Whenever I hear someone complain about taking care of a family member with Dementia, or any other neurological or cognitive impairment disease, and they mention how awful it is, I feel sad. They speak of the experience as though they were reliving the pain all over again. Yes, it is a painful disease for the patient as well as the caregiver. But, did they experience any of the joy I did when I cared for my dying mother?
Recently, while studying my Sunday School lesson called God Blesses, I read a note from author Toni Funkhouser. She was writing about the story of Jacob and Esau, and recalled a time of suffering in her life. She said,
Often I think back on that time of suffering and wish to be back there. It sounds so crazy, but the closeness I experienced with God was truly a blessing. I ask God, “How can I have You close to me like You were back then? Is it possible without the suffering?” Maybe. Maybe not. It seems strange to pine after a time of suffering unless you’ve experienced how sweet it is to be so close to God Almighty. It’s strange until you realize that to be “blessed” isn’t necessarily to have good things in your life or to have happiness – but to experience the Spirit of God transforming your life.
“Yes!” I said out loud. This is what I felt through my mother’s suffering. I was transformed and God truly blessed me.
My mother was a beautiful woman, not just physically but inside too. She was quiet, sweet and kindhearted. She laughed easily, couldn’t tell a joke right to save her life, and always put her needs last after her husband and children.
In my late teens I thought she was weak – a push over. But I later realized that it was her strength that kept us together. Not only did she have her husband to deal with she had nine children. She took great care of all of us. At their 50th wedding anniversary, my father, a retired military man, stood up and told his guest, “Ida Mae was a better soldier than I ever was.” He was right.
When Mom started showing signs of Dementia, the family, especially my brothers, were actively engaged in caring for my aging father, who had suffered a heart attack and stroke and was immobile. Dad died within a year of taking to his bed.
Mom’s digression was slow. We placed her on hospice while Dad was still alive. There were many tears. There were disagreements on how best to care for her. At one point, when Dad was alive, we placed her in a memory care facility. It lasted a week. None of us could take it. One of us was with her almost the entire time. We brought her home.
As she was packed and ready to leave the facility she raised her hand in the air to get everyone’s attention and said, “I want you to take good care of one another, and love each other. Keep God first and may he bless each of you.” She prayed a blessing over them.
When my school year ended we had a family meeting and my siblings asked me if I could be her primary caregiver for the summer. My younger sister, Sharon, after taking a family leave, moved from Georgia to Colorado to work from home and continue caring for Mom. I said, “Yes.”
Ever since I can remember, my mother talked with God. Each night before bed she got down on her knees to pray. Watching her made me want to do and be a better person. She carried us in her prayers and asked God to protect us – and he answered her. The very least I could do now was to care for her as she always did for me.
Everyone did what they could. We were a pretty well-oiled bunch. By the time September rolled around I knew I could not leave Mom. I didn’t know how much time she had left but I wanted to be with her, so I took the next year off from teaching.
Mom had reached the point where she could not speak clearly and would rarely try. Yet sometimes she would be very clear and direct. When she was presented with 3 of her great-grandchildren for the first time, she said, “Give me that baby!” She held each one and spoke to them clearly. This was the blessing. It reminded me of the Old Testament when the patriarch would reach out and bless the children before dying. This is what she was doing. The great-grand-children will not remember her except through photos and videos, but she was blessed by them, and gave a blessing to them at the same time. How precious!
I learned a lot about my siblings while taking care of my Mom. Especially my brothers Mike and Ron. They were so gentle with her when changing, bathing and feeding her. They spoke to her sweetly, kissed her lightly and held her hand. Janice, my older sister, relieved me on weekends so I could be with my husband and get some TLC. Tonja and Debra, sisters who lived out of town, spent their vacations with Mom. My eldest brother, Bobby Jr., did his part too, before passing from heart disease.
Grandchildren, nieces and nephews came to spend time with her. We celebrated everything – births, graduations, holidays and just-because days. Sometimes she was unable to leave her room but she was the center of it all.
Mom was in hospice for 3 years. Her nurses said it was practically unheard of. They said she was still with us because of the love and care she was receiving. During the difficult times, when she was in pain, when we couldn’t figure out how to help her, I prayed God would take her. Oh, the guilt I felt later – not that I was getting tired, but her physical suffering was increasing. Her nurses assured us we were doing everything right. There were times in the middle of the night when she cried out to God. I could not understand what she was saying but I knew she was talking to God.
God showed me, through my mother’s illness, how strong He could be through me and my siblings. He showed me how to truly forgive, to be humble, to see clearly, to feel unappreciated and get over it, to be creative and to love deeper than I ever knew I could.
Mom passed at age 87 in August of 2017. We let go of her ashes, along with Daddy’s, mixed with flower petals, on top of Pikes Peak. Taking care of Mom, this precious and godly soul, in the company of my siblings, was a great blessing and contained an indescribable joy that will be with me forever.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY MAMA
Gone – never forgotten – always loved!!