Honoring our Mothers

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This Sunday, Betsy and I will celebrate Mother’s Day as we each remember the amazing women who gave us birth and raised us to love the Lord and listen for his calling in our lives. Although they are gone now, both had unique and special qualities that we both treasure still.
My mother was a special lady. She was the physical embodiment of Proverbs 31 in almost every way. She worked hard all her life, overcame many challenges, and raised my four older siblings and me to respect our elders, to work diligently at our jobs, and to love Jesus with all our hearts. We didn’t have much growing up, but we had our mother’s love, and she shared it generously with us all.
Betsy’s mother taught her that she could be whatever she wanted to be, that God was faithful in all things, and to seek His will for her life. She also taught both her children to be solid citizens and to always live with integrity.
Mothers are remarkable people, and this week we honor and remember them for giving us life, teaching us how to live, and loving us through all the mistakes we make. Even when we don’t listen or take their advice, our mothers are still our biggest cheerleaders.
If your mother lives long enough, as both our mothers did, you may find that in some ways, roles get reversed in your mother’s golden years. Where she once cooked for you, did your laundry, and took you to church or medical check-ups, now you may do those things for her.
If you are your mother’s caregiver, I hope you realize how truly blessed you are. You have the opportunity to give back some of the patience, nurture, and love she poured over you during your lifetime. Just as your childhood experiences weren’t always pleasant for her to manage, neither will every day now be bright and happy. Still, if you choose to cherish the time you share together, your love and appreciation for this special woman in your life will grow even more profound. Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about honoring your mother or her memory this Mother’s Day.

joyful adult daughter greeting happy surprised senior mother in garden
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joyful adult daughter greeting happy surprised senior mother in garden
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Addressing Mobility Challenges

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Family caregivers have to deal with so many little things that come up in their day. Sometimes the issues are small and require little effort, like doing laundry or loading a dishwasher. Even handyman chores can be accomplished with relative ease.

Other issues require a significant amount of intervention. Loss of mobility can impact a broad spectrum of abilities that allow us to be relatively independent on many levels. Walking, rising from a chair, bed, or toilet seat, feeding oneself, personal hygiene, and the like all involve the ability to move our arms and legs and maintain our balance. All of these skills require a certain amount of strength and agility.

A catastrophic event like an automobile accident, a bad fall, a stroke, or a heart attack can cause a sudden loss of mobility that mandates immediate intervention with significant levels of hands-on care. Still, sometimes the loss occurs gradually over weeks or months. This loss might not even be noticeable to the untrained eye of a casual observer.

When Betsy was traveling to be with her mother monthly during the last two years of Sarah’s life, she began to see her mother’s declining mobility in ways that her brother had not noticed. While he checked in on their mom almost daily, she was usually seated in her recliner and didn’t get up during his visit, so he didn’t see how she struggled to rise or how unsteady she was when she walked down the hallway to the bathroom. When Betsy visited, she was with her mom in the house all day. She realized her mother was rapidly losing her ability to rise and walk unassisted, and she had to act quickly. The house was old; the doorways were too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair comfortably, and the bathroom would have become entirely inaccessible if Sarah could no longer walk. She would have been forced to move into facility-based care if she could not regain her mobility.

As we age and become more sedentary, either because of career changes or personal choices, our “move” muscles begin to lose their vitality. Muscles not used regularly start to lose flexibility and capacity. We simply aren’t as strong as we used to be when we were younger and more active. Some of this happens with age, regardless of our routines. We have the power to make decisions that slow our muscular degeneration and rebuild our strength and mobility when the loss comes from lack of use.

Betsy first reached out to her mother’s doctor to request a referral for a local home health company and had her mother evaluated for services. That referral paid off, and Medicare paid for the services provided. The home health coordinator created a comprehensive plan of care that built a partnership between their team and Sarah’s care family. Sarah’s Home Instead caregiver reinforced weekly visits by Physical and Occupational therapists (PT and OT). She encouraged daily PT/OT exercises along with regular walks to the mailbox and frequent “chair breaks” (where Sarah would have to get up out of her chair and walk around in the house for a few minutes). 

This path was not easy for Sarah or those who cared for her. She would argue with her caregiver that she didn’t want to walk to the mailbox, or claim that she had already done her leg exercises for the day. There were days when the chair breaks simply didn’t happen. Nobody’s perfect, and we all have good days and bad. But she did enough, incentivized by some straightforward reminders of what could happen if she didn’t build up her leg strength, and the plan paid off. Through teamwork and consistent messaging from those who loved her, Betsy’s mother regained enough mobility so that she was able to remain at home until her death several years later.

