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Living Love as a Caregiver

Three pieces of advice from a family whose roles changed overnight.

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Everything changed for us on October 24, 2001. That’s the day my father had his first stroke. Like a thief, it came in the middle of the night, stealing my father’s speech, mobility, memory and independence.

Dad had worked hard all of his life in order to enjoy his golden years, but as he lay in the hospital bed, unable to speak or move his right side, those golden years began to tarnish before our eyes.

We called on our church family and friends to pray for him. My sister, brother and I tried to remain strong for our Mom. Then, miraculously, Dad’s speech returned and so did most of his mobility. He was once again able to use his right side without much help.

After just a few days, he was home—almost as good as new. Life was back to normal, but that was short-lived. In November, right before my 33rd birthday, my father suffered a second stroke. This one, a bit more severe.

It stole some of his reasoning functions and his ability to swallow, necessitating the need for a feeding tube in his stomach.

So, we celebrated my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s gathered around my father’s hospital bed. Finally, after many weeks, Dad was able to come home.

Then came stroke number three, just a month later.

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Once again, we found ourselves at the hospital—tired, fearful and hopeless. We had nowhere else to look but to God. Though Dad’s peripheral vision and short-term memory functions were attacked, we praised God that Dad was still with us. After only a few weeks, he was back home.

We celebrated his homecoming, but this time we knew that life would never be the same. We found ourselves in a situation that no one had prepared us for. My mother went from being a wife to a caregiver.

My siblings and I went from asking Dad home-buying advice to helping him remember his address. It was a journey we never wanted to take—a role reversal we never asked for—but a calling we were more than willing to answer.

It was simple, really. We loved and honored my Dad, and we were willing to do whatever it took to keep him in the comfort of his own home. With that decision made, we learned the ins and outs and ups and downs of caregiving.

Maybe you’re in the same situation or you know someone who is. More than likely, you fall into one of these categories because approximately 22.4 million households currently provide physical and emotional assistance to friends and relatives age 50 and older, according to the National Alliance of Caregiving.

It’s a reality.

So, what can we do?

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We can pray for one another and offer advice from our own experiences.

Here are three pieces of advice from our family:

1)  Become an investigative reporter.
When my father began having strokes, I read everything I could find about treatment, solutions, medicines, prevention and long-term effects. I wanted to know the differences in the various blood-thinning medications available to him. I wanted to know what to expect. I wanted to know how I could best help my Dad.

READ MORE: CAREGIVING FOR AGING PARENTS

It’s also a good idea to write down any questions that you or your family may have and take those questions to the next medical appointment. Find out about the various treatments available for your loved one and discuss the pros and cons of each one. And make sure to include the care receiver in the decision-making process, if at all possible.

2)  Read the Word and additional inspirational books.
In order to be an effective caregiver and continue to give, you have to be filled! So make sure you carve out time for the Word of God and prayer.

Also, I found it helpful to read books specifically for caregivers—it let me know that our family wasn’t alone and the feelings we often expressed were very normal. Because You Care: Spiritual Encouragement for Caregivers by Cecil Murphey and Twila Belk, and My Turn to Care: Encouragement for Caregivers of Aging Parents by Marlene Bagnull will offer great encouragement on the days you need it most.

3)  Live the love every day.
I once read where caregivers should see their caregiving duties as an opportunity to enhance their loved ones’ golden years. Did I enhance my father’s golden years every time it was my turn to stay with him?

I don’t know, but I have learned this—if you live what First Corinthians 13 says, you’ll be the best caregiver you can be. Because you need to know that “love is patient” when your Dad asks you the same question 25 times in a row. 

You need to know that “love always hopes” when they tell you that your father might not make it through the night. You need to know that “love never fails” even when you do. So, live the love chapter and let the caring continue.

Pray this with me:

Father, please help me to be the best caregiver I can be and help me to love like You love every single day—even on the hardest of days. I trust You, and I’m so thankful that I can lean on You when the pressure is too great. I love You, God. In the Mighty Name of Your Son, Jesus, Amen.

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