Last year, I wrote Giving Thanks for Dementia, exploring the reasons I can still give thanks amidst my mother’s debilitating illness. Now, she’s moved in with us for the foreseeable future, and I find myself giving thanks even more!
Some have questioned our wisdom or ability to properly care for Grandma in our home. (Believe me, this choice was not made out of judgment over the choices you have made for your own loved ones. Just as I am not anti-school just because I homeschool, I am not anti-nursing home because we home-nurse.) But, this decision was not made without wrestling in prayer and reaching the firm conviction that, for now, this is the best choice for Grandma.
Kind-hearted people have warned me, “You know, you don’t have to do this.” Yes, I know. “Make sure you take care of yourself.” Right. Please help me do that! “You’ll know when this gets to be too much.” I sure hope that professionals, family, and friends will help me see that time. Yes, this is sacrifice. But, following obediently in God’s leading has brought me so much joy. Here’s why.
Now that Grandma lives with us, here’s the good that has come from this disease.
- Simple Pleasures: While Grandma doesn’t talk much these days, if you watch her face, you can see pleasure as the sun warms her skin in the backyard, or the wind blows as we walk somewhere. Each squeeze or kiss from a grandchild is unexpected, and pure delight to her. For those of us who have memories, it is easy to take these pleasures for granted, because they add up. With memory loss, each moment is all there is, and blessings abound because life is uncomplicated and unburdened with consciousness.
- Nutrition Consciousness: GAPS has helped me recover from food allergies and adrenal fatigue. After a whole year, it might be easy to let my standards slide. However, having Grandma among us reminds me of why I have worked so hard at this. It also motivates me to feed her as well as possible and give her brain all the fuel I can, based on the good and gracious daily “bread” that God provides for us.
- Joy in my Vocation: I could have entered the workforce for a paid job, rather than “just” being a stay-at-home mother/daughter. However, since my Mom came to us, I’ve been more reflective and observant. As I drop her off in the mornings for Adult Day and pick her up, I see the dedicated and patient care-givers there. They do exactly what I do for Grandma (and they also do it for the several others making use of their services), but they are apart from their loved ones all day long! What a blessing that I can do these same things, but among and for those dearest to me! What jobs might I have gotten? Which paid positions would I qualify for? How might I spend my time in full-time service to the community if I were employed? Here are some ideas:
- Teacher (But, I do that. Except for my own precious children, not others’ children.)
- Nurse-Assistant (But, I do that. Except for my own precious mother, not others’ parents.)
- Cook (But, I do that, Except for my own precious family, not just hungry customers.)
- Event-Planner (But, I do that for the 8 of us, not disorganized clients!)
- House-cleaner (But, well, actually I don’t do enough of that! But, at least the boss is understanding!)
- The list of careers I would be qualified for goes on and on. But God has opened my eyes to the fact that I do nearly all of those potential careers from my own home. Could I have gone on to get my master’s degree, and with it a higher-paying, socially important career? Perhaps, but with the abundance of needs among my own family, it is obvious to me that there is a calling in my own midst which I am uniquely qualified to fill. The Lord has provided for us financially, so paid labor for me has not been necessary. But now, whenever I second-guess my choice to turn down employment, I have gratification that I am doing all of these important tasks of service within the realm of my innermost circle of influence.
- Richness in My Marriage: When she first sees her husband become a father, a woman’s tenderness for her husband grows. When you first see your husband care for your own mother, your tenderness for your husband grows ten-fold. I couldn’t be more fulfilled seeing the compassion of my dear husband as he patiently feeds or tends my mother when I am busy with the children. I have never felt so convicted that he was the right man for me to marry. What joy it brings to me to know from experience that he will support me in sickness and in health. And, God-forbid, if I someday am on the giving end of caring for him during a terminal illness, I can look back on these days and remember the mercy and compassion he has showered upon those I love dearly, whom he has chosen to love by no obligation of his own.
- Patience: Let’s face it: We’re supposed to become more patient people when we become parents. But somehow, that resolve fades daily. It’s easy to rush children. In fact, if they are too slow, you can actually pick them up and make them go where they need to be. Not so when caring for a parent. I have no choice but to slow down, leave extra time, or barring extra time, be late to things and not worry about it. With children, punctuality is something they will eventually learn, and I (unfortunately) thought it was my job as Mom to drill it into them. Well, adults with memory-loss are done learning. There are no lessons to learn. (Okay, there are actually hundreds of lessons to learn, but they are spiritual, moral and psychological!) As an adult, I quickly learned that getting frustrated with a change of (my) plans doesn’t help. Somehow, this is infinitely more obvious to me with caring for my mother than for my children. God has given me a second-chance to practice this virtue. Ditto to everything written here about the idea that I don’t have to be in control of everything, too.
- Help! I’m continuing to learn that it’s okay to ask for help. God has provided others in my midst to support and love me on this journey. I cherish those who are walking this road with us and am ever so grateful for their help.
- Eternity on the Mind: There’s nothing like living with someone who has a terminal illness to remind you to be eternally vigilant. Ryan leads more devotions than he used to. We sing more hymns and say more prayers. While we weren’t exactly lax on this in the past, we know God’s Word works. And we are confident that Grandma’s faith is strengthened each day as she hears it.
- I am loved: When my Mom sees me after even a short separation, she lights up, as if it has been months or years since a reunion. It makes me feel so special and loved, the highlight of her existence. It reminds me of the joy in Heaven when one sinner repents. That joy on my Mom’s face is just a small sample of the never-ending-unstoppable love that Jesus has for each and every one of us. As I have figuratively laid down my life to care for the others in my midst, Jesus has literally laid down His life for each one of us, washing away our sins and making us right with God. Heaven is mine. Heaven is yours. Heaven is Mom’s, and so close.
None of these reasons to give thanks discount the fact that at some point, Grandma may still need a nursing facility. Even at that time, God’s promises will still hold true. If and when that time comes, I am confident there will be reasons to give thanks, as well. (Can you say, “Giving Thanks for Dementia, Part 3”?)
Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Casper, Wyoming, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (Old Testament vol., 2018; New Testament vol., 2023), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).