooms with my Mama and her breathing problems. I’ve done enough of it that I have my fav ers and my ers that I avoid.

An emergency room staff and their fine potions can get the old lady pumped full of steroids and other goodies that will set her breathing back on course again. The docs range in quality from the indifferent and nearly incompetent to the kind, caring souls who go the extra mile. Ditto for the nursing staff and intake people.

Last night was an emergency room night for me. I had one of those eternity-long evenings sitting alone with Mama through hours of waiting, excellent treatment that got her going again followed by an exhausted, tossing and turning night that was more worrying about her than rest.

Today, I’m tired. I mean tired. Not only did I do the emergency room do, but I’ve got the same cold that shut her down and sent me to the er with her in the first place.

We’ve all got that blamed cold. The whole family. We’re grouchy and tired. But she’s got 90-year-old-I-smoked-since-I-was-17 lungs. It’s known as COPD, and it works a treat with a cold, turning an ordinary blow and cough into an I-can’t-breathe crisis.

I am, as I said, tired. Too tired to think. What that means to you, my friends, is that any blogging I do will be later in the day.

After.

After, I give the emotional part of this tired a chance to roll off me, and after I regain a bit of my oomph. If I stay oomph-less all day long, then I doubt I’ll write.

Right now, this morning, I feel like my brain is wrapped in cotton. At this juncture, I do believe that Mama is friskier than I am.

Go figure.

I Need a Doctor Who Will Listen to Me

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Sohel Parvez Haque https://www.flickr.com/photos/sohelparvezhaque/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Sohel Parvez Haque https://www.flickr.com/photos/sohelparvezhaque/

Is there a doctor anywhere on this planet who will listen to dementia patient’s families?

My long-time family doc retired a couple of years ago, and that appears to have been the end of having a doctor who would listen to what I’m telling him or her, believe what I’m saying and diagnose and treat based on that. What I’m experiencing is docs who complete the chart and ignore the patient. Worse for me and my dementia-bound mother, they totally ignore the patient’s family.

I have power of attorney, so it’s not a legal issue. They. Just. Won’t. Listen.

Many times, I can’t even get them to look at me. Other times, I can’t get face time or even phone time at all. I’ve been begging docs for help, and I mean begging docs for help with a single problem of Mama’s dementia that is killing me and the whole family and will ultimately force us to put her in a nursing home, and I can not get them to listen to me or believe what I’m telling them. As for as getting actual help, forget that. Mama and I are the invisible people, overshadowed and totally negated by the almighty Chart.

Here’s the problem: Mama will not sleep. She goes down for about 3 hours of zzzzzzs, and then she’s up, rocking and rolling all night long. She roams the house, raids the fridge and tries repeatedly to make jail breaks by leaving the house to go wander the streets. She gets confused and does not know who I am or who she is or where she is.

She gets dressed at midnight, 2 am, 3 am, 4 am, etc, and tries to go to her “job” (Adult Day Care.) She’s taken to stripping off all her clothes and trying to leave the house naked. A couple of weeks ago, she started hallucinating that we were trying to kill her. She also hallucinates that someone has told her things, including that someone is going to kill her, that someone is stealing her things, etc, etc.

What this means is that I have to be up with her all night long. Let me repeat this: I have to be up with her all night long. The exhaustion is eating through me like acid.

And I can not get a doc who will prescribe a sleeping pill for Mama. I mean, I Can. Not. Do. It.

I put her in an in-patient diagnostic center for dementia patients. The doc there was supposed to be the best. Yesterday, the doc called me on the phone (first time I’d heard from her, we’ve never met, exactly zero face time) and jumped on me, asking why I had put Mama in the hospital. You know, why I’m such a mean bad totally unloving daughter.

It seems that Mama has supposedly been sleeping through the night in their lock-up ward.

The doc’s main purpose in the call was to announce that she was sending Mama home in exactly the same condition as I admitted her; no help whatsoever. I felt like asking her to come stay with us for a few nights and see what she thinks. What I did instead, was try to explain what was happening in this first-ever discussion with the almighty doc.

I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. This doc doesn’t listen, big time. In fact, she’s not so big on letting anybody else talk at all. Finally, she relented and said they’d keep Mama a few more days. I hung up, realizing that I may not have a choice. I may be forced by these docs who won’t listen, who fill out the chart, read the test results and never look at or listen to the patient, to put her in a nursing home.

