Westmont Magazine Caring for my Mother-in-Love
My husband, Arden, is an only child. When we married and went to Papua New Guinea as Wycliffe Bible translators, his parents gave up their only son and grandchildren for 22 years. We visited during furloughs, but the time passed so quickly.
When Arden’s dad died in 1995, we returned to the field praying that Cora, his 85-year-old mother, could manage on her own until we completed the Kamasau New Testament. Aside from a month in 1998 when I returned to care for her after a fall and carotid surgery, she remained independent. Then in November 1999 she agreed to live with us in Dallas, Texas. It was difficult for her to leave Haviland, Kansas, where she had been born and raised and had retired, and she grieved for her Kansas friends and relatives.
My prayer as we came back to the United States with our college-aged sons was, “Lord, please give us six months with Arden’s mother to make up for the years we were apart.” He gave us more than two years, and took Cora home on April 27, 2002.
At first she was able to care for herself and help some in the kitchen. She sewed curtains for her new bedroom. She read avidly. She used a walker. Someone stayed with her for company if we went on a trip.
Then she fell in September 2000 and things were different. She declined gradually, affected by a narrowing heart valve. She refused treatment, saying “I’m too old for surgery. I just want to go home to be with my husband in heaven.”
In February 2001 she went on hospice care. The home health aid came two or three times a week at first to help bathe and dress her. After August 2001, when she fell again, the aid came five days a week because it took two of us to bathe her. On weekends my husband or sons helped me with her care.
How did having an elderly parent in the home affect our family? As long as she was up to it, we included her in family meals. She enriched our lives with her smiles and sense of humor. Her prayers were precious.
Our sons have seen first-hand the body’s process of aging and weakening as it nears death. They offered their help in different ways. Caleb installed the safety bars in the bathroom and widened the bathroom door for the walker. He was ready with a cheerful word when he came home for lunch each day.
Josh lived nearby and came home about two nights a week. He was quick to give his grandma a gentle backrub and eager to say good night to her with conversation, prayer and a kiss. He was attentive to her needs and willing to meet them.
Josh says he has gained a new awareness of the dignity and personhood of the elderly. Because he got to know his grandma when she was still alert and active, he interacted with her as a person. One Christmas when we were overseas, he spent his college break in her home, and that cemented their bond. As she grew weaker and unable to express herself, he knew she was still a feeling person. His experience will help him relate to elderly persons as people, knowing that even when they can’t respond or do things they once did, they still have emotions and feelings.
My husband, Arden, changed from a reluctant observer to a gentle and thoughtful caregiver. He took charge at times, allowing me the freedom to get away. “We should never do anything just for the sake of our convenience,” he said. “Only if we can’t provide the care she needs should we turn it over to others.”
And me? I was her mama. She was like a small child, and I had to think about all her needs because she rarely asked for anything — it was an awesome responsibility to make sure she had everything. It took time to communicate and find out what she wanted. I was glad her need for care increased gradually so I could learn about her hearing aids and false teeth. I knew many of her friends from home so when they wrote I could talk with her about them, and when she could no longer write, I kept the communication going. After hearing her many stories when she first came to live with us, I was able to piece together some of her incomplete thoughts.
I have had a lot to learn about dying to self. I knew care-giving might take years of my life, but I didn’t realize I would lose the freedom to take a walk, go to church or attend a concert. I am grateful for the friends who helped. Some allowed me to go shopping and to attend church with my husband. Others came to visit knowing I couldn’t leave the house and that Cora needed love and support. She so missed her friends from home.
I learned that God was still with her even though her earthly tent was fading away. I’m glad she has entered into His presence with a new and whole body, never to sorrow again. And I miss her.
by Joy Sanders ’74