I’m sitting in a massage chair getting a pedicure with Mom and the thought occurs to me that this should make me happy. I’m grateful for the little things, especially when, as a caregiver, those things evaporated the more the disease progressed.
I don’t know if I thought putting my Father in a facility would be like flipping a switch – going back to a flexible schedule where time was my own and I could do whatever I wanted to do. But even with the freedom, I’m still having a hard time. Every time I visit my Father, I wish I could stay longer. I wish I could steal him away and take him to the grocery store, where he would grin at everyone and make a game out of complimenting mothers on their children, just to garner a smile.
I’ve been grieving for 16 years, ever since my Father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at Emory. But this is a new stage of grief for me. If I’ve learned anything as a caregiver, it’s that my focus should be on what I still have, not on what I’ve lost. And if I do that ~ if I think of 10 things I’m grateful for before I ever get out of bed each morning, it helps tremendously. It’s like looking straight at the sun instead of the clouds that surround it.
- My Father is in an award-winning facility for Alzheimer’s patients.
- He is being taken care of by loving nurses and a care team that treats him as a person, not a statistic.
- My Father knows who we are. Mom asked him yesterday, “Do you know who I am?”
“You’re my wife,” he replied.
“I love you,” she told him.
“I feel it.”
On another visit, we sat outside in the courtyard on a swing beneath an arbor. Mom pointed to the swing and asked Dad, “Did you build this?” He answered in the negative. She then pointed to me, “Did you build her?”
- We celebrated his birthday with an Air Force cake and balloons while he sang ‘Happy Birthday’ along with us.
- Friends flooded him with birthday cards, which are now on his bedroom wall.
- Restrictions have been lifted so we can see Dad in his room for as long as we like, without being confined to a 50-minute visit.
- My Father can still communicate with us, enjoy the sunshine on his face and even stand up occasionally in his wheelchair.
- I can give him a hug and tell him that I love him. He hugs me back and tells me that he loves me.
- He has no sense of where he is, so he never asks us to take him home.
- He still has his sense of humor. On our first visit to see him, Mom asked him if he knew who she was. “You’re the woman who sold me out!” he grinned.
So many blessings. Counting them lessens the grief, but the grief is still there.
So what do you do?
I’ve learned that, like any emotion, grief is not who I am; it isn’t my identity. It’s more like a garment that I wear. Sometimes I feel the weight of it profusely. But because of the freedom I have in Christ, I can choose to give that grief to God, lay it at His feet and allow Him to touch my heart in a deep way.
When Lazarus died, his sisters were devastated. But Jesus had a bigger plan for that grief. After receiving word that Lazarus was sick, Jesus intentionally waited with his disciples until Lazarus died before traveling to see him. Why?
He wanted to reveal Himself to Mary and Martha in a way they’d never experienced. He wanted them to see that He was the Resurrection and the Life. Their joy when Lazarus was raised from the dead was far greater than any joy they would experience if Jesus had only healed him.
I have to look at my life this way now. Instead of feeling the weight of my grief, I need to recognize there is a much bigger picture and it’s all for my good, my Father’s good and for God’s glory. It takes faith to do that. And if I feel that I don’t have enough faith, I need only to read God’s Word, saturate myself in it and allow it to do what only It can do ~ heal me, refresh me, flood peace through me, energize me, pour hope into my heart and come face to face with God’s reckless love for me.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17
I’m a Daddy’s girl. I want him home with me. But God has bigger plans for my Father ~ plans to let the light of Christ shine brightly through him and let his joy splash all over the residents, nurses and staff at Fountainview.
You don’t have to be a caregiver to experience overwhelming grief. Maybe you lost a loved one, a job, a home, a child or your faith. And maybe you don’t even know what the bigger picture is right now. But you are no different from me. If I can relinquish my grief at the feet of Jesus and let Him carry that burden, you can do it too. And if you feel like you don’t have enough faith to do that, just read the Word. Listen to the Bible app and ask God to help you to let go of your grief. Remember ~ grieving is a sign that you’ve lost someone or something you love. But not grieving doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It just means you’ve given your grief over to the only One who can carry it.