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A Sandwiched Caregiver

After my father died in 2013, my mom’s doctor in Tennessee called, suggesting Mom come stay with me for a while. I didn’t see this coming. Dad was the one who’d always been sick. Mom was the strong one.

But my brother, who lived next door to her, started regularly finding Mom waiting on his porch when he came home from work. She had never really been alone, and she hated it. It was grief and loneliness, sure. But when her blood pressure shot to over 200, that’s when her doctor called me.

My husband and I had settled nicely into the empty nest stage, our children grown and married with kids of their own. At the time, on any given weekend, our six grandkids turned our garage into a playroom, and the living room floor became a quilt of sleeping bags. Moving Mom into our home in South Carolina was the right thing to do, but we knew it would change things. We just didn’t realize how much.

The first few years were great. Mom and I shopped yard sales, planted flowers, and baked pies. Mom helped with mission projects and cleaning the house. She played with the grandkids and helped care for them. She was okay on her own when my husband and I went out for a date night. But then she started growing nervous around the grandkids, and jealous of the time I spent with them. She would forget and leave the water running. She became afraid to be alone. What was happening?

The doctor’s answer ripped my heart apart. “Your mom has dementia.”

Every morning when I went to work, I was in tears. I tried not to ask God, why. It grew harder to take care of Mom and still have the grandkids over. I couldn’t leave my house or spend time with friends or family without feeling guilty for leaving her. I hid in the closet to find a minute of silence. I missed important events with my grandkids and too often my husband went to bed without me.

One night, I went into the backyard and cried out to the dark sky, “God, I love my mom, but I can’t do this anymore.” I was so tired.

I WANTED TO TRUST GOD, BUT I COULD ONLY SEE WHAT WAS IN FRONT OF ME.

I told God everything I needed him to do for me.

In desperation, I joined A Heart of a Caregiver, a class and small group at Seacoast Church that I had signed up for twice, but failed to follow through, thinking I could do it all on my own. Every Tuesday night, my husband watched Mom so I could go to class. Slowly, I began to see God again. I found acceptance, courage, and purpose. I realized I had lost who I was—my identity in Christ. So I spent more time praying, but no longer trying to direct him. My prayers were simple. “Jesus, I need you.”

In class, I heard of a safe place I could take Mom for a few hours that would give me some time for myself. After speaking to the director of one in Summerville, I decided to try it, two days a week for four hours. I didn’t think I would cry. But I felt like a mother leaving her child for the first time. The sun was out that day and there was a light breeze, so I went to a nearby park, where a mother and daughter were eating lunch on the grass and a lady was walking her dog as a couple played tennis. Somewhere close by, a man strummed a guitar. I looked around at the normalcy of life—these small things that meant so much. I would never take them for granted again.

I knew God set aside this time in my day for him.

I wish I could say I no longer struggled with guilt and control after that. But I could hear the enemy, “You can’t do this.” Repeatedly, I had to give control to God, and little by little, He made me stronger. He taught me to accept help. When friends offered to stay with Mom, I said, “Yes!” My husband and I went out on dates again. In my heart, I felt Jesus saying,

“I chose you for this time and I will give you all you need.”

MY CIRCUMSTANCES STAYED THE SAME, BUT I WAS DIFFERENT. I UNDERSTAND NOW THAT GOD CHOSE ME TO BECOME A CAREGIVER. IT’S A SPECIAL CALLING. PEACE IS NOT IN THE CESSATION OF WORRY AND DOUBT, BUT IN THE ABIDING HOPE OF GOD. HE IS MY STRENGTH.

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