Stretching In Caring… Even To Death
Over the past few years, I’ve watched the generation before me age, slow down, go through sickness, lose functioning and even die. When I was young, I didn’t have to think about my beloved parents and other special loved ones dying; it was in the far distance. But when the last grandparent died, my dad said “Well, I’m guess I’m next.” And for me that was an eye-opener. It meant I was next in line to walk the walk with them, each and every one. At least by this time in my life, I had learned how precious life is, how much we should savor each day we have, and especially how meaningful each day with my precious loved ones is.
Making the commitment to care cannot be taken lightly; it’s something you can’t just stop doing. You can’t keep from showing up because it’s inconvenient. When you get that call in the middle of the night, you can’t say I have a headache, call someone else. It takes fortitude, strength, and above all love to stay the course. I’ve often felt I was on an emotional roller coaster and physically challenged as I cared for loved ones through the deterioration of sickness and loss of human functions. It’s extremely difficult to watch and assist as our most beloved lose their eyesight, hearing, weight, muscle tone, memory, judgment and continence, all the while wondering if this is to be my path as well and how I can prevent it.
And it’s heartbreaking to sit through the vigil before death wondering how long can we keep the pain away, what should I do? So many questions go through your mind… should I go home tonight to sleep and come back? Should I stay? Do I have time to get something to eat or even go to the restroom? Is my loved one comfortable? Can they hear me? Can they feel my touch? Can they see my tears? How can I stay strong? What now?
And when the last breath is breathed and death comes, there’s waiting with the body, often for hours, to be released and taken away. But that’s not the end for the caregiver because then you have finalization of arrangements, legal issues, and phone calls to make. At times like these, it left me physically drained and emotionally wasted as I ran on fumes with little sleep while drowning in emotional sorrow.
But perhaps most difficult is dealing with and continued care for the one(s) left behind; a pair is now a spare. Over and over I’ve heard my dad say…“Your mom has been gone for seven years, I just don’t know why God doesn’t take me too; I’m ready to go.” Their will to live is affected. Their joy robbed. They go over and over the details in their minds with the “what-ifs” that haunt them. What if I’d noticed this or that earlier? What if I’d stayed home? What if I had one more time to talk to her, what would I say? And I have to admit, I too have been a victim of the “what-ifs” at times.
Walking the walk is not for the faint-hearted. Fortunately, as a Christian we can call on our God, and that’s all you have in times like these. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says to us “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
In those most difficult of times, when I’m so emotional, tired and vulnerable, I know I can turn to my Lord and Savior for strength. God lifts that yolk from my shoulders and gives me what I need to get through. And somehow those times have become the most precious and honored times in my life. What an honor to walk the walk with those we love the most. The Bible tells us that the pain that comes with love also brings rewards.
And when I’m toiling during those times and wondering how I’m going to make it through, I often remember this song which brings me comfort and strength, “It’s Well with My Soul.”
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of the glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord praise the Lord, O my soul!
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descent, even so, it is well with my soul.
Susan Fair is a decades-long member of NorthPark Presbyterian Church who finds her greatest joy in the service of others and in the company of family and friends, new and old.