Slowly, slowly, she made her painful way through the kitchen. Her eyesight dimming, she had not yet detected my presence there in the room, so I could watch unnoticed and register every discouraged sigh. Then, with sad resignation, these words:
“I don’t know why this has to be so hard.”
Sadly, I realized that it was time to open the door to a different “hard” – a conversation that I was not ready to initiate about a topic that she was not ready to discuss.
“Mum, it’s time.”
“It’s time to find a safe place for you to live where you won’t have to be afraid of falling;
where you won’t have to climb stairs;
where you won’t have to be alone so much of the time;
where the people in charge know how to help you.
Five years ago, recovering from devastating surgery, Mum had asked, and we had said the hard “yes” that started this journey together in our home. Renovating space to create a bedroom, equipping our bathroom with all the necessary hardware for her safety, embedding her routines into the rhythm of our days, we made the adjustment. Our rallying cry and our plumb line: “This is the right thing to do.”
Mum’s television, her word search puzzles, and the entertainment value attached to the daily comings and goings of her four grandsons filled her days to the brim. As the one who tries to orchestrate all those comings and goings, I barely noticed Mum’s gradual decline. Two graduations, a wedding, a new baby grandson, and five gardening seasons whizzed by, and suddenly Mum had become a triple threat to herself: vision, balance, and mobility all compromised, and all pointing to trouble.
When, I wondered, did she start resenting the guests who came to our home?
“I just want to sit down here and eat!” she grouched, pointing at the dining room table, laden with a buffet meal for over twenty guests.
And then there was the day of flames and popcorn in the microwave. The smoky aroma that permeated our house for weeks afterward hung in the air like a taunting question mark. What’s next?
Answer: Tears and daily arguments over what should have been normal routines of life. Somewhere along the way, either because I was too busy or just because I did not want to see it, I had missed a cue, and far too late in the process of her decline, I began climbing the ladder of paperwork and approvals that stood between my mum in our home and her safety elsewhere.
Every family is different; every situation is unique, so I would never presume to say when a beloved family member needs professional care of any kind. However, my experience with Mum opened my eyes to some thoughts that helped me in the excruciating process of helping her transition:
- Do everything with love. Partly dementia, partly despair, Mum was constantly furious with me. My actions and words in response were usually ok, but my heart? Angry and impatient. How to respond to her hurled accusations and endless arguments?
“Love suffers long and is kind . . . is not provoked, thinks no evil,” (I Cor. 13:4,5).
- Do everything with forethought. The rules and the procedures vary by state and by specific situation, but it is crucial that a caregiver learn what needs to be done ahead of time. Check your state government’s website, contact area agencies that are part of the approval process for professional care facilities, and ask every question that comes to your mind.
- Do everything with grace. As we explained to Mum – every day, again and again – our reasons for seeking a better, safer place for her to live, we had to slow down and let every sentence be formed around grace. Often the grace was just not there, but I was reminded of Paul’s words to his young friend Timothy:
“Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” (II Timothy 2:1).
Take the grace that is offered. Receive the grace that comes from outside yourself and be strong in that grace when there is none to be found in your own heart.
We were fortunate. Mum made it to safety before a crippling fall or a household emergency complicated the process, and God graciously allowed me to realize the danger of becoming so caught up in my routines that I fail to pay attention to the obvious changes and needs that are right under my nose.
Whether it’s time for a new beginning:
- Saying “yes” to a writing project
- Teaching a class or attending a Bible study
- Initiating a friendship
Or if it’s time for something to end:
- Waving goodbye to the 19-year-old with his overloaded car
- Changing jobs
- Selling a house and making a cross-cultural move
Change is painful, and it can feel like an uprooting, even if the change is positive and welcome. The next time I begin to feel God loosening my roots, I want to hear the voice of the Spirit. I want to be ready when He whispers those quiet words: “It’s time.”
Michele Morin: I am wife to a patient husband, Mum to four young men and a daughter-in-love, and, now, Gram to one adorable grandboy. My days are spent homeschooling, reading piles of books, and, in the summer, tending our beautiful (but messy) garden and canning the vegetables. I love to teach the Bible, and am privileged to gather weekly around a table with the women of my church and to blog about the grace I am receiving, and the lessons from God’s Word that I am trusting.