One Day, Two Ways

I open the front door and see it sitting on the front porch, beside the geraniums and underneath the hanging vincas. I cannot help but feel depressed at the sight. A wheelchair, brought by hospice so my Father can get around better. It’s a reminder that the Alzheimer’s has progressed further and stolen more of his mobility. Always eager to be on the go, my Father now tires after short walks and I must face the reality that for him to accompany me outside the house past the mailbox, assistance is necessary. He will never complain. He will never tell me that he’s tired and needs a break. But when he’s holding onto the grocery cart and ten minutes into our trip I ask him if he wants to sit in a chair by the pharmacy or the blood pressure machine, he is only too quick to say, “Yes.”

I think back to the countless times we rode bikes, balancing on two wheels. And now he’ll have four. What comes to mind are dogs who’ve lost limbs but have wheelchairs where their legs once stood. I can never look at those canines without feeling empathy and even a tinge of pain. Will I feel the same for my Father? Will I ever be able to look at him sitting in a wheelchair without feeling pity for him, the farmer’s son who traveled all over the world?

 

When it’s time to leave the house, I hoist the chair into the trunk of the car, buckle him up and we set off. He won’t remember this trip but he’s just thrilled to get out of the house. I park in a handicapped spot, pop up the chair and wheel it to the passenger door. I’m not used to the chair, so I forget to put the brakes on to prevent it from rolling as he tries to sit down. He grabs onto me and slowly sits down. I extend the foot plates so he can rest his feet without dragging them. Anytime I placed him in a wheelchair before, he always wanted to use his feet to help him along, like Fred Flintstone’s foot mobile. Now, he doesn’t even try that.

I quickly learn that turning him around and backing him over the metal threshold on the floor is much easier than trying to push him. It doesn’t seem to bother him. He’s just sitting there like a child in a stroller, taking everything in and grateful to be out of the house.

 

Once we return home, I help him up the stairs, making sure he’s holding onto the handrail with his right hand. I’ve learned to hold onto his belt loop in the back to help him know that we’re going up. He takes the steps slowly, gingerly and as the number of steps increases, so does his fatigue. I wonder how much longer it will be before he won’t be able to take the stairs at all. Will we have to add a wheelchair ramp to the porch so he can get inside?

It’s another stage, a higher level of care and potentially a harder demon to ignore.

 

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I open the front door and see it sitting on the front porch, beside the geraniums and underneath the hanging vincas. I cannot help but feel grateful at the sight. A wheelchair, brought by hospice so my Father can get around better. It’s a reminder that even though the Alzheimer’s has progressed further, we can still go places. It’s just right there on the front porch, like a gift left from a generous soul. Always eager to be on the go, my Father now tires after short walks and I have accepted the reality that for him to accompany me outside the house past the mailbox, assistance is necessary. What an incredible blessing that he never complains. He will never tell me that he’s tired and needs a break. But as his caregiver for nearly 9 years, I have learned to read him like a book. I also remember a conversation we had a few years ago.

“Dad, have you ever thought about when you would no longer want to stay here on Earth?”

 

With arms crossed, he nods and says, “When I can no longer get out of the house, when I can’t do anything anymore, then I wouldn’t want to be here.”

 

And now because of this wheelchair, I can take him with me. He is not bedridden. He can still walk and even climb a few stairs, and for that I am grateful.

 

I think back to the countless times we rode bikes, balancing on two wheels. And now he’ll have four. I think of dogs with missing legs who now rely on wheelchairs to get around. I always feel a pang in my heart for their loss, but what a blessing that their quality of life has vastly improved. The same is true with my Father. Thanks to this wheelchair, the farmer’s son who saw the world is not homebound.

When it’s time to leave the house, I hoist the chair into the trunk of the car, buckle him up and we set off. He won’t remember this trip, but he’s just thrilled to get out of the house. I park in a handicapped spot, pop up the chair and wheel it to the passenger door. I’m not used to the chair, so I forget to put the brake on to prevent it from rolling as he tries to sit down. He grabs onto me and slowly sits down. I think of how many times in my life I’ve grabbed onto him and I am grateful I can return the favor.

 

I extend the foot plates so he can rest his feet without dragging them. Anytime I placed him in a wheelchair before, he always wanted to use his feet to help him along, like Fred Flintstone’s foot mobile. Now, he doesn’t even try that. He has always fought wheelchairs, walkers and even canes. “I don’t need those things,” he’d say. But today he doesn’t fight. He accepts the wheelchair as if it were an old friend and I am grateful.

 

Once we return home, I help him up the stairs, making sure he’s holding onto the handrail with his right hand. I’ve learned to hold onto his belt loop in the back to help him know that we’re going up. He takes the steps slowly, gingerly. After about 7 or 8 of them, he has a more difficult time raising his foot so we take our time. When he reaches the top, I am grateful that his mind can still communicate with his legs. I wonder how much longer it will be before he won’t be able to take the stairs at all. It makes me thankful for what he can do now, today, in this moment.  I know the day will come when he can’t leave the house.

 

It’s another stage, a higher level of care and deeper degree of trust. But that’s okay. Because God is sovereign and He loves my Father more than I ever could.

 

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Same day, two ways. Two ways of thinking, two different perspectives. I am not wired to be an eternal optimist. But at the end of the day, I am the one that controls my thoughts. It takes more work for me to look at the bright side, to focus on what my Father can still do rather than on what he’s lost. There are days I am exhausted and weary, days it feels impossible to be positive. But it’s still my choice. And if I choose wisely, day after day, my brain forms a new pattern of positive thinking.

 

Sure, there is a time to grieve. There would be something wrong with me if I didn’t. But I’ve learned that I cannot fixate or dwell on it. Otherwise, I become dangerously close to spiraling out of control and then I find myself in a deep depression.

It is always my choice what to think. Always. I want to choose wisely. I want to be the stubborn optimist, always looking for the good in a situation. I am not blind to loss. I recognize and acknowledge it. But I want it to be a short stop off the highway of caregiving, not the destination itself.

 

This is my life. I am a caregiver. I control my thoughts and I choose how I’m going to look at a situation. There are days I wake up and my head is screwed on the wrong way. But these are the times I need to stubbornly choose gratitude. It is not just a nicer way of looking at life. It is my salvation.

You don’t have to be a caregiver to go through your own vortex of trauma. Maybe you lost your job, your marriage or a loved one. Maybe you’ve received a devastating diagnosis and you’re just trying to remember how to breathe. Or maybe you’ve been hurt so badly that you’re not sure you want to keep on living.

 

So what do you do?

 

I am not an expert. I am just a daughter who’s learning a lot as a caregiver. And this is what I’ve learned:

 

Grieve. Give yourself time to mourn. But don’t stay there. Remember that you have survived every single difficult day in your life, so you’re batting a thousand right there.

 

Pray. Tell your Creator what’s on your heart and ask for His help. Don’t believe the lie that He doesn’t love you or care about you. He died for you. And if you’re not even sure that He’s there, ask Him to reveal Himself to you.

Lean. Establish a strong support group and tell them you need help. Confide in them and let them love on you.

 

Choose. Find the positive and choose to focus on that. Become a stubborn optimist and start thanking God for everything you still have. Make a list and write it down.

 

It is always your choice what to think. Always. You may have to work harder at it, but it is always your choice. And what you choose to focus on not only affects your emotional, psychological and physical health, it can change your life.

 

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