Being a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is like being signed up for Marine Corp boot camp without your knowledge. Once you’re in, the drills begin. Rising early, losing sleep, endless chores, conversations that will try your patience, being pushed farther than you’ve ever been pushed before, dealing with doubts about whether or not you can do this, routines that must be followed even when they make no sense. We are not the few, the proud. We are 16 million and we’ve been humbled. But when you’re caring for a loved one, the sacrifices you’re willing to make to give them the best quality of life transcend your own comfort.
Since I became a caregiver for my Father, I’ve had friends, acquaintances and even strangers ask me, “How do you do it?” I make a lot of mistakes. But I’ve learned some things these past eight years and I’ll tell you how I do it.
Imagine you and your friends have planned to go tubing down a river. You’ve got your gear, your innertube, everything you need for a fun day in the sun. But when you hike along the path and reach the river, you’re shocked to find the water level dangerously low. The riverbed isn’t completely dry, so you plop your innertube and yourself into the water and make your way down stream. Technically, you’re floating, but at any moment you could stand up and the water would only come up to your knees. There are numerous jagged rocks beneath you that could tear a hole in your innertube. Broken branches from overgrown trees and brambles along the river’s edge have fallen into the riverbed and must be carefully avoided to keep your innertube intact.
Next imagine that while you and your friends are trying to determine if this was such a good idea, you hear the rushing of water and look behind you to see the riverbed filling up. It’s as if a dam broke a mile away and the water has risen to the point that you float safely above the jagged rocks and the overgrown branches. If you stood up, the water would now come to your chin. The increased flow of water has made you buoyant and your outing enjoyable. It could not have come at a better time. The jagged rocks and brambles are still beneath you. But you can’t feel them now because the extra water has enabled you to rise above them. This surge has given you a much-needed buffer.
The rocks and branches are the worst parts of caregiving – irritability you can’t seem to shake, lack of sleep, incessant cleaning, weariness and the grief of watching your loved one vanish slowly from your life. The surge of water that comes pouring in is grace.
Grace is a strong, cool breeze on a sweltering, blazing hot day. It’s the soaking rain that falls onto parched soil and eases a long drought. It’s the extra air in your tires that lifts you from feeling every inch of the rocky terrain you’re traveling on. Grace is the plane that rises to a higher altitude above the storm clouds, so you’re no longer jostled about by turbulence.
Grace is the buffer and the blessing you never saw coming. It does not erase the terminal disease, the lost job or the failed marriage. But grace gives us a cushion and makes the situation bearable.
Anytime God calls you to something, He will always give you grace to do it. Always. Since He has called me to be a caregiver at this point in my life, He has given me grace to assume that role. If He is calling you to start a business or take a job you feel is above you, He will give you the grace to do it. If He is calling you to foster or adopt a child, He will give you the grace to do it. If He is calling you to leave everything you know and move to a place you’ve never even visited, He will give you the grace to do it. If He is calling you to end a relationship or embark on a new venture, He will give you the grace to do it.
The reason I’m able to be a caregiver is God’s amazing grace. I wouldn’t survive a day without it. Grace isn’t some nebulous, feel-good notion we tack onto our day. It is real and it is raw. It gets right down to the heart of the matter and meets you where you are in the trenches. It’s a lifesaver and a game changer.
And I’m not the only one that has access to this grace. You do too. Because God loves you unconditionally, His amazing grace is yours for the taking. You just have to receive it.