Becoming a caregiver to aging parents means major changes for all involved including physical, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual changes. Learning a healthy way to cope ensures that you and your aging parent can live in a mutually loving, comfortable relationship until God calls them home.
Tasks of Love
Decisions: You will probably need to make decisions they do not like or want you to make… a role reversal. They made decisions for you in years past that you didn’t like (e.g. no snacks after 9:00 p.m., brush your teeth before bed). Now you are in the position to make difficult decisions regardless of what they want you to do.
Respect: Regardless of their abilities or inabilities for movement and cognition, always respect them as precious children of God. Our biological parent belongs to God and will soon return to Him.
Even though this period of time may seem forever, you will later look back and realize how quickly it passed. Your parent(s) took care of you for nearly two decades. Whether they were attentive to your needs as a child really isn’t what matters; what does matter right now is that you will be attentive to their needs.
Self-Care: Do not care for your aging parent at the expense of your own well being and health. If you are not taking good care of you in this process, no one benefits.
You may feel stressed, overburdened, guilty, inadequate, exhausted, angry, afraid, or you may feel joy and peace. Your feelings are normal. In addition, you will likely be grieving. Allow yourself to feel and express these feelings to safe friends, relatives, or your pastor.
Time Well Spent
Talk: Invite them to tell you more about their life. Ask their permission to record some of the conversations so you can replay it for grandchildren and great grandchildren and, of course, yourself… you will always have a memory of their voice. I treasure the recording I have of my father. How I long to hear just one more story from him.
Photos: Dig up every photo you can of them and anyone who has been important in their life. Put together a photo album with them, if possible, and ask them to narrate. You could record what they are saying and fill in the book with their words later. Allow them to author this as much as possible.
Find Out: Ask them what their favorite Bible verses are and read to them each visit. Ask what their favorite hymns are and bring those recordings next visit. Invite them to sit back, listen, and enjoy. You could even print out the words of the hymns for them to follow along.
Games: If they are able to play a board game or cards, no matter how simple the game may be, encourage at least one game to invite some laughter and diversion. You could even give them an award as the best winner.
Touch: If they are comfortable with touch, offer to rub lotion on their hands and feet. Ask if they would like their back gently rubbed. Remember, touch is very healing and comforting for both the giver and receiver.
Flowers: If you can afford it, be sure they have fresh flowers (unless they are allergic; in that case, artificial or silk flowers look just about like the real thing).
Reminders: Purchase a large wall calendar and some stickers with smiley faces or hearts. Every time you visit put a sticker on the wall calendar and put your name and time beside it so they can see that was the day you were there. This is a great reminder if they are prone to forget.
This visual theme can be taken one step further in a journal. As your visit comes to an end, write in the journal the date and time, record the things you did with them, and the topics of conversation. Both the journal and the calendar leave wonderful memories for them when you have left.
Bring along something of yours that they can hold in their hand or keep close to remind them, even when you are not there, you are just a thought away, that your love for them is always and never ending.
Tips for You, Dear Caregiver
- Get sufficient rest and sleep.
- Talk to people, family and friends.
- Form a support group.
- Eat well-balanced and regular meals.
- Avoid alcohol or drugs.
- Reach out—people do care.
- Maintain your normal schedule as much as possible.
- Share your feelings.
- Don’t make big life changes.
- Give yourself permission to feel your feelings.
- Exercise daily.
- Practice deep breathing and meditation.
- Get a massage, facial, manicure, pedicure.
- Make a deal with your spouse that specific times will be set aside for recharging, connecting, and not discussing the parent.
- Pray and read Scripture and devotionals daily.
- Keep a journal of your feelings.
As I stated earlier, I would give anything to sit with my father one more time. He loved me unconditionally and was so happy to hear my voice or see me walk in the door. God’s blessings to those of you who are caring for aging parents. Check out the publication Caring Conversations.
Remember, when we honor and care for our parents, we are also serving God.
“The church should care for any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much….” 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 8