“How easily we forget that God designed aging! … Once you truly acknowledge that aging is part of God’s plan, you can begin to embrace it as a divine gift.”
—Missy Buchanan, Aging Faithfully
I’m trying to view aging positively, but reality is hitting hard, breathing down my neck, whispering and sometimes shouting, “Your dad is in decline. It’s time to make some decisions now—before his physical decline becomes a full-blown crisis.”
You’ve probably heard the statistics. The fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population is over 85. According to a 2011 study, the number of Americans who provide care for their aging parents has tripled since 1994. Caregiving has become one of the major concerns of our time, with the number of senior baby boomers rising exponentially and the increased longevity of our elderly population.
- How do we care for our elderly parents while treating them with dignity and allowing them to have a say in their future?
- How do we step in when necessary and make tough decisions, becoming almost like parents to our own parents?
- How do we manage this transition without losing our sanity?
I’ve been pondering these questions for some time as I think about my 90-year-old dad. Alas, I cannot come up with any simple solutions.
My dad is married, lives 5 hours away from me, and has a wife who suffers from dementia and lives in a nursing home. My stepmother is 94.
As an only child, I feel responsible for my dad’s well-being and long to be closer to him so I can check on him more often. He clings to his independence quite fiercely, still driving and only recently having acquiesced to using a cane. He lives alone in his home.
Over the past decade, we’ve had many conversations about his future. At one point he was ready to move to Nashville so he could be closer to me. But he feels the pull of honoring his marriage vows.
We’ve had several health scares since Dad had quadruple bypass surgery 9 years ago. Each time he’s had surgery, I have taken time off work and traveled to North Carolina to be with him during his hospitalization and to help for a few days afterward. The last time he had general anesthesia, things did not go well, and I had to make temporary arrangements for home health care.
I am blessed and grateful that my stepsister, who lives next door to Daddy, checks in on him daily. Though she has willingly dressed wounds when I’ve had to resume my normal life in Nashville, I realize this is becoming a heavy burden for her.
I have dealt with this increasingly stressful (and guilt-inducing) situation by worrying about it constantly or psychologically distancing myself, neither of which has been a helpful coping mechanism or altered the reality we face.
So many questions plague me. Do I move Daddy to Nashville, and if so, how do I do this without strong-arming him? Does he need to move to assisted living in the facility where my stepmother resides? Would providing in-home care be a better alternative?
As I mentioned above, my dad and I have talked around these issues. Our discussions have been brief (usually due to being in the midst of a crisis) and leave me feeling unsettled.
The last time I went to be with him during and after minor surgery, I had prepared myself to address the future head-on. But somehow, after watching him sign the consent forms for surgery and sedation and being reminded that he shouldn’t make any major decisions that day, I just couldn’t in good conscience bring up the issue of “What do we do now?” Meaning, of course, what plans do we need to make to address the reality in which we find ourselves? As much as I wish, things will not just get better if we do nothing.
In my head I know that I “should” not worry. But my heart tells me otherwise.
I have prayed and asked God to help me discern the best course of action. I have talked to friends in similar situations. And of course, as I always do, I have sought out books for advice and information.
One book that has been especially helpful in this journey is A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—And Ourselves by Jane Gross (Vintage Books, 2011). I was attracted to the book because Jane Gross is a New York Times journalist and an expert on elder care. She speaks from the experience of finding care for her 85-year-old mother, who was already in assisted living but suddenly was forced by a health crisis to seek alternative arrangements. Gross offers tips for working with siblings to find the best care options for elderly parents, dealing with the maze of Medicaid and Medicare, addressing financial concerns, understanding adult children’s needs and practicing self-care as we care for our parents, and much more.
As I’ve prayed, I have meditated on the following scriptures and readings:
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.”
—Psalm 139: 1-2, 4-5 (NRSV)
“Therefore, I [Jesus] say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. … Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? … Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
—Matthew 6:25-27, 34 (CEB)
“Gracious God, I thank you for the answered prayers in my life, especially …
_________________________________________. Quiet the noises in my soul and let me hear you. Be near to me in this journey. Amen.”
—Missy Buchanan, Aging Faithfully: 28 Days of Prayer
“Life is like a good book. There are countless times when we don’t have the foggiest understanding abut what’s happening. We puzzle over how the characters, the plot, themes, and episodes fit into the story. We read on, trusting that everything will make sense in the end. We believe somehow times of fear, bewilderment, and confusion will change to wonder, grace and revelation when we reach the concluding words. In the meantime, we read on. We simply show up, walk humbly with our God, and anticipate the next chapter of our life’s story.”
—Nell Noonan, Not Alone: Encouragement for Caregivers
In the meantime, I wait and pray for wisdom—sometimes not too patiently.
I also pray for those of you who provide daily care for a loved one and for those who work in senior care facilities. Your job is not easy.
I’ve had glimpses of what it takes to be a full-time caregiver. May God bless you in your caregiving journey.
May you find peace and strength, and may you feel the truth of Galatians 6:9 (CEB): “Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up.”
Missy Buchanan, Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults (Upper Room Books, 2008). While this book is written primarily for elderly adults who are in physical or mental decline, it gives adult children understanding of the emotions and daily challenges their parents are experiencing.
Trevor Hudson, The Serenity Prayer: A Simple Prayer to Enrich Your Life (Upper Room Books, 2012). A good resource to help caregivers and others accept the situation they are in, relinquish their burdens to God, and find peace even in the midst of chaos.
Nell E. Noonan, Not Alone: Encouragement for Caregivers (Upper Room Books, 2009). Written by an author who was thrust into the situation of becoming caregiver for her husband, this book of 150 devotions is Bible-based, uplifting and yet realistic about the burdens of caregivers, plus it offers inspirational stories and prayers. I gave this book to a friend caring for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s; she reports that she read it over and over, underlining and highlighting portions of it, and this book got her through many a tough day.
Nell E. Noonan, The Struggles of Caregiving: 28 Days of Prayer (Upper Room Books, 2011). Another book by Noonan that helps caregivers cope with their frustration, questions about faith, guilt, and struggles.
This blog was originally written for Upper Room Books and posted on their website in July 2012 (in two parts).