Caregiving can be exhausting and stressful. We may not always be at our best in handling surprises and crisis. Karen, my wife and Bob, my brother and I had one big challenge in caring for my mom. We had recently moved my mom to independent living and she came down with pneumonia and fell with a suspected fracture in her ankle. While in the hospital and the following rehab facility, her doctor took her off Elavil because he didn’t like that medication for older people. My mom had been on Elavil for years. Her mood changed for the worse and she became very angry. She lashed out at my wife and my brother in very hurtful ways. My mom said things I had never heard come out of her mouth before. She didn’t lash out much at me because she needed me for her care. Needless to say this brought a lot of angst and turmoil in the family. We were in for a very difficult 5 month stretch.
Hurts are very real and can be very deep. We tried to figure out what was happening. Was it the dementia? Was it the medicine? Was it grief from losing my dad, her husband of almost 70 years? Was she suffering from the loss of abilities in sight, hearing, mobility? Was it the move and loss of being with her friends? Was it regrets? Was it the diminished ability to suppress the ‘old adam’ that is in all of us? The answer to all these questions is YES.
Then things got testy between Karen and me. It was stressful time between us when my mom attacked my wife. My mom also told my brother she wished he never had been born. Her anger was tearing us apart. We needed repair in the family.
Scripture doesn’t use the word “repair”. Scripture uses words like confession, forgiveness, absolution and reconciliation. That is just what my family needed NOW. Karen and I were getting short with each other and we hurt each other. My brother kept the phone ringing, just like my mom with her angry calls. We were all creating more mess to clean up in addition to the mess coming from my mom’s anger. I was getting to the place where I couldn’t take any more. Have you ever been there?
Eph. 4:26 says, “Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We couldn’t get things resolved before sun down. We were exhausted. In our exhaustion and stress we sinned against each other. Why is confession so hard during times like this? I guess we could only focus on our own hurt and vulnerability and lost empathy for the hurt and vulnerability of the other. We needed to confess two things to each other. I had said things that hurt Karen and she had said things that hurt me. We needed to speak up when we were hurt and tell each other what hurt us rather than strike back. We couldn’t see our hurtful words, only the words launched at ourselves. We needed to give the hurts a name other than ‘you’. The second confession we needed to make to each other was our love for each other. Our vows were for better or worse. Well this was the worse. You have heard of ‘through thick or thin”. Well this was the thick. Bottom line in the values we both held about marriage was marriage is for keeps. This episode in our life would pass, but our love for each other was for life.
So we named our problem and our Christian call to forgive, and we needed a lot of forgiveness in our family. We have to forgive. The Lords prayer we say includes the words, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive each other.” We needed to turn our reactions around. We needed to respond to each other in helpful ways. I thank God we were in a church that says the Lord’s prayer every Sunday in worship. Each week we also say together the Apostles Creed in which we recite together that we believe in the “forgiveness of sins.” I held on to those words each week. Because of this 5 month ordeal into the pit of stress and the fracturing of relationships those words have grown so important to me in my understanding of the Gospel. The Gospel of forgiveness was the only way out for me and my family. Forgiveness was the only way to facilitate healing.
Absolution and reconciliation are different from confession and forgiveness, but just as important. Reconciliation is a process of restoring the healthy relationship of love. In our anger we had sinned. Confession and forgiveness is only the first step towards healing. As my mom’s demential increased she forgot what she was angry about. We did not want to remind her lest we start everything up again. My mom was not going to move through confession and forgiveness in the way the rest of us could. We needed to believe and accept that the mom we knew did not want to hurt us. She was only expressing the suffering she felt and lashed out because she was hurting and suffering. We had to let go for her and just focus on the confession and forgiveness we needed to make. Christ had made reconciliation for us all. Our reconciliation with my mom would be in our care for her, our continued love for her. Our reconciliation became our ministry to her and her needs. Paul writes in II Cor 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” Therefore, we also needed to stop counting sins and holding those sins against each other. My mom forgot what she was angry about. Now Karen and I needed to do the same. It was harder for us because we still remembered the hurts and words. It was the stress, fears, exhaustion and worry that weakened us and our relationship. We have forgiven each other and my brother has forgiven our mom. Now when we worship and confess our sins we hear the words of absolution (the pronouncement of forgiveness in an official way) and receive those wonderful words as Gods words of absolution for us. We are free to live anew.
If any part of our story fits your story we hope that you can find some helpful thoughts to bring healing to your family. Don’t let your relationships die during this time of caregiving. Karen and I have learned from this experience, we have grown through these stresses and challenges of caregiving. Our relationship is moving into a new depth through confession, forgiveness and now reconciliation.
We believe Christian caregivers are called into a ministry of caregiving. We have been helped by fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus has taught us through the words of scripture, our worship and devotional time together. We looked for a Christian Caregiver Support Group during this time of care for my mom. We found some listings. When we called so we could participate, we were told that they no longer met. This was true when we were in San Antonio and also when we moved to Kansas City. We could not find any groups in churches in either city. That is why we are starting the Christian Caregiver Support Ministry in churches, beginning at Christ Lutheran Church in Overland Park, KS. That is why I have started this web site (www.christiancaregivingsupport.com).
I am working on a structure and training program for churches interested in organizing a team who are called to be caregivers caring for caregivers. If you might be so called and I might be of assistance, please let me know.