When a loved one is diagnosed with a disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia and their family member becomes their caregiver, that person becomes the manager of many things. They manage their loved one’s medications, doctor’s appointments, social activities, check books, hygiene, diet and even moods. But they also must manage their own wellbeing. Since caregiving ranks as one of the most stressful roles a person can have, it is imperative that they take time out for themselves. But this is easier said than done. Many caregivers have no one to pinch hit, or they lack the finances for respite. But that kind of care exacts an incredible toll. Did you know the majority of elderly caregivers die before their loved ones? Pretty shocking, right?
By nature, I am a fairly easy-going person. But over the past six years, my irritability level has risen and in some cases, soared. Under normal circumstances, whenever I become irritated, I either remove myself from the situation, say a prayer, take a deep breath or give myself a pep talk, “This will be over soon.”
However, Alzheimer’s is a gamechanger. I can always say a prayer and take a deep breath, but I can’t always remove myself from the situation or tell myself this is temporary. I need bigger guns to blow away my irritation.
One thing I’ve learned is just how valuable it is to spend time with friends or alone doing something I really want to do. Those are my lifesavers, embracing me and pulling me to safety when the waters are choppy and I have no strength left to keep my head above water.
But what do you do when you’re in the middle of an anxiety-filled moment and none of those things is available?
A few weeks ago, I found myself in this situation. I had spent the day with my niece at our town’s fall festival and was now driving her back home. I was tired and Dad wanted to ride along. I just wanted some quiet on the 45-minute drive. Lara was plugged into her phone but Dad was feeling chatty.
“My dad had a swelling,” he began.
Dear God, I prayed.
“His fingers would swell up so that he couldn’t grip the steering wheel.”
I kept praying, Help me. Take away my irritability.
“So I learned to drive before I was old enough to get my license.”
Since I’ve always been affected by things going on around me, I’ve never been able to tune anyone out. I prayed I’d be able to focus on something else beside his story.
“We had two tractors, a Ford and a John Deere. Now the exhaust for the Ford went out the bottom, but for the John Deere, it went out the top. So Dad told me never to pull the John Deere into the barn because the exhaust could catch the barn on fire.”
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make his words go away. Dad was in his element, happily telling stories. A couple of years ago, I tried asking him if we could just have some quiet. He obliged but then five minutes later, forgot my request and started talking again.
I turned on the radio, not loud but just to have something in the background.
“So, when I signed up for the Air Force, they trained me to drive those 10-ton tractor trailers. But guess what? I ended up training the others!”
To say I felt trapped was an understatement. I think pulling my hair out would’ve felt better.
And then I tried something. I started singing. Softly at first. I wasn’t trying to drown Dad out. I was trying to hold onto what little sanity I had left. When he paused at the end of one story, I sang a little louder.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
Instead of launching into another boyhood story or repeating the one he’d just told, Dad began singing with me, word for word.
I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.
At that moment a peace washed over me. It was so tangible, I could feel it in the car. Someone once told me that when you sing to God, you’re praying twice. Well, He listened and blessed us with His Presence. We finished that song. I started another, one I was sure he knew all the words to.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
Dad sang every word and this time, Lara took off her earphones and sang with us. It was the most beautiful moment I’d had in weeks. God flooded my soul with peace and my car of chaos became a haven of rest.
He knows the frustration I feel. He sees the sacrifices caregivers make daily and He met me right where I was. I’m His daughter. He loves me, just like He loves all His children. It has nothing to do with my actions and everything to do with my belief in His Son Jesus. He is always right there with me and He is always for me.
After we dropped off Lara and started our 45-minute journey home, Dad didn’t tell anymore stories, choosing instead to watch the sky swirl with color while the sun set. That few minutes of singing had changed everything. I’d been given the quiet I so desperately craved and more.
I would never have chosen a moment of enormous stress to see God’s grace, but that’s exactly what those moments are for. I know how great His peace is when I feel it bulldoze away this enormous mountain of irritation in my soul, a mountain I could not budge on my own.
Like any caregiver, I need to get away to be refreshed and rejuvenated. But for those times I can’t get away, I have something priceless for my weary soul. And it isn’t just for me. God’s peace is for everyone.