When mobility has been lost and cannot be regained, the picture is very different from what Sarah experienced. When the ability to move is significantly compromised or eliminated entirely because of an accident or a stroke, a new care plan is needed that can identify and address the skills required to meet emerging needs. Recovery usually begins in a rehabilitative facility setting that follows hospitalization for the primary event. A home health agency that provides rehabilitative therapies like PT and OT can be instrumental in helping your loved one continue their rehab once they return home. Prescribed exercises similar to what was used in the facility may be modified for home usage to continue progress toward regaining additional range of motion and ability to control movement. Home health can also be of assistance by suggesting adaptive equipment and showing you how to modify your approach to providing care. Alternatively, if the new care needs exceed your abilities, information can be provided to help identify other community resources and services that might be of benefit to you in the coming weeks and months.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing mobility challenges.

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You Need a Vacation!

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During the current COVID-19 pandemic with its social restrictions, many of us find ourselves with far too much time at home. We cannot get out and go like we are accustomed to doing, and we are far more isolated than many of us would like. Ironically, this is the world in which most full-time family caregivers find themselves regularly. COVID-19 may not have changed your daily routines so much except for hand-washing frequency. For most of the world, the season of social distancing and self-quarantining will come to an end after a season, but for many family caregivers, one day flows into another with no end in sight. Burnout is very real and can quickly happen if you don’t have an opportunity to take a break every now and then to recharge your batteries. Let’s face it, you need a vacation from caregiving! 

Vacations are beneficial for everyone. While everyone can’t all afford to hop on a plane or drive far away annually for a week or two, everyone needs a break from time to time. For best effect, your time away needs to be more than a few minutes or hours. A real vacation requires several days to get away and clear your head. Chris and I find we need the first two or three days of our time away to stop thinking “work thoughts” and move into mental free space. The value of this kind of time away is immeasurable on every level of your life.

Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially we all need this kind of break every so often. Taking a real break from your daily routine as a caregiver can give you more energy physically, more mental clarity, better emotional balance, a stronger spiritual bond, and feed your social animal. Click here for more details. All these benefits can’t be denied and are clearly desirable, but as a family caregiver, you might feel like a vacation is an impossible goal for you in this season of life.

Always remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Have you prepared for others to step in when you cannot be there? If not, begin now to work toward that plan. You are not alone in caring for another; perhaps adult children or friends or neighbors can come alongside to learn your routines so you can have some time away.

You also have many brothers and sisters who follow the same caregiving path as yours. Reach out and find a support group in your community or online where you can ask for advice or resource suggestions. Even a professional home care service like Home Instead can provide respite care that will let you get away for several days to restore yourself. Vacation time is every bit as important as time away for medical procedures or personal obligations. Planning is the key to your success.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about making time for a well-deserved vacation.

What’s Your Why?

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Why are you a Family Caregiver? It’s a question that creeps up on most family caregivers when they least expect it. It may slide out of the darkness in the middle of a sleepless night after a particularly tough day, or sneak in one quiet afternoon when everything seems to be going reasonably well. Wherever it comes from, the question demands self-reflection and grace.

Most family caregivers never saw this kind of future when they were younger. Did your mom or dad care for your grandparents or much older siblings? If so, you might have grown up in a family that modeled taking care of each other on this level, but those situations become rarer with each generation. When women entered the workforce after World War 2, the dynamics of family caregiving went through massive changes for young children and aging relatives alike.

Today’s family caregiver is often caught unawares by the sudden need to devote their days to caring for an aging parent or relative. When this path is thrust upon you suddenly and unexpectedly, there is no time to prepare, or even to put a strategy in place that will keep you healthy and well-balanced while keeping a loved one safe and happy. It’s kind of like becoming a juggler overnight!

Most of us can describe what we do in our day-to-day life, and many of us can explain how we do those things, but if you don’t know why you are a caregiver, you can rapidly lose your focus, purpose, and drive!

Caregiving, as an obligation, yields no positive attributes. Angry, purposeless family caregivers feel frustration, resentment, hopelessness, or even anger, and all of these negative emotions can lead to a toxic environment that isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Family conflict can arise, your health can break down, and your loved one may feel guilty, sad, depressed, or even wish their life could end so you can return to yours. Nobody wins when the family caregiver lives in this state of emotional and mental exhaustion.

