A Great Wind Bearing Us
by Karen J. Mayhew
The phone call came early one Monday morning, “Karen, I need you to help me. I fell and I don’t think I can move.” Thus began what would be the last two years of my mother’s life. Like the cold rain falling steadily that winter’s day, mother’s fractured hip and growing memory loss had closed in on her . . . and on her family.
I have worn several caregiving “caps” in my 65 years, and two words seem to best capture my experience: “overwhelment” and grace. I have indeed been challenged by a sense of “overwhelment”, not a real word, but an all too real feeling for many caregivers. On top of grief over the changes in our loved one’s health, we are often called to step up and exercise an uncomfortable level of responsibility for them. Worrisome questions start bubbling up which are not easy to answer or set down: Can Mom or Dad remain at home? How will I find the right paid caregiver to lend them a hand? What happens when they can no longer manage their everyday affairs, much less growing expenses? Will they be well-served by my efforts or will they be unhappy? Occasionally we get the answer to that latter one, as when my normally soft-spoken mother exclaimed over dinner, “if you are going to put me in a nursing home, you might as well kill me!” Okay, got it, Mom!
Sometimes we laugh, and sometimes we cry, and in allowing ourselves to just be human, grace can reach us. Instead of “overwhelment”, which often reduces caregivers to trying to keep a stiff upper lip and manage life rather than live it, grace has an expansive effect on our otherwise shrinking world. Unexpected moments of compassion come our way, making room to live and love more fully.
Grace tiptoed many times into the last year of my 89 year old mother’s life. I felt it when hurrying over to check on her at lunchtime, only to find her and her caregiver, Lois, laughing as they folded laundry. A good friend’s listening ear, my siblings’ skills in keeping Mom’s old home going, beautiful flowers from kind souls at church . . . all acts of compassion, reminding us that we are supported by something greater than ourselves. Having worked at Good Sam for a long time, I understood and certainly felt the relief that hospice team members would bring my mother and our family. What I underestimated was how good for the soul their smiles and laughter would be!
Mother, herself, experienced grace on a deeper level than I realized. Sitting in her family room only one week before she died, she shared that, as a young mother, she worried about me and my two siblings. Would we be happy in life? Would we be successful and able to enjoy the nicer things in life? She looked over at me, and exclaimed, “But I didn’t need to worry about those things. We already have all we need. God is here . . . God is here now.” Later that same summer evening, my sister and I mistakenly thought Mom’s memory loss had prompted her, while standing on her own screened porch, to say to us sweetly, “thank you for inviting me.” We did not recognize that our mother was giving thanks for her journey.
And as for my own care giving journey, filled with both “overwhelment” and grace, may I say, “Thank you for inviting me.”
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