Caregiving wasn’t ever something I asked for or signed up for or chose. Each time I took care of a lady, the opportunity just fell into my lap because they were women I loved. Jesus would whisper His famous question to my heart and I would know: this was for me. He would ask me- “Faith, do you trust Me?” That’s always my signal that He’s about to lead me somewhere that is good, but will scare my socks off.
Each caregiving experience is totally different from another. Each person has taught me many things and changed who I am dramatically. They have trained me to lean into Jesus in deeper ways and challenged me to open my heart again, even if it means the end of the road is loss. Both of my long-term caregiving opportunities have molded me into the person I am today and (as painful as they were for me to learn to love fully and then let go) I wouldn’t trade either of them for a world of ease. I treasure those days of learning and growing and crying and hearing the whisper of God- “I will hold you.”
Tonight, I sit and reflect about my second caregiving experience…with 98-year-old “Grandma N”. My sister and I took turns staying with Grandma each night and learned to love her like part of our family. She was hilarious, quick-witted, and thoughtful. She made me laugh every time I was with her. Even on her worse days, she never lost her sense of humor.
We had a routine at night of old-time shows and tv, popcorn and loud conversations (because she rarely had her hearing aids in). We learned to calm her fears about random things. Dementia does strange things to your mind, and we slowly learned to navigate the challenges of communicating with her in a way that she felt safe and stable.
Grandma taught me a lot about being still. Just being. Being present in the lives of those you love, but not always moving. My life has always been fairly active and loud and full-to-the-brim. Life with Grandma was a shuffle-pace at best. On really bad days, it meant sitting in a chair and being willing to just listen to her breath as she went in and out of sleep. I read a lot of books during those nine months. She taught me to sit still and value the silence and the presence of someone else you love…just being in the room. She loved having us there. Just having us there made her happy. She told us that repeatedly.
About a year before she went to heaven, I penned these words in my journal:
Today…she was slumped over in a chair, sleeping fitfully. I tried to wake her…but she didn’t stir easily. When she did wake up, she could hardly stay awake for more than two or three minutes and her speech didn’t make a lot of sense. Her eyes were glassy. Her body twitched. Her breaths came heavy and labored.
I haven’t ever seen the Angel of Death, but I seemed to smell him tonight. It was as if he was waiting at the side of that chair or hovering over the area. I’m not saying I felt creepy. I just felt fragile. Like I was helpless and couldn’t do a thing for this dying lady I love.
Life is fragile. Life is a vapor. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Death is really just a breath away.
I watched her struggle to keep her eyelids open. To straighten herself in the chair. To carry on a real conversation. But she couldn’t. She was tired and her body was shutting down.
It’s difficult to explain what I felt like in that moment. To be so full of life and energy and still unable to help someone.
And then as I got up to leave, she stirred. Her nearly hundred-year-old body jarring awake for just a few moments. And then it came…the seven words that never failed to roll off her tongue every time someone visits. “Don’t need to be in a hurry.” I almost started at it this time. She was dying. But the habit of slowing down was ingrained in the fiber of her very being.
Hurry. That’s what keeps me from enjoying life almost every day of my life. And here’s this lady…dying and reminding me at the same time to take a minute. To breathe. To slow down my pace a bit. To not hurry.
Yes, Grandma taught me to value stillness. To sit and listen. To BE and treasure the presence of those I love more than the going and doing. She taught me to not hurry. To be patient. To be okay with waiting and pausing to watch a sunset or eat an ice cream on the front porch. She even taught me that in a pinch, instant coffee will do. One can’t be too picky, when you’re in a pinch.
Patience is lost in our culture. In Grandma’s era, people valued relationship more than status…she wasted no time in telling me such. She knew the truth about what was and is really important in this life, and she made a point to teach me the value of slowing down and enjoying life with those around me.
Grandma went to be with Jesus on August 20th, 2018 and I miss her. Tonight I breathe thanks for a life well-lived. She taught me by example to live aware of each moment. To not rush and to treasure the times we have with our family and friends. I sit and ponder this season of Hope we are entering and pray that God will keep my eyes wide open to the opportunities I have to BE with those I love. With Christmas gatherings around every corner, I want to be fully present and willing to listen and be with my people.
Sitting here on this December night, I hear Grandma’s voice ringing in my ears again: “Don’t need to be in a hurry.” Aahh. The wisdom of a 98-year-old woman sinks into my soul. Hurry is overrated. Let’s just BE AVAILABLE and BE PRESENT and BE LOVE…I think Jesus would agree with Grandma. We don’t need to be in a hurry.