What I’ve learned from being a Caregiver

Happy Friday Y’all!

So as many of y’all know, I work part time as a caregiver for my mother who suffers from Dementia, Aphasia, and Parkinson’s. As tough as this trial has been, God has truly blessed my family and I with so many blessings throughout. During my devotion recently, I realized some of the things that I’ve learned throughout this journey and also what I’ve been reminded of. If you are ever in a similar circumstance you may experience some of these too.

•I have a huge passion for anyone elderly or someone that needs a little help. I think down the road I would like to invest my time caring for those in need in some shape or form.

I’m constantly reminded of the Trace Adkins’ song “You’re Gonna Miss This”. Even in the pit of some circumstances, I know I’m going to wish for these moments over and over again.

God is in the little things. Every mundane experience and moment He is present for and often gives you favor and grace for your persistence.

You may not relate and identify most with people your own age. None of my friends are taking care of their parents, with the exception of a couple with treatable illnesses. I have often had conversations with my parents’ friends who have cared for their family members or spouse with a terminal illness and there is a sense compassion and understanding that is evident that exudes.

Even though I know God will guide me through it and I trust in Him completely, I still struggle with the thought of not being with and seeing my mom everyday once she passes. As wonderful as it has been becoming so close, in some ways I think it was make my grief more difficult.

You’re going to forget a lot of the before. Sometimes I’ll hear things that my mom did from other people and think “My mom? Really?” I didn’t expect that. It’s odd you have such an all consuming present that part of that person’s personality in the past steps away for a bit. Home videos and stories from others seem to help with this the most.

• I will have waves of exhaustion.

-Physical exhaustion

*Walking around with my hands on her hips so that she didn’t trip and fall.

*Lifting her to and from the wheel chair.

*Getting her dressed and changed, as she grabs on to everything around her including myself.

-Mental exhaustion

*Trying my best to translate what she is attempting to say to real words.

*Anticipating what she might need and want

-Emotional exhaustion

*Dealing with the idea of her imminent death

*Going through the stages of grief because in some ways she has already left us.

*Not having her there to do things we used to and to ask questions to.

Life is absolutely a full circle, and I believe God intended it to be this way. By caring for her, I better understand how to be a good daughter and what a mother’s love is really like. I can only imagine this will magnify when we have kids. When I’m with family and friends that have little ones, I hear so many similarities to my everyday life with mom. It amazing, when you strip down to the core of who we are, you’re left with a childlike innocence, joy, and love that in my opinion comes direct from Christ.

•I will do anything to make someone smile or laugh. This is so true, but especiallyyyy when that person is my mom. The same way that giving a gift brings you a sense of happiness from the act of giving, bringing joy to her and anyone else brings me an even bigger joy.

My family and I now share a bond that is incredibly strong and rooted even deeper in Christ, which in my opinion is what’s most important in life.

My precious mother passed away in February 2019. This was the speech I read at her funeral.

I was in my sophomore year at Ole Miss when my mom first started showing some signs of her illness. This is when our storm began. At the time, we didn’t know quite where to start and went from doctor to doctor for some hint of an answer. Dad and mom would call and update me here and there, but I think they tried to keep it as upbeat as possible to protect me. That Christmas break, after being told of her terminal diagnosis, I remember praying so hard through tears one night for God to heal her, or if not to let it be me. He had a different plan. As soon as I graduated, I knew that I would move back to Savannah, mostly because of being close to mom. Blake and I had just gotten engaged, and his love for me showed in his willingness to forgo any of his previous plans to follow me home and begin our life together there so I could be with her.  

At the beginning, mom was still very self-sufficient and we had few reasons to really worry, so I picked up an hourly retail job and scheduled my off days for dad’s busiest workdays. During this time, Blake and I decided to move into my parent’s house and live in separate bedrooms until our wedding day. Blake had given up his plan of becoming a US Marshal, as they would most definitely relocate him, and was actively job searching locally. Until he was placed with one, he did whatever he could to help mom if she needed it; often taking her for trips to get blood work, grabbing lunch, or running errands. I love that they shared that time together.

