by Randy Becton And Jim Clark
He watches his wife sitting silently in her wheelchair. She's staring at him with vacant eyes. He's facing his greatest challenge as a husband, yet also discovering some of life's sweetest joys.
Robertson McQuilkin shocked his colleagues when he abruptly resigned his position as college president. The reason? He wanted to care for his wife of 40 years, stricken with Alzheimer's. He says, "She's been devoted to me for four decades. It's only fair that I now take care of her."
The daily grind of serving and taking care of his wife hasn't been easy. But McQuilkin has never considered his decision a wasted sacrifice. His friends ask, "How do you keep going? What are your resources?"
"Memories have helped," he answers. The assistance of friends and family have also given him a boost. But most of all, he's sustained by the love his GREATEST Companion-Jesus Christ. God has helped him break free of being preoccupied with himself and fix his thoughts on Jesus.
With the changing face of health care and the longer life span we have today, many of us will face similar challenges to Dr. McQuilkin- caring for aging parents, serving a spouse who is losing his or her mental capacities, or taking care of a physically ill loved one.
We know this love is painful! We also want you to know that as deep as your pain is, God's love for you is ever deeper. We encourage you to turn to him for strength and hope. His presence and power are real and can be displayed in your life if you will be honest with him about your pain and ask for his strength and presence as you serve those you love.
After we have turned to God for strength and encouragement, there are several others things we can then do to help us deal with the challenges of caring for loved ones at home:
Honestly admit the stress you feel in giving long term care to a loved one. Since the channel has been opened up between you and God, be honest with him. To do that, you must be honest with yourself. Many ignore the signs of caregiver overload-fatigue, emotional turmoil, depression, anger-until they damage their own health and well being. Take stock of your situation, the condition of the person you are serving, and admit your own needs. Some find keeping a journal helpful to speak the truth with themselves. Denial of our feelings or the situational difficulties do not help. Yes, a positive attitude, when possible, is very helpful. But irrational denial and dishonesty about our feelings nearly always ends up damaging us and threatening our service to our loved one. We must be honest about our struggle.
Escape and take time away from the situation. Purposely schedule time off. This can be as simple as regularly taking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper each day. Another alternative is having another family member fill in for a few hours and you escape to the park to read or go to a movie. But there also needs to be scheduled times of being away for a whole day. Locate friends, family, and even professional caregivers who can occasionally fill in and let you get away. Scheduled escapes give you something to look forward to as well as a place of rest and renewal. Each of these is important if we are going to be giving long term care.
Learn to share your struggle with those you can trust. Yes, many well meaning people ask how your loved one is-not really wanting to know the truth, but simply to express concern. Develop a quick, routine answer you can give to these people without thinking about it. This helps ease the heartbreak of having to go through every detail verbally and emotionally. But you do need to have a confidant, a friend, outside your immediate family with whom you can discuss the situation, your emotions, and your needs. A trusting relationship can help you get rid of buried anger and help you see your situation more clearly.
Pursue a divine perspective. This is not easy. There are so many challenges in the present. But faith helps us see the big picture-as difficult as suffering and serving the suffering are, there is an end in sight and a better future to anticipate.
The Apostle Paul spoke of this view when he said: "We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we do not fix our eyes on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) Those we serve have a better future waiting and we have a Father who sees what we've done in private to serve them, and will remember and reward us for that service: "God...will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." (Matthew 6:4; Hebrews 6:10)
Article copyright © Randy Becton & Jim Clark.
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