Purpose-driven caregiving, on the other hand, can be gratifying to the family caregiver who is energized and truly feels that they are accomplishing good things and making a real difference in the life of their aging parent or relative. Having a clearly defined “why” will help you stay engaged, overcome the bad days, and demonstrate the deep love you feel through your words as well as your actions. With purpose as your motivator, you will be a better family caregiver overall. AgingCare.com shares some other rewards of family caregiving here.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about why you are a family caregiver.

Being a Peacemaker

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Being a Family Caregiver is a big responsibility that can consume your entire life if you let it. This isn’t merely a duty or chore like cleaning your kitchen or doing the laundry. It might involve those things, but it’s not nearly so simple! To really do this job right, you need to lean in and embrace every facet of the role. When you don’t allow yourself to fully own being someone’s family caregiver you could experience feelings of frustration, anger, and even burnout.

It’s Holy Week and as we contemplate the days leading up to the crucifixion of Christ, perhaps we should also ponder our own calling to care for others. It is truly a sacred responsibility to care for another person, whether they are young or old. Many people discover their calling to care for others when they become a family caregiver out of necessity. A crisis occurs and they are thrust into the responsibility of caring for a loved one for weeks to months. They fulfill their duties out of a sense of obligation, love, desperation, or any number of other feelings. While most family caregivers are only in this role for a short time, for some it becomes a lifelong journey of caring for others once their initial experience comes to a close.

Family dynamics often represent a tangled web of broken and damaged relationships, and family caregivers have to wear many hats to do their job well.  One of those hats represents playing the role of peacemaker. Jesus came to this world to teach us about what God’s love really meant. As we remember the Crucifixion during this most holy of weeks, don’t miss an opportunity to embrace the truth that Jesus’ death and resurrection happened in order to reconcile a sinful world to a Loving Father; perhaps your path leads to reconciling relationships between estranged family members, smoothing ruffled feathers or restarting conversations that fell silent many years past. Sometimes all it takes is putting two people together in the same room working toward a common purpose. Other conflicts might be harder to reconcile, but if you do your homework and research a little background you might just find the right keys to open doors and heal old wounds.

What Jesus did during the days preceding his death and resurrection took faith and courage, and He changed the world by overcoming death through faith and love. You can demonstrate these same attributes each day by showing up, stepping in, and squaring off to the responsibility of caring for another. You change the world for others through your love.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about being a Peacemaker within your family.

 

Faith > fear

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Now that many of us have been mostly homebound for the past week or so, hopefully, you find yourself settling into new routines. Having a routine really helps give your day a sense of purpose and direction. During this time many believers are choosing to make prayer and the study of scripture their first priority of the day like never before!

Chris and I received an email from a friend who was setting up a time of prayer and fasting among business owners. The theme of the email was: Faith is greater than Fear. That is so true, and as Christians, we know that fear is of the devil, but God promises us throughout scripture that He will never leave us or forsake us, and He has the power to overcome whatever threatens to defeat us. Our faith provides an unbreakable conduit to the resources we need, and focused daily prayer and scripture study nurtures our faith while it strengthens our relationship with our Father in Heaven.

Having that relationship with God through Christ Jesus our Lord gives us the confidence to take shelter in the shadow of the Almighty and find rest when the needs of the day have depleted our own strength and ability. We have the courage and fortitude to keep going, and the clarity to see hope in even the darkest times. Just as our daily relationships with people encourage and support us, even more so will our daily relationship with the Creator of the world and all that is in it. He will supply our every need, and at exactly the right time He will be there for us and with us.

So, rest in the shadow of the Most High God. Take this rest whenever you need it, for it will renew your resiliency and enable you to keep going during these days of constant change. Make prayer and scripture your first daily priority, rely on God’s provision to meet your every need while strengthening your faith, and take time to rest when you need to. In a world that quakes in fear, your faith will stand tall and shine brightly like a beacon of hope for those around you. You will prove that faith is greater than fear.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about overcoming fear with faith during these turbulent days.

 

Make Your Voice Heard

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We are living today in unprecedented times for sure. If you listen to the 24-hour news cycle, you hear frequently changing advice, instructions, or warnings. The outbreak of COVID-19 has come upon us suddenly and has thrust us into an environment in which, no matter where you live, fear may have become your daily companion.

As a family caregiver, you have many reasons to experience fear caused by the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic. First, your loved one might be in the most vulnerable population, and you worry that s/he will contract the virus. Next, you fear that you will catch the virus, and either be unable to provide the care to your mom or dad or even worse, that you will infect them before you know that you are ill! You fear for the economy, for the loss of your job or your friend or spouse’s job, or even that there won’t be any food left by the time you get to the grocery store. And worst of all, what if there’s no toilet paper left? These are strange times, indeed.

