A few months ago, I attended the funeral mass for the mother of one of my husband's co-workers. I didn't personally know her mother, but learned a great deal about her through the beautiful eulogy given by one of her daughters. Her 85 year old mother lived a full life in many ways while being a devoted nurse in different care settings for the elderly. As the words about her mother traveled to the pews in a continuous and gentle flow, one statement near the end of the eulogy caught my full attention: "After our mother became ill, her only wish was to remain in her home." She continued to then thank the caregivers the family had found to care for her in her home until her death.
Hmmm, I thought. Her only wish. A wish that seems so simple but important enough to mention in her eulogy. Even though this day was about celebrating the life of this energetic woman, these words were meant for me to hear. My living 87 year old mother has the same wish. A wish she has had since my dad died 22 years ago. A wish that I have been helping to fulfill which has been both grace filled and challenging. I left that funeral with a little more confidence and encouraged to keep pushing through for my mother meeting her needs and her desire to stay home.
Yesterday, I went to the funeral for my good friend's 94 year old grandmother, a devoted mother and wife. I only knew her grandmother through the stories my friend has shared with me, and knew she had been living in her home with care until recently. At the end of the priest's homily, he shared thoughts from the family about this woman's wish to remain in her home for as long as possible. He continued that, due to the care and nurturing given to her by one of her daughters and with the help of caregivers, she was able to stay in her home throughout her healthy days. It was only within the past 6 months that it was necessary for her to move to memory care unit. My friend knew where I was sitting in the church and despite her grief, sought me out after these words were spoken giving me a wink and a smile. I once again found myself sitting in a church pew at a funeral of an elderly woman who died in peace because her wish to remain in her home was granted thanks to a daughter's devotion and with the help of in-home caregivers.
I am in this same situation as these families. My mother has never wanted to move out of her home to a senior living community. For years I have paddled through waters that change from clear to murky by the day in order for this to be possible. It has been a tender journey that requires a great deal of faith. It takes time and attention. It takes will and devotion. It takes patience and compassion. It takes the belief that this deep desire that some elderly individuals have is not an unrealistic idea or impossible to attain. Is it easy? Maybe for some. But it if were, I don't think there would be as many senior and assisted living facilities around or resources to help families cope with an aging parent. If it were easy to care for our elderly parents, I don't think every other conversation I practically have would be about our parent's or grandparent's life and living situation. If an elderly loved one's wish to remain in their own home until the end of his or her life is granted and is important enough to mention at not just one, but two funeral masses in a matter of weeks, I think this is an important topic for our time.
Today, there are so many of us living in this sandwich generation; a generation of people raising families as well as caring for our parents and grandparents. It is ironic that twenty years into the making of sandwiches for school lunches, I find myself within the center of a complicated sandwich. One slice of the bread is mothering my children and the other is caring for my elderly mother. The center of the sandwich can get thick and messy by too many ingredients and flavors competing with one another. To help make my current unavoidable sandwich grow stale, I often remind myself to keep it simple like a pb&j. I am the jelly that spreads herself to reach both crusts of needs without losing my own life. Grace is the peanut butter that holds us all together without crumbling apart.
If you are caring for an elderly parent, one who specifically wants to remain at home, I'm sure we have a lot in common. Even if your loved one lives in a senior community, I'm sure we have a lot in common. How we care for our elderly is hard work. It is exhausting work. But it is important work. And it is worth it.
How do we, as a whole, care for our elderly? How do we balance this while raising our own family? How do we care for a loved one while caring for ourself? How do we cope? How do we adjust? How do we keep them in their home?
To be continued....