If you choose to care for an elderly person in your home, know that having ‘home alone’ time will be extremely limited. As we soon begin our second year of doing this, I thought it may be helpful to share some of the things we have learned. I say ‘we’ because this is definitely a joint venture between Tom and me. In our situation, it is my mother that we are caring for. That also can change the dynamic. Our situation is rather unique as well because we moved in with my mother because we lived in a parsonage and not our own home, which added its own sets of challenges quite different than if she had moved in with us.
- Be willing to give up things. As empty-nesters, we had lived alone for over ten years. We had our routine, our alone time, our schedules, our private meals. That all changed. At times, it can be overwhelming, always having another person there, especially an elderly person who likes to be with you. 😊 We have had to get creative, and thankfully, Mom is still able to be alone for short periods of time, but the new normal is still new. Advice: don’t look back. Keep your focus on your mission—caring for someone you love. Be willing to split yourself into several pieces. We also live next to our daughter and her family, which includes three young boys. We love it, but Grandma (that would be me) needs to be very proactive to get alone time, and even then, it rarely happens. Just this morning, I was in the bathroom when I heard one of my windchimes clanging wildly. Nearly-two-year-old Adam and wandered away from the older boys (they knew it) and into our yard. I had him help me do a few things, but then explained that this was one of the few alone times I get. Eight-year-old James understands that and off they went, so I could write a little—the passion that has been pushed to the back burner.
- Know that she is part of your family, but she isn’t. Early on, I said to my husband, “We need to think of her as part of our family.” To a degree, that is true, but as a couple, you still need to have times that are just the two of you. This is probably easier if a parent has moved into your house. Maybe not. We have literally built a home in her basement, so we have some space of our own. But we share the kitchen—a very essential part of any home. I used to enjoy listening to podcasts and audiobooks while cooking. Now I talk to Mom. Do I miss the private time? Yes, but, once again, I need to keep focused on my mission: caring for Mom. At times, I selfishly want to have my out-of-town family all to myself when they come to visit, but that would be rude. Thankfully, Mom is very understanding. She goes to bed early, and so we do have ‘alone time’ even with family. One of my favorite lines from “The Chosen” is: “Get used to different!” So true!
- Keep her independent as long as possible. This is definitely one of the main reasons we did what we did. It was becoming obvious that she could not be alone anymore. We were already cutting her lawn, planting her flowers, caring for snow, doing her finances, making meals, but it wasn’t enough. However, she still does as much as she can. Try not to take everything away even though it would be easier! She still cleans her room, does her laundry, and empties the dishwasher. It may not sound like much, but it is important to give her purpose, and I am still looking for ideas to add meaning to her life. So many of the things she used to do that would be fulfilling are no longer possible. It’s a challenge. Last fall when she was nearly immobile because of needing a hip replacement, I made Christmas postcards for my grandchildren that she could color. She loves to color. They loved them, and she loved doing them.
- Repetition is important. How many times do you need to reteach how to use the computer, or phone, or TV remote? I don’t know, but keeping her mind active is so important, so I do it.
- Don’t yell or lose your temper (or sense of humor!). Caring for an elderly person is a lot like caring for children, except that SHE’S MY MOTHER! Keeping that perspective is so important. I am very blessed to have a born-again believer as a mom. Her mind is mostly clear. She still drives at age 85. She’s thoughtful, considerate, and patient with us! She knows that she needs help and is grateful that we were willing to do this to keep her in her home. Remember Proverbs 15:1. A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. We also need to apply Ephesians 4:32! And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. There are no qualifiers on this verse. It’s not just when I’m well-rested or agree with the other two people I am now living with. It’s when I don’t understand, when I am tired of giving, and when the future looks bleak.
- Trust is the main ingredient. Yes, there are things that we do and don’t tell her that we did, but we have her permission to do them. It took a while to gain her complete trust because of all the change as well as the mistrust of other family members, but if you are being honest and trying to do the right thing, I believe with all my heart, it will work out. There are still moments when she doesn’t understand and becomes wary, but we talk to her and try to answer her question. Also, know that paranoia may become part of the equation. It seems to be part of the aging process. We’re not there yet but understanding that they possibly can’t grasp everything that is going on will help you to react in kindness.
- Rely on God’s strength. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20). Notice that God is able to do way beyond anything we can imagine. But look where or how He is accomplishing it: IN US!! It is HIS strength, but we are His hands, His feet, His heart.
I hope this is helpful. As I reread through it, I realize that much of this can be applied to any of our relationships. As servants of Christ, our work can seem fruitless, but we have no idea what God is accomplishing. That is not our responsibility. ‘Ours is not to wonder why. Ours is just to do or die.*” That might be a bit dramatic, but you get the point! 😊
*The Battle of the Light Brigade by Tennyson