If you’ve come here directly without a link from post entitled The Interaction of Religious Beliefs and Caregiving, I urge you to go back there and read that page to give this post some context.
- What is your life situation – married/partner? How long?
I’m very happily married and have been for almost 20 years. I didn’t marry until I was in my early 40s so this has been an unexpected and wonderful blessing in my life.
- Do you have a religious belief? What is it? Do you consider yourself devout?
Yes, I am a Christ follower and I think most people would consider me somewhat devout. We attend church regularly, give a tithe of our income and are lay leaders (Bible studies, prayer ministry, etc.) All that said, I try very hard not to be “that guy” – you know, the one who shoves their faith down other’s throats.
- How did you come to your beliefs?
I was raised in a very conservative Christian home. My father was a youth pastor and then went into Christian education when I was young. The churches we attended were filled with manmade rules and regulations rather than with the grace, mercy and love of God. There’s a saying that rules without relationship equals rebellion and I could be the poster child for that theory.
- Did your belief or level of belief or lack of belief play a significant role in your life prior to this crisis?
Once I found MY faith (rather than that of my parents) my relationship with God grew exponentially. I gave up a career in the music industry and spent the next 10 years working with prisoners and ex-prisoners in a faith based ministry started by Chuck Colson. Following that I spent another 8 years working at our home church.
- Did the onset of the crisis cause a disturbance/alteration in your belief?
This caregiving situation with my parents has been extremely difficult – the timing took me off guard because they had been extremely healthy and we had just moved 5 hours away. Despite my faith, it was still very hard to put their ever-increasing needs before mine, ours. I resented the intrusion and questioned God’s timing on a daily basis. It did not alter my faith but it surely tested it.
When my already difficult dad demanded that we move him home (post stroke rehab) and care for him, it further tested my faith. Providing his care became overwhelmingly difficult physically and emotionally. After he fell and hurt himself and then fell 3 more times (soiling himself in the process) I knew we couldn’t continue at home due to health and safety issues (all of ours). He became very angry, lashing out at us and it became increasingly hard to love him, regardless of my faith.
- What emotions did you feel in regards your belief and the impact of the disease?
I felt a lot of anger and frustration about this situation. Neither of my parents gave much thought to end-of-life planning, I only have one sister who is single and works full time, so the bulk of the heavy lifting fell to me and my husband (who is a saint). We had to list, show, pack and sell their home (5 hours away) – find, purchase and move them into a new place. Five days later dad had a major stroke as life as we knew it changed forever.
I became a full-time caregiver… running around meeting with financial planners, lawyers, and doctors, taking both of them to appointments, cooking special meals, cleaning and organizing their home, doing their laundry, bathing them, meeting with home health care, etc. I was also angry that my dad was so dismissive of the efforts and sacrifices we were making. My husband would go in every night to get him into bed and he would act so mean to him – it made me want to leave him in his stinking chair all the time and of course I didn’t.
Later, when we moved dad to a beautiful assisted living home, I felt angry and resentful that he was using up all the retirement monies they had in place and had to work with our attorney to protect my mom. He had ignored all the warnings of his doctors about his diabetes and heart disease… he just didn’t care about himself or anyone else. For example, he would eat massive amounts of sugar and defy the serving staff (who knew he was diabetic) when they questioned his choices. Those decisions would ALWAYS morph into more sores, more pain, more confusion. It was very emotionally taxing. Squaring my anger, frustration and resentment with my faith was a difficult juggling act…
- Did you think differently, act differently?
I don’t think you can go through this sort of thing and come out unscathed. I was a nervous wreck having mom in our home. I didn’t sleep for the next 5 months and spent a lot of time being exhausted and fearful. The year we spent caring for dad (in-home and then in the facility) was so difficult I was completely cried out by the time he died. I haven’t shed a single tear since that time. I feel heartless, in some ways, but I realize I’ve been mourning the lack of relationship for many years.
On a very practical level, my husband and I are working diligently to make sure our kids never have to deal with the level of nonsense we’ve had to endure with my parents. I also have a whole new appreciation for anyone who is caring for senior adult parents – there is an immediate bond when I meet someone carrying this heavy load.
- Did the disease raise any questions/doubts?
I’m not 100% sure what you’re going for here. Did dad’s crazy, selfish behavior cause me to doubt or question my faith? If that’s the question then I would have to admit there was nanoseconds when I wondered if God was on vacation, or busy elsewhere… surely my heavenly father wouldn’t allow this level of suffering (for both of us, all of us). And then I remembered that our faith never promises that life will be easy or perfect… God just tells us that he will be there with us in the suffering and that his strength is made perfect in our weakness. I found that to be true.
- Did you ever wish that your beliefs were different?
I can’t say that I wish my belief system was different. I do wish that my fellow Christians were kinder to each other and to other faith groups. I also wish people who call themselves Christians would actually follow the guidebook (Bible) and not just pick and choose the parts they like. Yes people, it actually does say to feed the hungry and clothe the naked – I get really tired of conspicuous consumption being so prevalent in the modern church.
- If so how have you dealt with these questions/doubts?
I asked God to give me wisdom about the situation – I asked for patience, strength and endurance. I asked God to help me synthesize the anger I was feeling, to show me why my faith felt weak. For me it was helpful to find other believers going through similar things – comparing notes is usually a good thing.
- Did the initial reaction persist and have your beliefs changed?
My beliefs haven’t changed, my reaction to the situation forced me go deeper in my faith. There were times it was the only thing I had to hold on to. I would honestly say “God, I don’t see you in this and I need a place to feel safe”.
- Did your beliefs provide support?
Because I’ve invested time and effort in a body of like-minded people, I was able to tap into all kinds of help and support. I had friends online (all over the world) who would call and encourage me on a daily basis. I also had friends in my local church who sought me out, came to our home, drove errands for me, spent time with my parents, etc. (one young woman drove out on her lunch hour to give mom a much-needed haircut as she was in pain and unable to travel). Friends from our former home church drove down to spend time with us and my folks. When my dad passed away our former pastor and his wife came down to help us make plans for dad’s “home-going” service. The church where I worked for almost 10 years hosted the service, provided all the food, a place for us to stay, an after the party, party and so much more. The warm and loving embrace they provided was a life-saver, especially because my dad died just 4 weeks after I had a full hysterectomy.
I don’t know that the intensity of my faith has changed, but the reality of the grace, mercy and love of God has been amply demonstrated by the people of God both here and in our former home. I have experienced that gift in such a tangible way. I will always be grateful for that gift and am now devoted to paying it forward whenever I can.
My bottom line is going to sound like a platitude and I apologize in advance. My new mantra is this: Life is good, because God is good. I’ve been through a difficult and painful experience these past two years. There were times when God seemed far away – looking back I see this was only because I had gone numb and moved away… I’ve decided to double down and dig deeper into my faith – it’s the only place I can find peace.