In August of 2009, we received a call that my 89-year-old father had been transported from the nursing home he lived in to a nearby hospital. The rotating nursing home doctor on duty prescribed a medicine that conflicted with some of the other medications he was already taking. He was rushed to the hospital in a drug induced coma, non-responsive and dehydrated.
The hospital doctor was worried my father wouldn’t regain consciousness for at least ten days – that’s how bad off he was. But Grandpa came around the next day (we all say he has nine lives, and it’s true, he does). It was then my younger brother and I began to explore options with the geriatric social worker for moving him to a facility nearer to our homes.
For the last four years, Grandpa had been living in a nursing home an hour away from my house. He was driven there by my sister at his request. After he complained to a hospital social worker that she wasn’t feeding him, she became fearful the nursing staff would report her for elder abuse. But, it wasn’t true. Grandpa had a habit of complaining to anyone who would lend a sympathetic ear. No matter that he was getting one on one care, he loved to focus on the negatives and complain to anyone who would listen about the few things that were frustrating him. Sometimes he embellished the story for affect. Just where he thought he was going to be treated any better, I don’t know, but it was this incident that landed him in the nursing home in the first place.
I never wanted him to have to go there. In fact, I did all I could do to keep him out of the nursing home, but the house we rented on a farm was too small, even for my family. I couldn’t fault my sister either. She tried so hard to please Dad, but his complaining and criticism were hurtful, and he had begun to pick on her children, too. It was not a good situation.
As he will admit, Grandpa hadn’t served “his prison sentence in the nursing home yet.” No, he hadn’t been through the valley of testing. He had no point of reference to remind him of how blessed he was to be taken care of by family. Well, he does now, and he truly is a changed man.
I have to admit, I didn’t think about the long term ramifications of bringing Grandpa home permanently. The opportunity suddenly presented itself last fall when my brother’s renters came to him and asked him to lower the rent. He said, “You know what, guys? I need the house back, I’m bringing my dad home.” My brother started the process, and my family picked up the pieces.
Because of the age of my children, everything just fell into place. It was the miracle my Dad had been praying for. All he wanted was a room where he could have some privacy, be cared for, and write. The Lord not only gave him a room, he gave him his old house back, too.
As my family quickly learned, it was one thing to bring Grandpa home, and quite another to care for him on a daily basis. Grandpa’s care fell to my family because we’re home and operate a home business. We were working hard and had a lot of great plans for this year, when suddenly we got a call that Grandpa was in the hospital.
As in years past, my heart went out to him, and I wanted, no needed to find a way to make sure he would be taken care of. I couldn’t bare the thought of anyone neglecting him, anymore. And while he is taken care of and at peace, our family is being stretched like it never has been before.
Ah, the dichotomy of being a full-time caregiver who doesn’t live in the same house.* Many, I know, have walked this path before me. That alone brings me great comfort.
*We have since moved with Grandpa and take care of him full time.
Everyone laughs when they hear Grandpa’s stories. I’m not sure why because, generally, the stories we tell are not meant to be funny. Mostly, they’re about the struggles we’ve encountered since taking my 89-year-old father out of a nursing home in October of 2009 to care for him ourselves.
After talking about our new responsibilities (actually, to anyone who will listen), most people agree that if you’re able to take care of your elderly parents, it’s the right thing to do. After all, many adult children over the age of fifty will have to care for an elderly parent now or sometime in the near future.That’s why Grandpa’s stories strike a cord. They give hope to others who are going through similar situations or become poignant reminders for those who have already done their duty.
And even if someone hasn’t been there, they’re rootin’ for us all the same. If one family can keep their elderly father from wasting his golden years drooling all over his wheelchair in a drugged induced stupor, some how, some way, they might be able to keep it from happening to them, too.
