Caregiving is a season, and I must remember that. Just as toddlers don’t stay toddlers forever, our aging loved ones don’t stay in their fallen bodies forever. My mother is ready to meet the Lord, and she reminds me of that most days. But depending on how long she’s here, her needs may eventually be greater than I can meet in my home. Other options may be necessary, and I’m prepared to face that.
For some caregivers, putting their loved one in assisted living, memory care or a nursing home is the only option – and many of these facilities provide wonderful care from loving and professional staff. Before she moved in with me, Mom was in assisted living for three years. It was a marvelous, Christian-owned center – and she hated it. Mom’s never been a social butterfly, so settling in there was difficult for her.
Rather than join the group activities or regular coffee hours, she sat alone in her apartment. She made some unsound decisions based on her declining judgment capabilities. She got her days and nights mixed up. She had episodes of paranoia. She didn’t eat well. Where others thrived, she isolated. Eventually it became apparent that a different solution was needed, at least for now.
When my friend Julianna offered to quit her job and move in with me to be Mom’s weekday caregiver, I knew that was my green light to give it a try. It’s been ridiculously hard, but Mom is thriving. I want to do what I’m doing for as long as I’m able.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my pastors said, “It’s obvious that your mom’s quality of life has improved since moving in with you, but I think you’re literally extending her life by what you’re doing.”
Instead of patting myself on the back for being a hero, I stopped in my tracks. Right there, God flashed something like a film reel before my mind. On it were images of Mom simply “doing life” in recent months.
But the images weren’t only of Mom and me. There was Mom attending the monthly widows’ luncheon at church. Mom here at Focus on the Family, chatting with everyone like she owns the place. Mom showing our neighbor her swimming medals. Mom holding one of my friends hostage with pictures of her grandchildren. Mom reading Scripture at our Thursday night Bible study. Mom being picked up by a church member who invited her over for lunch.
All of these images featured other people – people who have chosen to join Mom and me in this journey. People who have given Mom and me love and dignity as we navigate another day. People who have said with their actions, I see you, and I’m here for you.
My point here is obvious. As I walk Mom through her last chapter here on earth, I want to do it with joy and grace. But I can’t do it alone. I need you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to help lift my arms, bear my burdens and quiet my spirit as I navigate the days ahead. So do the many other caregivers who are on this road with me. Will you join us?
Some of you can give time. Some can give resources. Some can give acts of service. Whatever your gift, give it knowing that you are breathing life into someone who may be barely hanging on.
Caregiving is a community project. When my time caring for Mom is over, I look forward to investing in someone else who needs the same type of support that I currently seek. And so it goes.
Caregiving is never easy, but there are untold blessings for those willing to take it on and trust God to see them through. I know that firsthand. You can, too.
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.