When I first moved my mother, Dorothy, to live with me nearly two years ago, I expected it to be a tough transition. After all, I was a single woman with a career, close friends, diverse hobbies and a stronger than average spirit of adventure. Taking on guardianship of an octogenarian with dementia was bound to change that.
As I look back on those first few months, I realize I was prepared for the progressive decline in Mom’s cognitive abilities. I was ready to superintend the many doctor’s visits, prescription changes and daily routines such as eating, dressing and showering. I knew to an extent what I was taking on.
But I wasn’t one bit prepared for what I was losing.
When Life Stands Still
Caregiving – whether for the elderly, ill or someone with special needs – is a largely thankless job. It’s a calling that can easily breed feelings of isolation, insignificance and loss of control. It’s a lot like parenting small children, but instead of having your toil rewarded with important milestones like baby’s first steps, first words and the first day at school, in most caregiving scenarios you see only steady (and sometimes startling) decline. You’re counting losses, not gains.
Not only was I grieving the loss of my mother as I once knew her, I was in many ways left to do it alone. As I soldiered through day after day of sameness, the exciting life I’d left behind continued around me. While friends went out to dinner, co-workers hit the gym and neighbors made weekend plans, I was at home paying medical bills and dispensing pills while attempting to grasp Mom’s faltering account of what she did that day.
My friend Julianna has been with me in this from the beginning. She’s Mom’s daytime caregiver so I can work full time. Without her involvement from the beginning, I wouldn’t have this story to tell. But even with two of us on this journey, we battle frustration and burnout almost daily.
What has made a tangible difference is the increasing involvement of my community – friends who’ve taken notice and entered my story in various ways. In the beginning, when someone asked, “How can I help?” I had difficulty coming up with an answer. I didn’t want to be a burden, nor did I want people to assume that I was a total wreck in living out this calling. I mean, I was a competent and caring individual. I could do this, right?
Nope. After repeatedly crashing and burning under the weight of extensive caregiving responsibilities, I learned to cast aside embarrassment and inconvenience to ask for actual help – not some vague, whimpering pleas for sympathy, but bold requests for others to meet specific and diverse needs.
I stood in front of my Sunday school class and asked people to stay with Mom so I could go out once in a while. I felt incredibly foolish, but I did it. I then passed around a sheet with suggested dates and times, and was surprised (and a bit teary-eyed) when people actually signed up.
I approached the deacons at church, outlining my needs on paper. I put a request on Facebook. I asked for prayer at work. Little by little, friends showed up and started pitching in.
Through this, I was reminded that, as believers, we’re called to bear one another’s burdens and meet needs within the Body of Christ. But needs can’t be met if no one knows what they are.
By making my needs known, I gave my church community and friends the opportunity to use their gifts in tangible and effective ways. To pridefully cloak my weakness would’ve denied them the privilege of serving.
Instead, because I spoke up, some of my needs are slowly being met. More importantly, the church is being the church, and God is honored. That’s an all-around win.
Lisa Anderson is director of young adults and Boundless.org at Focus on the Family, and host of “The Boundless Show.” She’s the author of The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage With Purpose.