I can not go on staying up 24/7 around the clock, just to keep her from burning the house down and dealing with her night terrors. The irony here is that I know that if I am forced to put her in a nursing home, these same docs will happily prescribe sleeping pills for the nursing home. In fact, they’ll turn her into a zombie at the behest of the nursing home.

The operative medical thinking here seems to be that if a patient or, in the case of dementia, a patient’s family, is stupid enough to go to them for medical care, then they must be total idiots, and, of course, nobody listens to total idiots.

This isn’t my usual kind of post. It is a full-on rant. I’ve spent much of the last 24 hours crying about all this because crying seems to be the only thing left that I can do.

This post is a rant. I can’t call it a way of relieving my feelings because nothing seems to relieve my feelings about this. I am going to pull myself together here in a minute and call the people at the Oklahoma State Medical Association and see if they know of doctors who practice medicine instead of just filling out the chart and gatekeep.

If that doesn’t get me help, I’m going through the phone book, looking for a doc who treats patients.

I don’t need a genius doc. I just need a doc who will stop completing the chart, get their nose out of the test results and listen, then treat.

I begin to despair. Maybe such critters are extinct.

Mama

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

We had a family discussion last night. The upshot was that the time has come to consider putting Mama in a nursing home.

That’s what the family members I love told me. Their verdict was simple: You will kill yourself, taking care of her.

I, being Ms Reasonable, let them talk me down. I insisted on a delay, but agreed that, by the end of summer, I would find a place for her.

Then, last night, I sat up and googled nursing homes. I read the laws that I helped write, perused the regs that came from them. I plowed through the patient responses and the details of the inspections of these places.

There is a good place just around the corner from my house. It specializes in caring for people with dementia. It has a great patient-staff ratio. There are only four patients in each unit and a staff of 8 to care for them. The people there are happy.

And I could go get her and take her out every day. We could bring her home for dinner and keep her as part of the family.

I would put her there in a heartbeat. She would be happy there, and that’s what matters.

But it costs over $80,000 a year, out of pocket. My pocket.

Mama’s grandfather lived to be 101. Her family is full of people who lived into their high nineties. I may have her for a long while yet. I don’t have the money to put her in this good place where she would be happy. I just can’t do it.

The Church runs a nursing home that everyone, including the residents, says is a good place. But it is, pardon my language, to hell and gone from where I live. I couldn’t go get her and take her out every day. Or, if I did — which I would — it would involve driving almost 40 miles each way, right across the heart of the most densely populated area in the state. A daily visit would take half a day. Every day.

There is no other place that I can afford that I would consider for my mama.

So, I decided I would call and get her a place in the Catholic nursing home and spend the rest of her life — which I hope is long — driving for half a day, every day.

Then, even as I made this decision, I undecided it. I thought of her fearful reaction, her heartbreak at being put in a strange environment. I thought of how far away from me this place is. I thought of her, of who she is.

And I undecided to make that call.

“If it kills me, taking care of her, then I guess it will kill me,” I said aloud to the empty room. Then I prayed and handed the whole thing over to God and went to bed.

My husband went to early mass Sunday. I stayed home with Mama. He came back with a big bag of donuts. She loves donuts.

She was eating what I think was her third of fourth donut while I sat at the table with her, listening to her prattle.

“Are you any relation to me?” she asked, and took another bite.

“I’m your daughter,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, and reached for another donut.

Her daughter. That’s what I am.

Pope Francis: Discarding the Elderly is Ugly and It is a Sin

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by thierry ehrmann https://www.flickr.com/photos/home_of_chaos/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by thierry ehrmann https://www.flickr.com/photos/home_of_chaos/

This is a powerful message for our Pope on the care of the elderly.

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Walking Mama Home

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All Rights Reserved.

My mother is slipping away.

Last week, she asked me, “Are we sisters, or cousins, or what?”

The week before, she looked at me vaguely and said, “What are you to me? Are we related?”

Last night, she decided to “cook” a frozen dinner in the microwave and evidently set it for a lllloooonnnnggggg time. It “cooked” until it caught fire.

I was up with her all night long one night last week. We have a doctor’s appointment today, for which her doctor is graciously sacrificing her lunch time to work Mama into her schedule. The purpose? To see if sleeping pills, which I’ve avoided, or anti-depressants, or something will help her sleep through the night so that I can sleep, as well.