Fear is a powerful emotion that can be paralyzing, and it can become a barrier that prevents us from focusing on the most important things. When we experience fear, our brains move from their rational, reasoning part (the frontal cortex), to the fight-or-flight part (the amygdala), which gives us our emotions and survival instincts. We stop reasoning and start reacting, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. As believers and followers of Christ, we need to cling to and claim God’s promises. Remember, we are called to live, not in fear, but in faith that God is in control, and He will give us all that we need, exactly when we need it. Even the toilet paper!

During this time of social distancing and self-imposed quarantines, we all have time to draw closer to God through Scripture study, personal prayer, and worship. Communities cancel concerts and events, professional and amateur sports teams put seasons on hold, and groups and churches stop meeting together. Employers move their people home or give furloughs for the coming weeks or months. During this time of dwindling distractions and decreasing obligations, believers have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world what is really important, and far more powerful than the Coronavirus.

While we may not be able to gather in person, we can come to the foot of the cross together in spirit. We can also “gather” socially and speak truth to a world quaking in fear. Use your social media platforms to raise your voice and be heard over the din of the world’s whining and proclaim your faith in what is truly important…that Jesus Christ is your Lord and your God will overcome this sickness because He is the Great Physician. Remember 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us “… God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” It’s time to speak up and make your voice heard!

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about proclaiming your assurance of salvation during these challenging times.

Hope Springs Eternal!

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March 17: Hope Springs Eternal

 As we are each grappling with the concerns of COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, that seem to bring new concerns and challenges with every passing day, Chris and I  hope through this week’s blog to offer encouragement and support for all family caregivers everywhere who are caring for the people most vulnerable to the threat the virus brings. At the end of this week’s blog we will offer some practical tips to keep yourself and your loved one as safe and healthy as possible in the days, weeks, and even months ahead.

One thing all family caregivers share in common is resiliency. Whether you care for someone for only a brief time, or for years, you know a thing or two about hope. Hope is what carries us through each day. It’s the fuel in our tanks, the voice in our heads that pushes us forward. Hope is a four-letter word that holds all that is good in our world.

Hope springs eternal for believers. While we are not assured of lives that are pleasant and easy, we have the assurance that when our time on earth has ended, we will be with Jesus in Heaven. That hope can handle whatever is necessary while we live and breathe. That hope yields strength when trials come our way.

You hope you can make your loved one’s life better through the care you give, but if you can’t accomplish this today, you discover the resiliency to try again tomorrow. Hope nurtures the energy to start again day after discouraging day.

Right now, more than ever, we all need to hold fast to the hope God gives us in Christ Jesus. One of my favorite verses in scripture is found in Hebrews 10:23. My translation reads, “Hold fast to your hope, for He Who promised is faithful.” Time and time again I have considered the promises of God in my life, and I have never found him to be less than faithful.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about holding fast to your hope.

And now a few thoughts about protecting yourself and your loved ones from exposure to COVID-19.

First, have you heard about the concept of “Flatten the Curve”?

Basically, the idea is to slow the progression of the Coronavirus. This is a particularly contagious disease that is very easily transmitted from one infected person to another just through close physical proximity. By slowing the spread of the virus we can ease the burden to our healthcare system nationwide and insure the continued ability to get care for those who need it the most in a timely manner. We accomplish this most effectively through “social distancing” or literally putting space between ourselves and others. Because this virus demonstrates various forms in different people, you should not assume nobody around you is infected. Best advice to achieve social distancing is as follows:

  1. Stay at home as much as possible, especially if you are 65 or older, or if you are caring someone who is older and has chronic illnesses such as COPD, CHF, Diabetes, Parkinson’s, or others.
  2. Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap. Do this whenever you return home, before and after meals, after using the bathroom, and any time you touch anything that could be viral. Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol will work if no soap and water is available, but not as a complete substitute.
  3. Wipe down all regularly used surfaces and fixtures with disinfectant wipes frequently. This includes countertops, light switches, door knobs, bathroom fixtures, computer keyboards, chair arms, and the like. Keep all surfaces virus and bacteria free.
  4. When someone visits your home ask them before they enter if they have a cough, a fever, or difficulty breathing, or if they have been around someone who has these symptoms. It’s much better to be safe than sorry. Perhaps you could ask regular visitors like friends from church to make their visits by phone in the next few weeks.
  5. Don’t hug or shake hands! This is so hard for me because I’m a “hugger,” but I have moved to giving “air hugs” at my office so as to keep several feet between me and the person I’d like to hug. We both laugh and find a little levity in our day.
  6. Visit coronavirus.govto get the latest information and recommendations to help keep you and your loved one healthy and safe during this pandemic.