As it became more difficult for her to communicate and remember certain items, we discussed our next step as a family, and dad employed me as her caregiver during days he was at work. Once Blake and I wed, we moved into an apartment downtown and I would commute over in the mornings on my days with her. We’d start our mornings snuggled up in her bed watching the morning TV programs with coffee in hand. Our days were filled with shopping trips together, drives around town, sitting by the neighborhood pool with ice cream, and movie room dates with popcorn. She’d keep me laughing almost daily with a random wig, costume, or hat she’d throw on just to make us smile with that quick wit of hers. 

Blake and I moved back in with my parents while we saved up for our first fixer upper, which made my commute downstairs pretty easy haha. I cherished my days with mom but at the same time I would be so mentally exhausted from trying to understand and translate what she wanted, said, or needed and I would also be so physically drained from making sure she didn’t trip and fall due to her declining stability. I tried my best to balance my time between daughter and wife, but often failed at doing this well.  

Times that she began to get agitated in the late afternoons or worked up about some startling reflection she saw in the window, I would often calm her by playing Futurebirds’ concert videos, my brother’s band. Soon enough, she would be dancing and singing along with the biggest smile on her face, reminding me to “hush” here and there, as if the show was live. We would try our best to take mom to see Brannen’s shows when he played locally, even if it was a difficult task with wheelchair and transport. She certainly loved her boy! About 3 years before she passed, we took mom downtown to see one of his shows and had her pulled up at the side of the stage with an unobstructed view of him. It wasn’t long after he began to play that they made eye contact and she gave him a big thumbs up in the air. Certainly no easy task for her, we were all so touched at how much her love could still break through the barriers of her disease.

As mom progressed, we spent most every day riding around the island on the golf cart, when the weather obliged. We’d pack snacks and share sodas just enjoying the sunshine, laughs and scenery. Even when we transitioned her to a wheelchair I would lift her into the cart to still enjoy an outing. I’m very thankful my mom was a small woman haha. A couple of years of marriage under our belt, the idea of starting a family wasn’t necessarily in the forefront of our mind, but we discussed the idea in terms of mom’s timeline; I really wanted her to be around to meet a grandchild.  We decided to pray for God’s will in our lives and try. As I watched mom’s health decline, test after test would read negative; I could feel my hope fade each month. Just as we had almost given up, God gave us a miracle. As this miracle grew, we called in help in the form of wonderful caregivers to aid me when I needed to limit my lifting. My heart was divided with extreme joy and an impending sadness, as I knew my role as mom’s caregiver was coming to an end. In the midst of the fun, sorrow, laughter, and tears, this maternal figure of mine had somehow become part daughter and part best friend to me. I’m so thankful she was able to touch, smile at, and hold our daughter, but I know her faint view of Palmer on earth will be made perfectly clear with brand new eyes that side of heaven.

I never would have expected, nearly 10 years ago, that I would have taken on the role as her caregiver, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This experience has taught me about unconditional love, patience, exhaustion, joy, the contagion of laughter, the importance of priorities, caring for and cleaning up after another, and God’s provision through it all. I’ve spent countless hours with mom, listening, learning, talking, praying, laughing, crying, and smiling. I’ve been patient when it would be easy to get frustrated; I’ve lost my temper when all I needed to do was slow down. I’ve waited patiently for her to get up so I could see her smiling face, and Brannen had even caught me napping on her shoulder on the job once when I couldn’t stand any longer following her around, Brannen told dad to dock my pay haha. I’ve learned from my countless mistakes and so often God has continuously cleared a path for me to handle other issues with ease. Being home and spending time with her as she declined was the most horrible, wonderful, terrible, incredible thing.  

Although it was a new kind of hurt coming into this season of motherhood without her cognizant presence and insightful input, I’m thankful for the time I had and remind myself often just how proud she’d be of Dad, Brannen, and myself. I know that this is no accident, coincidence, or mistake, but that God has led us through this storm in order to show us His unwavering grace, mercy, and love on the other side of it. I’m so thankful to God for this time with her that I know without a doubt that I will never regret every sacrifice and tough moment. It was well worth it. This time has been an honor, a privilege, and holds countless memories that will last the rest of my life.

