Dedicated to my Papa- A man of few words but when he spoke, you listened.
Also dedicated to my Grandmother and Mother, your example of love and devotion through hardship will never be forgotten.
No article is effortless for me to write as I try to take the time to devote all of my heart and soul to the words on the page but this is no exception. With great hesitation and lots of thought, I finally publish this piece. It is hard for me to go back into my brain and pull out these memories as it was painful enough to live through the first time but I am confident that God can use my insight and experience to help just one person who subscribes to my random thoughts. May God allow these words to penetrate your heart as you encourage someone who is a caretaker, seek encouragement as a caretaker, or fit somewhere in-between.
As a child, I spent every Saturday at my grandparents’ home. I saw my grandmother and mother in a new light as my grandfather became ill and died to himself long before he died to the world. Both my grandmother and mother remained calm and collected through this journey longer than I knew was humanly possible. Our real life drama was better described as a tragedy. The suspense and sorrow combined made up the series of events in which my Grandfather’s earthly life faded into heaven.
As much of a Grandma’s girl as I am, I was surely a Papa’s girl too. I was always the child that wanted to be with him. I was just eat up with my Papa. I knew he could do anything. I loved to sing while he played guitar and I have memorized several John Wayne movies thanks to him. I can hear his voice praying over a meal. I remember exactly how he combed his hair just so. There was never a day it didn’t look exactly in place. He liked order.
It was difficult to see a man that I believed could do anything forget the names of family members and close friends. I truly believe that the reason God allowed him to know who I was all of his days, especially the day he died, was because I would not have been able to emotionally handle him not remembering who I was. As his illness progressed, I spent Saturdays that turned into afternoons after school at his beck and call. I remained there until the day of his death.
Through this difficult life change, my Grandmother remained just as resilient as ever. I know she must have had her moments but they were never in front of us. Thinking back on the last few years of my Papa’s life, my grandmother must have been nothing short of exhausted both physically and emotionally every single day.
My family was very appreciative of all of the love we received during my grandfather’s last years. That support kept a smile on our faces through moments we wanted to lock ourselves in a room. My grandparents had many good friends that ministered to our family during this time that continue to love her today. I will be completely transparent and state that it was heartbreaking for me to watch my grandparents’ own church leaders neglect them as they could not contribute to the Sunday morning numbers. I will not go any further on that. Even though I am grown, my mother reads this blog and will still come after me when I say too much. Moral of the story: It is important that we not become so consumed in ourselves that we neglect the ministry right at our finger tips. I’m guilty of this, too.
I tell you part of my personal heartache of watching a family member with dementia in hopes to encourage you as you minister to those that are walking through this hardship today.
Everyday is different and you quickly learn to never take a minute for granted. The constant ups and downs are exhausting. A quick visit, phone call, or note of encouragement will mean more to that family than you may ever realize. That could be the only 10 minutes of hope that they receive from someone that day.
If you have never walked through something like this it is easy to be insensitive and not realize that you are. Saying things like, “Do you remember when…” and when there is no answer you ask again and again is very insensitive. I can recall days when someone would sit in front of my grandfather and treat him like google rather than a person and ask 50 million questions. It was enough to make my blood boil. In one instance, I had to sternly ask a family member to refrain from this. Do not be afraid to speak up on your loved one’s behalf just because you may offend someone. That might be why you have been placed in that setting at that particular moment.
Just because my grandfather had dementia did not mean that he had completely lost himself. He could sense when someone got frustrated because he couldn’t remember something or could not get up by himself. He himself got frustrated a few times which was not normal for him. It is important to remember that even if you are drained as a caretaker, you should not take out your emotions on the one you are caring for. You have to be sensitive. I cannot imagine losing my independence and needing 24/7 attention. We have to show grace.
If you are currently walking through this hardship, I leave you with some words of encouragement that I relied on during this emotional rollercoaster.
“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” John 16:33
God is the only constant stronghold in this life. In our uncertainty, He is all knowing. In our fear, He is peace. In our despair, He is hope. In our sickness, He is healing.
This life will fade, just as my grandfather did. Though his death was heartbreaking, God used that time to illustrate His word so perfectly. The apostle Paul writes about God’s love as never ending while the things of this world were made to pass away (1 Cor. 13:8-10).
May we fully embrace God’s love and share the lasting hope of Him with those around us during times of sorrow.