When you’re a child, you think of your parents as old—but not so old they cannot take care of themselves.
This is why my four siblings and I never thought about this day coming when our sister, Celeste, the youngest of five children would become the caregiver of our mom who is now seventy-eight-years-old and extremely frail.
Over this past year, our mom was diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer. Not a usual type of cancer, but a rare kind that has literally engulfed her body with a thick gel, causing her previously tiny belly to swell to a size greater than that of a woman in full-term pregnancy. Nothing more can be done beyond trying to make her as comfortable as possible, and taking care of her needs.
It just doesn’t seem possible that our mom—one of those individuals who “never got sick” other than the common cold is now living with a pending death sentence due to cancerous tumors filling her abdomen.
It also doesn’t seem real, or right, that my siblings and I all live on the other side of the country from her and our youngest sister—unable to consistently care for Mom’s health.
As my mom’s disease has worsened, I have made several trips to help her. This has given me a small taste of what has become the new normal for my youngest sister in taking care of our mom.
The Life of a Caregiver
The function of being a caregiver is like none other I know of. If you see this huge responsibility coming your way soon, I’ve listed a few things you can anticipate.
I advise you to ask for God’s guidance as you take on this tremendous task. The day-to-day duties will quickly consume you in so many ways if you don’t have the Lord’s hand of mercy, and support of family and friends behind you.
Changes in your lifestyle that may come while acting as primary caregiver:
If you’ve ever been parent to a newborn baby, you can testify to the life-altering exhaustion that it brings due to your own sleep deprivation. Similar to that stage of life comes while caring for a terminally ill person in your home.
You’re on-call throughout the day and into the dark hours of night. Whether the loved one needs to get up to walk and stretch their aching body or take medication, you’ll be up with them for this activity. No sleep for the weary! Just as it’s true for parents of new babies, it’s best to nap while your loved one naps and do your best to sleep at night whenever s/he sleeps.
Even with the help of insurance, there are many additional costs that come whenever you bring another individual into your home to live. Expenses for meals, extra water for showers and laundry, additional electricity, and medications cause bills to add up quickly.
Just as when a baby is born into the family, your time is no longer your own. Depending on the severity of your loved ones’ illness, you may only be able to get away for extremely short periods of time to run quick errands for necessary supplies or groceries. The freedom you once knew to come and go at leisure is limited since caregivers hold the primary knowledge of what the loved one needs, and is often the only one home to care for them throughout the daytime hours.
Taking care of a loved one in your home requires a tremendous amount of energy! Your hours are consumed with taking care of your normal household and family duties plus the additional food shopping and prep for the person you’re caring for. Additional laundry and cleaning comes into play as well, since those who are sick or disabled tend to soil more garments and bedding than you may have had otherwise. All of this additional work around the house brings about the need for more rest time for the caregiver.
Caregivers can quickly become isolated since it’s so hard to get away from the house and responsibilities that come with this role. It’s vital to one’s sanity to stay connected with friends somehow, even if that means having them come to your home for a few hours instead of you meeting up with them elsewhere. Do this if at all possible! It will provide a means of emotional support as well as enjoyment of their friendships that you desperately need during this season of life.
Caregiving is a high calling and quite stressful season of life. Although difficult in so many ways, it provides the opportunity to show unparalleled care and attention to loved ones in ways that were perhaps never imagined for kids or parents alike.