What I’ve Learned as a Caregiver
by Kathy Harris
“How am I going to do this alone?”
My question cut through the silence of the car ride home from the hospital, where my husband had just lost a long battle with congestive heart failure. His sister was driving me home. Not to an empty house, but to my elderly parents, who had lived with my husband and me for several years. I would now be assuming the role as their sole caregiver, and the task ahead seemed impossible.
I still worked full-time outside the home. And my parents were dealing with their own, very serious health issues, including a devastating stroke and a dementia diagnosis, which had come months apart the year before. Even though my husband hadn’t been well, his presence in the house had provided the assurance I needed to leave for work each day.
Now, that would no longer be the case.
“You will handle it one day at a time.” My sister-in-law spoke each word deliberately in an effort to keep the conversation positive. Although I knew she meant well—and I was all about trying to stay positive—I couldn’t agree with her, even if she did speak from experience.
She and her husband had provided around-the-clock care for my mother-in-law for six or seven years before her death, and I had always admired my sister-in-law’s perseverance, as well as her grace, throughout the process. But I had also watched it take a toll on her and her husband. And they were working together. I would be completely on my own.
I’d already had enough experience with caregiving to know that it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing I’d ever tried to do. Even though I had a basic plan in place to deal with doctor appointments, insurance forms, daily meds, and meals, I had no clue how I would provide the day care my parents would soon need. Thankfully, they could manage by themselves for a while, but it wouldn’t be long before that changed, and I knew they would be resistant to outside help.
My dad, who hadn’t been mobile since his stroke, didn’t understand why he couldn’t use a cane instead of a wheelchair. And my mom, who had been my dad’s helpmate for more than 65 years, refused to accept that strangers might be needed to help with his care. Denial, I learned quickly, is one of a caregiver’s biggest battles.
But, then again, caregivers are guilty of the same thing.
Now, looking back to five years ago, when I first questioned my situation, I realize that my worry was in itself a denial of the truth. The truth was—and still is—that I will never be alone. I have God’s help.
My sister-in-law’s words had been providential.
Since 2014, I’ve learned a lot. Not just about caregiving, but about God and how He works in our lives. Each day has brought its own problem. And each day has brought its own solution. I’ve picked up some good experience, and I’ve been given some good advice. And, even though I’m still learning, I will share a few of these special epiphanies with you.
Take one day at a time. Matthew 6:34 has become my go-to verse, not just for caregiving, but for life in general. The Apostle Matthew’s words can be especially comforting when you’re exhausted and discouraged, wondering how you’ll find the energy to get up another morning and do the same thing over again. Now I realize that I only have to make it through today, and that, most likely, tomorrow’s trials will be different than today’s.
Matthew 6:34 says, “Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own worries. The troubles we have in a day are enough for one day” (NLV).
Or, as The Message translates it, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (MSG).
Rest. As a caregiver, I’ve learned to stockpile sleep. Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint. We need physical, as well as spiritual and emotional, rest. Sleep, prayer, and mini getaways can help with that. Although a full-fledged vacation may be out of the question, an hour of reading, a shopping trip, or lunch with a friend can provide much-needed stress relief.
Connect with others. Isolation is detrimental to our mental and physical well-being. Even if you don’t have time to join a support group, schedule a weekly phone call with a friend. It can be especially helpful if that friend has gone through similar circumstances. Regularly scheduled Sunday night phone conversations with my BFF, who lost her parents several years ago, have often provided the encouragement I need to get through a week. If you want to make the most of your time, invest in a headset so you can fold laundry, wash the supper dishes, or advance the week’s meal prep while talking.
Trust God. At the outset of my caregiving journey, I knew I would never make it alone, and I was right. I didn’t have to. God was always there. I’ve watched Him work miracles that had my name written all over them—more than I could possibly relate here. And that’s okay, because your miracles will look different than mine. They will come in big and small packages, but they will be there. Watch for them.
Apply God’s Word. Find a Bible verse that encourages you. For me, that verse is 2 Thessalonians 3:13, which loosely translates to “Never tire of doing what is right.” I printed it out and posted it in my bathroom as a reminder during the hardest times to stay the course.
And, finally, remember that you’re not alone. God is with you. He will never leave you. He will see you through every day.
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