Every time I write a post about Mama, a few sick souls comment that situations like this are a fine argument for euthanasia. I almost always delete these things, but they trouble me, just the same.

What is wrong with someone that they could look at a frail elderly person and their first thought is to kill them?

I start stammering when I try to formulate a response to this. Kill my mother? That’s their advice?

Everyday it seems that I am hit with another proof that certain segments of our population are lost souls. Nothing convinces me of this more than these offensive comments about my mother.

We live in a world where the first solution that we offer to human problems is increasingly becoming a demand that we kill the person who is being a problem. We even label one entire group of humans — the unborn — a “problem pregnancy” rather than a human being, and then use this designation as a justification for killing them at will.

The same thing is happening to anyone who has an illness that makes them a ‘burden.” We are moving toward a world where the only people who will have a legal right to life are those who have sufficient wits, energy and means to defend their right to be alive in a court of law.

The Terry Shiavo case demonstrated quite clearly that it is not enough to have people who will advocate for your life in a court of law. The person doing the advocating must be the correct one. Killing someone by taking away their water and food and then letting them die of thirst and starvation could hardly be called “merciful.”

My mother is slipping away. Caring for her is hard. But it is also — and I never hear about this aspect of it — a blessing. Seeing Mama home is a privilege. This long goodbye has a sweetness to it that I never knew existed until I began walking this walk with her.

As for those poor loveless folks who think that the solution to human suffering is to kill the suffering human, I pray for you. Because you are in far worse shape than my Mama will ever be.

My 24/7 Mama and Zombie Days

mama.jpgMy mother is doing a new thing with her dementia.

A couple of years ago, she stopped eating. It took all sorts of finagling to get her started again. Now, she eats and demands ice cream (which she always tells me she hasn’t had “in years”) in between meals. Yesterday, she asked me how I was doing. “I haven’t seen you in a long time,” she said.

A few months before she quit eating, she stopped drinking water. We had to put her in the hospital a couple of times because she got so dehydrated. Then, we managed to get her going again on drinking water, and now it’s like it never happened.

The new deal is that she won’t sleep. She was up — and me along with with her — all night Sunday night. Just refused to go to bed. All day yesterday she was hyper confused and weepy. But she wouldn’t take a nap and when bedtime came, she flat-out refused to lie down and go to sleep.

I managed to get her down by being very firm with her. I scolded her like she was a two-year-old (which makes me feel like a rat) and told her to lie down and go to sleep. She slept, but I didn’t. I was up until almost four in the morning, and then I didn’t sleep when I finally went to bed.

Long story not so short: I’m taking a zombie day. I had all sorts of things planned that I needed to do, but I don’t think I’m going to do them. My brain is mush and I feel all sorts of jangled and disconnected. I don’t care about anything right now.

This is what caregiving for the elderly can be like when it gets choppy. My mother is unfailingly sweet. The whole time she was up during the night, she was chirpy and jazzed. She kept greeting me with delight and wanting to go for a drive, get ice cream or just chatter.

The bad part was the next day, when the exhaustion left her confused and unable to function. She was in one of those down moods when she knows that her mind is haywire and she feels demoralized because of it.

But as night came on, she started shifting upwards, ready to roll on into dawn again.

I’ve learned that we can get her past these things. Overcoming the refusals to eat and drink taught me that. It takes a concerted effort and lots of imagination, but it’s possible to flip the switch back into place and get her going again. Right now, I’ve got to re-teach her night and day. Odd as it seems, night and day have been an increasing challenge for quite some time.

I’m not sure why, but she forgets that night is night and then gets upset when other people don’t respond to her in what she thinks is the proper manner. She can go for hours, waking you over and over every minute or so with the same request. It’s usually that she wants to get ready to go to adult day care.

I just dealt with it as best I could. But an all night elderly romper room is too much. We’ve got to flip the switch back. I may ask the doc for sleeping pills, if nothing else works. I hate to do that, but, hey, she can’t go 24/7 for very long. For that matter, neither can I.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll bear with me. I’ve got cotton brain.

 

Pope Francis: The Future is in the Meeting Between Youth and the Elderly

elderly-hands.JPGYouTube Preview Image

Home and Family are Not Outmoded. They are Eternal Truths on Which People are Built.

 

A long time ago in a land not so far away, married couples often stayed married to one another, despite their disagreements and problems “for the children’s sake.”

