We are underway with a series Deep Roots Parenting for the Common Good in which we have been looking at our priorities and values as parents. We are all caregivers -- care givers to young and old; to those who share our DNA and to those who we are connected to us by a double helix of love of God and neighbor.
Today, I want to speak specifically to those who find yourself now parenting the parents who raised them and are now facing the tables turned as they become the caregivers for aging parents; those of you who find yourself now parenting the parents who raised you.
Caregivers and Those in the Winter Season Life
This season can be challenging for you as caregiver.
Some of you are on the roller coaster of family care waiting for when the next fall or emergency throws everything into a tailspin. Some of you are in the marathon of family care. You have been caring for a parent, witnessing the slow and persistent decline. Weekly, you make the trip to the home to sort the laundry and play a modified game of dominoes. If it’s good day, your parent will remember your name and that you are his daughter. Some of you were there until the end, rarely leaving the side, holding vigil and doing everything from managing your parent’s pain to completing a will to reminiscing about life. You were swimming in the deep end of the family care pool.
Some of you who are Caregivers, might think, parenting my parents while parenting my young children and holding down a job is too much. I am trying to be there for my parents and their growing needs and I am trying to be there for my children and I am left at the end of the day just feeling guilty and exhausted.
It can also be challenging for you who are in the winter season of life. For you, you struggle with your loss of independence and increasing vulnerability. You are frustrated that you cannot dowhat you could do before. You’ve resigned yourself to the unwelcome companionship of aches and pains, and you scan the obituaries to see which friend’s funeral you will be next attending. You’ve relinquished so many things, yet you have never relinquished the sense of trying to live out your baptism even in this winter season and the sense of being summoned to love God and neighbor. We are moved by your witness and affirmation that in growing old no one needs to be pushed to the margins of irrelevance.
I understand because I’ve been there
Last weekend I was in Louisville visiting my 93 year old mother. My visits to my mom can be hard for me. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile what your parent once was with what they have become in their frailty. While my mom’s short term memory loss makes long conversations a thing of the past, if I am honest, it is hard because I deal internally what is our tendency to do collectively: to stay present in a situation, sitting there in the quiet of the retirement home in which we are reminded that we are finite, bodily creatures who cannot escape diminishment, loss and eventual death.
In the hours before Jesus’ own death, twice Jesus came to the sleeping disciples whom he had asked to watch with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ awakened them and said with sad surprise, “What, could you not watch with me one hour?” When he came the third time and found them sleeping, he looked sadly down upon them and said, “Sleep on now, and take your rest.” I returned this week from Louisville thankful for my sister for showing up and being there in a way that I cannot. She manages my mom’s everything. (It helps that she is CEO of the network of retirement homes where my mom lives.) And I am thankful to my brother who is there to provide daily support stopping by to see that my mother is okay and to turn down the bed. I don’t know if I could sustain what they do daily.
To all who are caregivers, to those who are in the winter season of life, we acknowledge your sense of loss but also affirm the tenacity of your faith.
To all who are caregivers, your love for your family is great, but the burden of care is great, too, whatever the unique situation you face. I acknowledge you. We acknowledge that it can exhaust your physical, mental, financial and spiritual resources. We acknowledge that each of your journey is different and your complex needs are different. We seek to be your support.
We are all family caregivers in some way and we are on many different journeys.