Let’s face it, growing old isn’t fun. The “golden” years eventually give way to the “not so golden” years, when we become totally dependent upon others to meet our most basic needs. Seniors who have lived independently, not wanting to burden their families, suddenly find themselves at the mercy of institutions to keep them happy and healthy. However, after just a few days in the nursing home, mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, come to realize that nobody can care for them like their own family.
Daily, a steady stream of overworked and underpaid staff can be seen filing through the nursing home doors. These are the ones to whom we entrust the care of the least among us – our precious parents and grandparents. Sadly for many families, the realization that they could be or should be part of the solution for this great social injustice never dawns on them.
I am thankful for the dedicated CNA’s and nursing home staff who, above insurmountable odds, keep giving from their hearts. They have one of the hardest jobs in society. However, they can never truly replace a family who takes responsibility for the care and well being of their own.
Some like ourselves, have been given the opportunity to follow a different path, and although it seems filled with overwhelming obstacles at times, it is also a path to tremendous blessing. The sooner individual families realize what a privilege it is to be involved in the aging process, the sooner they will find grace for the journey.
This is the story of one family’s triumph over the “me” generation. Grandpa’s stories give voice to all the families who live selflessly day in and day out, those silent heroes who care for their elderly parents without notoriety or payment. Why do they do it? For love.
Over the months, we have acquired many new skills we never possessed before mostly through trial and error. The routines we have adopted as a family have made the difference between our household being chaotic or running smoothly. Our daily schedule not only revolves around Grandpa’s needs and energy level, but my older son and daughter’s as well. They are the ones who usually get Dad up in the morning and put him to bed at night, so everyone has to be in agreement and try to keep to the schedule as much as possible. Seniors thrive on routine and so do caregivers.
Even though schedules are important, it is also important to be flexible and enjoy one another, too. If everyone is running late, try to not rush your parent just to stay on schedule. Grandpa loves social interaction more toward evening, and he gets just as excited about eating dessert or watching a movie as a child would. He doesn’t want to miss out on anything, and it’s important for him to know that we enjoy having him around and are willing to bend the rules once in awhile just to have some family fun.
Grandpa loves when I stop in his room to say goodnight. Sometimes we pray together or sing a hymn. He often tells me what he wants to accomplish on his book the next day. Bringing closure to the day, and saying I love you, makes him feel safe and secure, and that’s what it’s all about.
When we first started taking care of Grandpa, my older daughter was a little more exacting about bed time. We all were all pretty much in shell shock and became fatigued easily at that time. Imagine going from your flexible routine as a family with older children (11 and up), to having a newborn 160 pound baby in the house. We were pretty exhausted and just needed Grandpa to stick to the schedule.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last three years, we don’t have to do it like the nursing home does it. We can be flexible – within reason. You just have to be careful. If you give Grandpa and inch, he’ll take a mile – and then some!
There are about five weeks of summer left, and I’m doing all I can to make it last. After a long string of hot days, I’m spending mornings up in the garden again, sipping coffee and reading my Bible under the shade of a walnut tree that’s next to my husband’s Cucumber Haus.” The roof, constructed of nylon netting, is now covered with curly tendrils fingering their way skyward, while the creeping vines around the base spill over into the path.
When I step inside the wooden frame, I am surrounded by a canopy of fuzzy green leaves and delicate yellow flowers. The air is cool and delicious, and I feel like a child again, exploring a secret garden. I love picking the prickly cucumbers and listening to the bees buzz from blossom to blossom.
The “Cucumber Haus” has become a spiritual dwelling place, a temporary tabernacle. But its glory is short-lived. Come fall, the frost will strike with a vengeance, shriveling the life-giving vines to the ground. Still, the memory of this year’s harvest will be permanently fixed upon my heart.
Years ago, I began making pickles out of necessity because I married an over-zealous vegetable gardener. I didn’t learn the art of canning from my mother, however. Even though she loved to garden (she planted a salad garden every year), she was overly cautious about germs, and afraid of botulism. So it’s no surprise that she asked a woman at a local grocery store how to make pickles. Now mind you, my mother has been with the Lord for 19 years. I didn’t know anything about this conversation until a couple weeks ago, after I had made my first batch of pickles and posted about it on my blog.
