“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. ” Psalm 23:6
There are times in our lives when it is hard to know God’s goodness and love. The day arrives when you’ve gotten the call you have dreaded. Your mom or dad is in the position where they are unable for whatever reason to take care of themselves. Perhaps you have already discussed the situation with other family members or your spouse. The care of your parent falls into your lap. You are more than willing to do whatever it takes, or perhaps you don’t feel equipped to take on the responsibility. Is it your mom and dad, or just one of your parents? Should your parent live with you or should you start looking for a good assisted living or nursing home? Is it an emergency situation or do you have time to think through the options? Where can you go to get answers, where can you find help? So many things to consider and work out. What will be the best solution for your family? I can tell you all of these questions do have answers. They don’t always get answered right away, they don’t always end up the way you have carefully planned or hoped. You feel as if you are deep in a valley where the way out feels beyond your reach. Psalm 23 was written by David during a time when he felt he was in a dark valley, and yet he knew God was with him and he knew that God was worthy of praise even when he felt abandoned and afraid. It seems simple and yet I feel strongly that each step you take in caring for your loved one should be started with prayer.
In our own case, we were still in the process of selling the house where we had raised our three children when mom came home to stay with us. We had found the “pretty house” as dad called it, but buying it depended on selling the old house first. We had to place mom in a bedroom upstairs which meant that one of us always had to be with her to make sure she could get up and down the stairs safely. We also had to make sure she didn’t trip over one of our two dogs, Newton, a very old and sick beagle and Emily a beagle mix. Mom had grown up on a farm where all animals were kept outdoors, she was not used to having dogs inside and underfoot. Quite often we had to pack up the dogs and mom and get them out of the house so that people could see the house without interruption. It was January in Pennsylvania, very cold and snowy. Mom did not understand why we kept taking her (with the dogs) for a “drive”. Usually, we would take her to a restaurant for a hot cup of tea or perhaps a bowl of soup. In addition to selling our house, our days revolved around taking mom to a West Virginia hospital to visit my father who had fallen and broken his hip. Mom was keen on visiting him every day. I was not always able to go with them as I worked full time as a respiratory therapist at a children’s hospital. It was only on my days off that I could join them. My husband was a minister with his office in our home. This enabled him to take care of mom and bring her to be with dad. As we had so little experience and knowledge we did not know that this added stress could exacerbate mom’s dementia. We wanted to make sure that she was able to see dad as she desired. I don’t know if she really understood much of anything that was happening. She could not really express well what she was thinking or feeling. We really were going through a dark valley of uncertainty and stress.
“Surely your goodness and love”. Dad was sure of his salvation. His faith was deep. He remained optimistic and was sure that he would walk out of the hospital and live in the “pretty house”. He was 85 with a heart condition, he knew surgery was dangerous for him, but he was determined to walk again. Complications did happen. His carotid was nicked, and he spent several days unconscious and on a breathing machine. Mom would sit beside his bed, holding his hand for hours. He did finally come off the breathing machine and seemed to improve for a while. We began to hope and look forward to the day he would come home. It was not to be. On my birthday we were having a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant with my mom, my son and his wife when I got the call from the hospital surgeon saying we needed to get to the hospital. My dad was actively dying. For a month we had driven mom back and forth. For a month we had hope. When we arrived the doctor took us into a small room and explained that dad had internal bleeding that could not be stopped. I sat beside mom, holding her hand, my husband sitting on her other side. I don’t remember her asking any questions or saying a single word. Eventually, we were allowed to go to dad’s room. He took my hand and stated, “They say they can’t do anything”. “I know dad”, I answered. He told us that he was not afraid and he only had but one concern. He needed to know that the love of his life would be ok. “Take care of your mom”. I assured him that I would and then, at his request, we started singing hymns. One right after another. Dad had hundreds of hymns memorized. He had been regaling the ICU staff with singing those hymns the whole time he had been with him. The next morning we were called at the hotel by the doctor saying that dad’s time was very short. I stayed in the car comforting mom while my husband rushed in so that he could tell dad goodbye’s but dad was already gone. He found the doctor and nurses standing around dads bed crying. He had made a godly impression on everyone and as a result made friends with them all. ” …and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” We knew for certain that this is what dad believed with all of his heart.
We have learned over the years that people suffering from dementia do not process anything the way we would expect. There is no convincing them that what they may be doing could be incorrect. My husband and I were saddened not just by dad’s death-but by how mom was handling and dealing with it. The first thing she did when dad was gone was to remove her wedding ring from her left hand and place it on her right. This was confusing to us. When my husband questioned her about this she stated that she was no longer married. She remembered vaguely something about no marriage in heaven. She was remembering the verse in Matthew 22:30 where Jesus is talking about the resurrection, where no marriages will take place.” At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” She felt in her heart that because of this she would never see my dad again. The hope of the resurrection made no sense to her in her now muddled mind. As dad had been her dearest love in this life, the thought that she would never see him again in the next was completely overwhelming to her. My husband was not able to change what her mind had accepted-nor the interpretation her mind had made of the passage. It was a new lesson for us. Trying to reason with a person with dementia or Alzheimers only makes things worse. It is so much better to just let it go.
Her grief was all consuming. We felt lost as to how we could help. The tears came in torrents, nothing seemed to comfort or help her. This continued until we finally moved her into the “pretty house” in March and lasted even then for a few more months until she gradually forgot dad altogether. This was another puzzle, how can you forget someone you have cherished and loved for 56 years? Was this God’s mercy? In a way, I think that it was. The more she forgot dad the more relaxed and cheerful she became.
In the 23rd Psalm, we see God’s loving care no matter what we may be experiencing. “Yea though I go through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” We certainly felt as if we were in that valley, however, we also felt God’s care and mercy pouring down on us. When you are wallowing through this valley it can be so confusing and frightening. You may feel overburdened and overwhelmed with the things needed by your loved one. Rest assured God is watching over you, he indeed will give you strength for each day.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34). We found a routine is very important for a person living with dementia. We tried to make sure she felt wanted and needed giving her chores she was able to do. We made sure she was with us in church. We took her for drives through the country. She loved music, old movies, and ice cream. Small comforts that we were able to provide. One day at a time. I felt God with us every step of the way and even though the valley at times was dark and deep- his goodness and love were right there as well.
One thing we found very helpful in our situation was to contact our county’s agency on aging. You will have similar services available. It does take time to get the services needed -so keep that in mind.
Please feel free to leave me a comment on how I can pray for you. Also, check out the link provided by the Alzheimers Association. There you will find suggestions and help