Spring Into Action!

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Family Caregivers are continually challenged to stay on their toes. No two days are alike, and every situation requires a dynamic process that can turn on a dime. When something unexpected happens, are you ready to spring into action? Let’s consider a few scenarios that could throw a wrench into your best-laid plans.

Your day begins with a sore throat, a cough, and a slight fever. Your child wakes up with a burning fever and a rash. Your car won’t start and needs to go to the shop. Your water heater springs a leak, and you need to stay at home and wait for the repair person. Your child is in an accident at school, and you need to get there immediately. If any of these situations arise, what will you do to keep those you care for safe and healthy?

Now let’s switch gears. Your mom’s dementia is getting worse, and yesterday she refused to get out of the car at the doctor’s office. Your dad can’t be at home alone because his balance is poor, but you need to take your mom to the doctor again today and are hoping for a better outcome. How do you balance taking care of both parents at the same time in different locations? Or what happens if one parent suddenly needs to go to the hospital and the other cannot remain at home alone because they might wander away?

These are just a few very real situations that play out every day for family caregivers all over the world. And, even worse, what worked yesterday may not work today or next week. It’s essential to keep track of what makes your plans crash and burn. It’s a rare person indeed whose life never falls apart because of illness, accidents, and domestic disasters. Just like having insurance, you need to build a savings account of resources to draw from when your original roadmap hits a sharp turn or dead-end.

The first thing you should do here is to think about when your plans have been unavoidably rerouted. I’m not talking about the time you forgot it was “Bring your Parent to School Day” until the morning your child asks why you are still in sweats when you need to be at school in 15 minutes. (Although a proven resource pool would be useful here, too!) I’m talking about how to look back and recognize where your plans may need retooling. Start a journal going forward to track what throws things off. After a few months, you’ve got a great way to look back and evaluate how well things worked. Then you could ask other family members or friends to help you be objective and brainstorm ideas with about how to have strategies to meet these occasions before they arise. If nothing else, this oversight by others might just open their eyes to how much you have on you, and someone might step up and ask about helping out either regularly or on occasion. They might also know someone or an agency that could pitch in on short notice to fill the gap and keep things balanced.

Your back-up plans, when designed well, can successfully overcome those life obstacles that previously would put you in a tailspin!

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing the day-to-day crises that challenge your caregiving plans.

Spring Renewal

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It’s March, and that means longer days, warmer temperatures, and the promise of spring! Wherever you live, this time of year tantalizes us with winter’s imminent demise. When temps hit the 60’s and 70’s, I want to throw open the windows and embrace the warm breezes!

During this time of year, all of nature seems to shake off the cold and dark and burst forth with new light and life. Flowers bloom, baby animals appear, and bright colors everywhere seem to greet the sun’s warm rays. Spring is a season of life celebration, and there is so much to celebrate!

For a family caregiver, especially one whose road is challenging, this is an opportunity for you to embrace revival and experience personal renewal as well. There’s nothing like taking a few minutes to sit in the sun with a good book and a cup of tea to renew your energy and refocus on your sense of purpose. Of course, there are plenty of tasks that need doing to ready a home for warmer weather. While you put away cold-weather clothing and winter coats, talk about the places you went and the good times you shared there. Ask your mom which outfit she likes best while you look for spots, spills, or repairs needed before placing items in winter storage. Sort gloves, scarves, and hats while you get your dad to talk about his memories of winters long ago. And as you pack away the winter months, don’t forget to introduce spring! Freshen up sweaters and light jackets, watch for early spring flowers, or plant seeds in a window box and try to guess when the first sprouts will appear. As you freshen up memories of laughter and tender moments shared through the long winter months, you may find your passion for being a family caregiver rekindled.

If your journey is long and arduous, pray for strength and joyful peace as you walk this caregiving road. If you can do nothing else, try sitting in the sun while your loved one naps, and bring in some spring flowers to put around the house. Watch birds build their nests in that tree in the yard and open a window on warmer days to bring in the sounds and smells of emerging spring.

If you are one of those people who feels compelled to clean house in the spring, here’s a link from Caregiver Stress that will offer great suggestions for that as well.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how you dust off and bring the shine back to your caregiving experience in the days ahead.