Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eldercare Resource: Why Support Groups Work

Never underestimate the power of a listening ear.  Whether you care for an aging parent, or support a parent who is caring for a spouse , you may need someone to hear you out.

"The greatest gift you can do for a caregiver is to listen to them," says Jane W. Barton, educator and consultant on aging issues.

Last spring our church, Seattle First Free Methodist Church, began a caregiver support group, which aims to bring listening to the fore.  I have the privilege of leading it.  The group is composed of a handful of women who care for a loved one.  For an hour or so, once a month, they become "sisters."

They tell their stories and catch up on their latest adventures in caregiving. They speak of grappling with the grim realities of Parkinson's, cancer and dementia. Group members offer advice, but only if requested.  Most important, these heroines share laughter and tears, serving as each other's cheerleaders.

Because we're part of  a church, we pray aloud for each other.  That's my favorite part.

My job is easy.  I keep order, making sure that someone doesn't monopolize.  That really doesn't happen.  I also remind everyone, including myself, of the importance of confidentiality.

Caregiver support groups are also found in senior centers,  at home care agencies and at hospitals. Wherever they are, you'll find smiles and laughter, and yes, some tears.  Listening makes the heart grow lighter.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Eldercare Truth: When we come up short, God makes up the difference

Ten years ago today, 10 days after his 77th birthday,  my dad died from Parkinson's. Like many other adult children,  in the weeks before and after, I suffered from the "guilties."

A chain of thoughts, common to you or others who've lost parents, or are walking with them through the end of life stage, ran though my head:

"If only I'd been able to see him one more time."
"I wish I could have done more for him."
"If only I'd been able to visit more often."

And the final and critical "If only""
"If only I'd been able to be there when he passed."

Due to a series of communications gaffes, I wasn't notified until the day Daddy died. My brother and sister didn't receive the news, either. Daddy died without family at his side.

In the midst of my "guilties" as my husband, daughter and I flew to Wisconsin for the funeral,  something interesting happened.  My grief was interrupted by a phrase that my dear friend Lupe had used years earlier to reassure me when our unruly teenage sons had pulled shenanigans. (They've since grown into responsible husbands and parents.)

I'd agonized over being a good mother back then.  And I kept being stymied at our sons' antics. Was I doing something wrong?  And how should I respond to this behavior?

Walking together through our neighborhood, Lupe reminded me that things would be okay.  God would use even my missteps for good

"God makes up the difference," she would say.

As I landed in Wisconsin and visited  the nursing home where Daddy spent his last days, the truth of Lupe's words rang true once again.  The nurses reported:. Several days before Daddy died, the staff began playing hymns all day long.  They read cards sent by some 40 members of the various congregations he had served as pastor. Many parishioners thanked him for his contributions in their lives. One card contained a photo of a handsome man in his forties.  "Who is this man?" his nurse asked.   "Me," he said with clarity.

We heard more about God's working through the nursing staff on behalf of Daddy.  They prayed aloud with him and rubbed his shoulders. They held his hand and reassured him of God's love.

No, Daddy was not alone when he died.  What we children couldn't do, others could do and did. I am incredibly grateful and assured that when we can't do our part, or when we do it less than perfectly, God makes up the difference.

Can you think of times in your relationship with your aging parent when God made up the difference?
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