It was assumed that destroying a child’s home would damage the child. Underneath that assumption was another: Children have a better start in life when they are raised in their own intact families with their own biological parents.

Along came the 60s and this notion of staying together “for the children’s sake” was tossed in the cultural ashcan alongside civility, honor and a belief in the common good.

The Me Generation wanted to opt out of all the constraints that came between it and its essential drive to all-out me-firstness. “It’s better to be from a broken home than to live in one,” was the new slogan. It was put up there on the living-by-slogans billboard just below the “quality time” slogan concerning child rearing.

We didn’t, we were told, have to concede to the onerous demands of full-time child-rearing. We could drop in once in a while for “quality time” and this “quality time” would be so incredibly powerful in shaping the child’s character, values, morals and overall mental health that it would wash away the deleterious abuses of being ignored and shunted around for the bulk of the child’s life.

It was magical stuff, this “quality time” — the elixir of having it all without the need to feel guilty about short-shrifting our young.

Ditto for being from broken homes rather than living in them. It was, we were told, oh so much healthier for a child to live part of his or her life in a tranquil, albeit it lonely, home without Dad, watching tv, and later, playing video games, while Mom worked, and then to shuttle off to Dad’s tranquil homespot to watch more tv and, later play video games, while Dad worked.

“Blended” families and live-in boy and girl friends became the new normal. After all, if it makes Dad/Mom happy, then it must, by definition, be good for the kids. Or so we were told.

A child who gets the wondrous experience of counseling their bereft parent over their broken hearts about the guy/gal who dumped them, who wakes up in the morning, never knowing who’s going to be sharing the parent’s bed down the hall, who has to dip and dodge from the advances and abuses of boyfriends and girlfriends, who finds themselves suddenly saddled with steps — stepparents, stepbrothers, stepsisters, step grandparents — of all types and then, in a year or two, finds themselves without the steps once again, is, in the parlance, “growing up fast.” After all, the new new normal says, they’re going to have to deal with these things someday, anyway. Right?

Believing that all this is good for kids requires a bit of willful neglect of the obvious. First, we have to overlook the adults that these kids become. We need to stare right past the drug addiction, insect sexuality, near psychopathic way they treat one another and their increasing inability to form families and raise children of their own.

Second, we need to stop believing that there is any connection between their total lack of respect for marriage as an institution coupled with the abject willingness to see it destroyed and the fact that these young people grew up in cold, chaotic circumstances with child parents who failed at every personal value except selfishness and self-indulgence.

I know that someone is going to raise the specter of violence and abuse in the home and the need for divorce in those circumstances. That happens. And when it does, it really is better for a child to be from a broken home than to live in one.

The interesting thing is that violence and abuse in the home are not going away. Divorce has not ended it. Domestic violence is escalating. Why? You’d think that if divorce was the answer to it, domestic violence would be moving toward extinction.

I think one reason violence in the home is on the rise is this bizarre method method of child rearing that amounts to buying our kids stuff, driving them to activities and ignoring them as people while we do whatever else pleases us. I think it is giving us adult children who are exactly the kind of people we have raised them to be.

Each generation of children we are producing with these methods is less able to commit to other people and raise a family of their own than the generation before it. They exhibit a kind of internal chaos that I think reflects the chaos in which they were raised.

We’re not only producing whole generations of young people who cannot commit to one another and love one another and then commit to and love and raise children of their own, we are also producing young people who are marked by profound alienation and rage. We are, in short, getting the kind of adults that abusive homes produce. Are our current child-rearing practices abusive to children?

Oh yes. I think so.

We were deconstructing family at a massive rate long before the debate about gay marriage reared its head. When demands for polygamy follow on the heels of gay marriage — and they will — we will just slide further into the abyss right behind it because we have no cultural center to hold us.

There is only one way to reverse this trend. You must do it yourself. You must, to paraphrase Ghandi, be the change you want to see.

That means you must commit to your wife or husband; you must cherish and protect them. You must put your family, your spouse, your children ahead of everything else.

I know this will sound like blasphemy, but you need to put your home and family ahead of your career, your craving for “fun” and your desire to live life as a perpetual adolescent. You need to take care of the people God has entrusted to you before you do anything else.

The way to stop this is for both men and women to stop putting me first and put their families first. It is not enough for wives to be good wives, or husbands to be good husbands. We are male and female. That is the human race. And both men and woman have a responsibility before God to put the welfare of their spouses and their children above every other consideration.