We have had so much of God’s favor bestowed upon us during this storm, but one of His greatest blessings was sending us our dad. Every day, my brother and I were able to witness our amazing father be an incredible husband to his wife, living out their vows. What a Godly role model he has been for us, as a father and a husband. Over this time of caring for mom, he has either learned or sharpened his skills in sewing, cooking, baking, cleaning, hair styling, nail painting, and even makeup applying just so that mom could continue to look and live just as she had before. No one could better care for our mother with the level of love, compassion, and diligence than this man has, without giving it a second thought. Thank you Jesus.

I heard a poignant statement on Christian radio as I hurried down from Atlanta this week, “It’s not punishment, it’s preparation for what lies ahead. God does not test your faithfulness without showing you His.” He has certainly done such. Without His light at the other end of this storm, we undoubtedly would not have made it to shore. Who is shining the light in your storm? Who is holding the raft that will easily get you to safety from the turmoil life throws at each of us, whether it’s an unexpected conflict or a fatal diagnosis like my mom’s. Without faith in Jesus, these storms will inevitably drown each of us if we let it. If there’s one thing we have learned from this experience, it is that the love of Christ is the only guarantee we are given in this life. Jesus is ready to save you, will you grab the raft?

 

11 thoughts on “What I’ve learned from being a Caregiver

  1. Emily Fogarty says:

    This is such an incredible post Jenna. You are right, God has a plan and you have to know this is where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing with life. Your mom appreciates all you do for her more than you will probably ever know.

    xox E

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  2. Kittie Prosser says:

    I’m in tears. What a wonderful testimony to your love for your Mother!!! She is definitely one of a kind and inspires this love and devotion to all who know and love her. Your family is amazing and so inspiring!!! Love to you all!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Like

  3. Willa Siemek says:

    What an awesome post Jenna. Your parents are very blessed to have such and amazing daughter and you are blessed to have them. I have no question in my mind that you are destined for greatness! I love reading your post and your family is precious!!! ❤️

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  4. Lynda Hickey Lee says:

    I love you thru your Dad and Mom because I do not personally know you. You have shared a part of your soul that is so precious and I will treasure this in my heart and memory. Please keep on being just who you are. You are truly blessed to have been put in this situation. May God continue to less your and your family .

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  5. Elizabeth Harrelson says:

    Jenna, the tissues came out after reading this. Thank you for sharing the journey you are on with your mom. And in such a wise, truthful and insightful way. There is great beauty in what you have said and in what you are experiencing-beauty in the midst of tragedy but that is God’s way. I pray for God to continue to guide you and to give you strength in this time. I know He sees your needs and sees every tear you and your family cry. Love to you all! You are a precious family!

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  6. Peggy Riggins says:

    All this is so true Jenna. My mom was bedridden for over 3 years and under Hospice care for two. After she died the thing I seemed to crave most was to be able to , when I thought of her, have the image be of her when she was vibrant, the mother I knew before. It took a long time to get that back. My mother went downhill more gradually at an older age–more like what is expected. Your mom was so youthful, cute, and energetic. She seemed to be robbed of some of the best times in her life. I know you had to experience some anger and a lot of sadness, but your loving way of handling this tragic hand you and your family were dealt is such an inspiration for everyone who knows you. God bless you all.

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  7. Jolinda Harper Elmore says:

    As someone who knew your mother growing up, I am touched and grateful for the person you are! How lucky Dale and Angie are to have you! What a great job they did raising such a compassionate and loving daughter!

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  8. Edna Williamson says:

    Jenna, you are an amazing young woman with a Godly spirit. Your mother and I grew up in First Baptist Church. I am a few years older, but i remember her sweet smile. I know God will continue to bless you and your family.

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  9. Debra Fenn says:

    Such beautiful expressions. Your love and sweet spirit is evident. You have expressed feelings I haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge, analyze, and think about in dealing with my mom who has dementia. Thank you for sharing such intimate feelings. I often remember your mom and the whole family in prayers.

    Like

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