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Can you or should you do everything for your loved one?

Care GiverThe short answer: no.
The long answer: No one can do everything.
Now, the explanation. When you see a loved one hurting, in pain, struggling with something, or feeling down and out, it is almost instinctive to step in and do whatever is needed. For some reason, when you love someone, you just take on all of their burdens, trials and struggles and make them your own. That’s not entirely a bad thing, though. We are told, as Christians, that if we love someone, we are to give up our lives for them. What’s a little inconvenience of taking on burdens and tasks in comparison to sacrificing your life?
But there’s a problem. You really can’t do everything. There are just some things that you are not equipped or capable to do. Oh, sure, you could probably struggle your way through it, I’m sure. I don’t know the first thing about cutting someone’s hair, but I’m sure I could figure it out and give my wife a new ‘do when her hair grows in. My wife doesn’t have the first clue about how to change the oil in the car, but she could probably do it if I was incapacitated… maybe.
The point isn’t really whether or not you can do something. You probably can do what needs to be done. But there may come a time when you may simply be unable to do it. I shared in my book, The Caregivers Beatitudes, one such situation that happened during my wife’s cancer treatments. It was a situation that, try as I might, I just was inadequate to be able to meet a specific need of hers. As much as I tried to show mercy to my wife in her time of need, I just could not. It took someone from outside our little family to offer to meet that need for me to realize that I needed mercy myself.
That’s at the core of these kinds of things. It’s very obvious that the person going through the illness, or grief, or pain, needs mercy. But it isn’t always so obvious that the caregiver needs mercy as well. Caregivers are a tough lot. We take on a lot and we roll with a lot of punches. Many times, we sit on the sidelines and let our loved ones get the attention. And why not? They are the ones who need the help, not us. We don’t need any help. We’re caregivers. We can do it all. Or so we think.
But as much as our loved ones need mercy, we need it, too. We need to be cared for and we need our rest, but we rarely take it for ourselves. What we need, ultimately, is for someone else to step in, take us by the hand and tell us, “It’s OK. You can rest now.” We need to be shown mercy, just like we have shown mercy to our own loved ones. That is, after all, why the beatitudes matter.

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  1. Robert, my wife managed retirement communities for years. One of the recurring issues for children of parents who were seeking to place their loved one in a community’s care was guilt over not being able to care sufficiently for their parent. Do you have any thoughts on this situation?

    1. That’s a very tough situation, to be honest.
      Is it something to feel guilty about? Or is it something that there should be some freedom experienced? I, personally, think the latter. If the children have done everything possible for their ailing parent, then they should not have guilt at needing to get some help. That is, essentially, what a retirement community/nursing home is. It is a way to get help in caring for ailing relatives when you don’t have that ability yourself.
      That’s where that “mercy” comes to play (and the “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” beatitude). Children are certainly showing mercy to their parents by caring for them in their later years. But at some point in time, those children are also in need of mercy.
      It is a very freeing experience. I never realized the weight I was carrying around for my wife until someone unburdened me by showing me mercy. Now, if you’re just dumping your parents off on the nursing home because they are becoming inconvenient… weeelll… But if you’ve truly done everything you can and you just can’t do it all, then accept the mercy and allow the help to come.
      Just a quick off the cuff thing but that’s kinda where I go with this question…

    2. Back in 2000, my family placed my father in the nursing home and my mother in the assisted living facility in Dowling Park at the Advent Christian Village. I didn’t experience the guilt at the time; I was there every day and it was all I could do to check in on both of them. My father died that year so his responsibility ended abruptly and shortly after his settling in at the ACV. I experienced this guilt with my mother as she spent fourteen years in assisted living and in the lockup unit for Alzheimer’s patients at the ACV nursing home. I questioned my conscience constantly as I was only able to go twice a week when working. My husband was there with me on the Sunday visits; he was a great support system. I watched my mother digress to infant stages where she was unable to do anything independently. It was a very depressing situation. It was such a relief when one of my sisters moved to Dowling Park as a resident and as a long-needed support system two years before my mother’s death. I moved to once a week visits and if there was a health issue where someone needed to be at the nursing home, my sister would check in on my mother within minutes. We shared in foot washings and prayer over our mother on a weekly basis. Missions grew us closer together but our job as part time caretakers drew us even closer together. Yes, the caretaker, even part time, needs encouragement and support!

  2. You touched my heart with these words. I cannot imagine what you are going through, however, because I haven’t experienced what you are experiencing. But I agree that you as the caregiver need much loving care yourself. What I do when I am burdened down is to remember verses in God’s Word. I think it helps to quote them to yourself out loud as a way of reminding God of His promises. As Jesus said, “My words are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (I Pet. 5:7) is a good one. I sometimes sing “I cast all my cares upon You. I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet. And anytime I don’t know what to do, I will cast all of my cares upon You.” I sing another one, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to fall. He is at thy right hand. Thy goodness, Lord, is great and high above the heavens. They shall not be ashamed that wait upon Thee” (based on Psa. 55:22). Thank you so much for touching my heart this morning with your transparency. I was burdened myself.

    1. My wife and I turned to scripture frequently during that time in our lives. And God did strengthen us and give us hope.
      But what, honestly, helped the most, especially for me, was when someone became “Jesus with meat on” and actually did real, practical things for us. This was the greatest emotional support for us.

  3. Having been in the caregiver role, I want to emphasize how important having love with skin on it is. Sometimes you get so tired you just don’t want to think about one more thing. After our son James died, a dear friend came in and very simply took over the house. Be sure, of course, that you are a good friend who would be wanted to do such a thing. (That requires discernment and good sense!)
    This friend managed to keep everything in order so that Jody and I could deal with what we had to, and everything else just happened.
    I would not have made it through this without my faith; Jesus was with us all the way. But we often forget just how many miracles Jesus performs in the world through the hands of very ordinary people. For us, ordinary people, filled with the Spirit of our extraordinary God showed up by the dozens.
    I’m eternally grateful to all those folks who were God’s miracle accomplishers.

  4. Can I share this on our blog? My next post is about horticultural therapy with those experiencing Alzehimer’s and dementia, a BIG part of that discussion is on taking care of yourself! I love this message and completely affirm it. Thank you!

  5. Here’s a common misconception – Once your parent is moved into an assisted living environment, you get your life back. It may work for some people who seldom check on their parents but for me it’s added to the responsibilities – make sure they’re getting their meds correctly and timely, be sure they are getting to the dining area and eating the 3 meals a day provided, and my biggest, are they happy? I SO desire for my mom to enjoy her life, even with Alz. It amazes me how many people don’t realize Alz patients still have feelings. they still experience joy, sadness, and all the complications that come with their confusion. People assume they have no idea what’s going on and there’s not a thought in their head; like it’s just a blank space. they couldn’t be more wrong. i try to take time for myself on Saturday mornings to work in or just relax in my garden. but most of the time my mind is on my mother. it’s very difficult to escape the guilt and sadness.

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