This is drastically counter-cultural. You will get a lot of flack for doing it. Men will be called some of the pejorative names used for women if they don’t go along with the fellas about things such as sleeping around, and going out on the town. Other men will do this to them ruthlessly. I’ve witnessed it for years in my life of working with 90 men.

Women will be told they are “wasting their lives” if they stay home with the kids. When I was a stay at home mom, I had more than one person look me right in the eye and tell me I was “wasting” my life. When I ran for office again later, I also had people chide me for trying to come back when I should not have left in the first place.

The truth is, as my grandmother used to say, misery loves company. Why should a bunch of men care if their male coworker doesn’t go out to the stripper joints with them after work? Why should they turn aggressive and ugly and tell him he’s “whipped” because he loves his wife and family while they do not love their wives and families?

Who’s the real man here? Is it the braggart good-for-nothing who dishonors the people he has stood before God and promised to protect and defend, the strong individual who stands up under the verbal hazing and honors his promises with his fidelity?

By the same token, who is wasting her life? The woman who builds people, or the woman who builds widgets?

You have one life. In this free country of ours, you can spend your life how you chose. At the end of the span, when you are like my Mama and cannot do for yourself, do you want to be wrapped in the love and care of grateful generations, or do you want the cold hardness of the alone?

When you look back over your life, do you want to view a wasteland of broken relationships, crazy and dysfunctional offspring and nothing much worth claiming, or do you want to see a life that gave life, that nurtured and loved and created? Do you want to see strong people going forward into tomorrow with your love in their hearts?

When you stand before God, what will be the sum total of the great gift of years that He gave you to spend?

Home and family are not outmoded ideas. They are eternal truths on which people are built.

Wayfaring Mama. Caring for Elderly Parents with a Will to Wander.

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Yesterday I took a nap.

I woke to my outraged son, wanting to know why I hadn’t answered my phone.

It seems that while I was sleeping, my 89-year-old Mama took off. She wandered the neighborhood until a wonderful neighbor took her in. The only thing Mama could get straight enough to tell her was my phone number.

But I was asleep. The phone was on the bed beside me. Just in case. I vaguely remember dreaming about the phone ringing. But it didn’t wake me. All my life, I’ve slept deep. I guess yesterday, I was sleeping really deep.

Somehow — I’m not sure how — the neighbor managed to contact one of my sons at work. He left his job and — in his own words — drove like the proverbial bat to get to Amah.

Amah, meanwhile, was fine. She was having a chirpy little old lady good time, visiting with the neighbors.

It turns out that Mama has been traveling the neighborhood at night. She’s been getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning and going to neighbor’s houses and getting them up to chat. They bring her home and we don’t know anything about it.

This is my nightmare scenario so far as Mama is concerned. If she starts wandering — and it appears she’s well into her wandering phase — I don’t know how to take care of her.

We’re reconfiguring things as I write. She’s getting a gps necklace. And we’re putting alarms on all the doors alert the police and should even get me awake and moving. We’re also reconfiguring the front door and garage doors so she can’t get out at night. She can go into the back yard all she wants. But not out the front.

I’m also going to sell some property to get the money to hire people to babysit with her when I have to be gone in the evenings. She goes to adult day care — a heaven-sent program that saves lives and money by allowing families to keep their elderly and disabled family members at home and still hold down jobs — during the day. A family member is with her most of the rest of the time.

But, we need someone to babysit once in a while, too. It’s the easiest baby sitting in the world; just dial up the sports channel, get Mama a diet Coke and make sure she doesn’t wander out the front door.

I can’t tell you how much I love Mama. We all do. The whole family is 100% involved in taking care of her. I am not some martyr for Mama who is doing all this alone. My sons do an enormous amount of the Amah care, and they do it cheerfully, lovingly and without complaint. My husband gets into it too.

Mama is a family project of love.

I hope that God gives us many more years with her. I’ve prayed at times when she was sick, asking for more time. But that is in His hands. My main prayer, which I pray fervently and often, is that Mama will be happy and not suffer. I trust her life to God. I know where she’s going when it’s time.

About a week ago, while we were out on Mama’s daily drive and ice cream run, she told me that she loved her “job” (adult day care) and that she enjoyed our drives so much. She took a few laps on her ice cream cone, then smiled. “I’m very happy,” she said.

That’s everything I ever wanted.


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