I received an email from a home school mom related to my husband’s sister through marriage. She wondered if I was the same Jill Novak that was married to Bobby Novak (that’s what Robert’s family calls him). After I let her know that, yes, indeed, I was “Bobby’s wife,” she wrote back saying, “I was reading your blog and I knew that you were the Jill I know. The Lord used your mom to change our family’s life. She witnessed to my mom in the produce section of the Eagle grocery store in Mundelein in 1979. She asked about making pickles. I remember what a prayer warrior your mom was! As a result of that my mother accepted Christ, and through a series of events, my husband and I did also. Your mom used to say we were “shoe-string” relatives! We have been homeschooling since 1989, and have been blessed with 8 kids ranging from 25 to 6.”
When I close my eyes, I can just imagine my gregarious mother striking up a conversation about making pickles with a total stranger in the grocery store. I can hear the woman assuring her that there is really nothing to worry about if you follow the simple instructions. I can see my mother’s face aglow with the thought of making her own pickles, and before you know it, she is sharing her faith about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. She makes Him so appealing, so appetizing, that this woman accepts Him as her Savior right then and there in the produce isle. The two women exchange recipes that day – one for Kosher Dills and the other for Eternal Life.
I’ll never know how many people my mother led to the Lord in her lifetime through normal, everyday conversations about things like making pickles. She didn’t go out of her way to evangelize the world; she just bloomed where she was planted. People tend to laugh at me, too, because I have a way of telling my life story and sharing my faith with total strangers (especially at garage sales). That’s why hearing this story about my mother, 27 years after the fact, moved me to tears. The older I get, the more I miss her, and after all these years, the Lord confirmed something I already suspected – I truly am my mother’s daughter.
Well, this is the fourth time that I’m harvesting cucumbers this season. As I pick, slice, and can pickles, I’m passing down recipes to my own children: the joy of growing a garden, the sweet and spicy smell of pickles simmering on the stove, and the appetizing aroma of a relationship with the Living God, the recipe for Eternal Life. The memories I make now will be permanently fixed upon their hearts, and I will be remembered, like my mother before me, as a woman who nurtured her children’s souls, and reaped an abundant harvest – a winsome evangelism at best!
An apple tree bloomed near the hedgerow last week. “Mom, you have to go up and see the apple tree!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “It’s all full of blossoms.” This same tree didn’t produce apples last year (a late frost nipped the life out of it), but this year the dark pink buds grew pale and slowly opened into paper-thin petals of white. As their light, sweet scent filled the air, I became spellbound. Sitting under the white and green branches, I pondered the short life of apple blossoms, only to realize that I cannot fully comprehend their fleeting beauty or the hand of the One who created such an exquisite tree. Some thoughts are too big for me.
If it remains cool and the blossoms linger, I will take my children to visit our apple tree friend often, to sit under its fragrant bower and contemplate the wonder of spring. We will memorize its splendor and revel in the sight and smell of hundreds of tender apple blossoms lifted to the sky. We will celebrate with cups of apple cinnamon spice tea and old-fashioned sour cream apple cake – our humble offering for the intrinsic loveliness we find there. We will read After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost and laugh at the poet’s ability to weave a yarn about two-pointed ladders, aching feet, and restless sleep. We’ll sigh because we know our words could never compare with his. Still, we will try to capture the memory of apple blossom time in our own verse.
And when at last the paper-thin petals lie scattered upon the ground, we will gratefully remember the fellowship we shared with the tree and each other at the meadow’s edge. A place where words bloom like delicate pink buds – full of promise, heady and fragrant, reminding us that apple blossom time is not a mere dream, but comes only once, for a short time…in the spring.
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