Caregiving: Imperfections and Opportunities by Bob Ritzema
I recently read an article by Next Avenue writer Chris Hewitt about Bob Morris’ book Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents. The book is an account of Morris’ involvement with his elderly parents towards the end of their lives. As the subtitle suggests, Morris sees himself as less than saintly in how he handled these interactions. Hewitt’s article summarizes some of the shortcomings Morris describes:
“So Bobby Wonderful is candid about Morris being unable to decide whether to cut short a vacation to visit his dying mother, Ethel; about yelling at his dad, Joe, when his father’s weak heart made it difficult for him to walk and about hoping an anti-depressant prescription for his dad would get Joe off Bob’s back.”
Morris’ struggles make me think of the past four and a half years in my life. My father, who has since died, had dementia, and my mother, who was his primary caretaker despite having multiple medical problems of her own, couldn’t do all that needed to be done so that he could remain at home. I left my full-time job and moved in with them in order to help. I remain here because, though dad is gone, mom’s limitations have grown and she would have difficulty living independently if I didn’t give her some assistance.
Those who hear what I’ve done sometimes think I’m selfless and noble. As with Morris, the reality is more complicated than that. I did give up much of the life I had in order to help, but I still held onto some things. I maintained my professional identity, for example, continuing to work part-time as a psychologist. I continued to read, to blog, and to spend time with friends. So, no, I didn’t sacrifice everything. I gave up just enough to meet a need, and that’s still what I’m doing.
For a couple years I helped dress dad, took him to the bathroom, assisted with meals, and provided him with reassurance when he was anxious. Mom provided much more care than I did, and towards the end of his time at home we had a paid caregiver three mornings a week. I didn’t particularly enjoy providing physical care. Doing that seemed all wrong, as if some mistake had been made that kept dad from functioning as he should have. I was irritated at times–when he woke us up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t settle back down, for example, or when he was overwhelmed with anxiety concerning imagined problems and couldn’t be reassured. I did pretty well at containing my irritation, though. When impatient, I still acted patiently. Most of all, I was reliable. I was there for him.
Here’s a quote from Morris:
“Most aren’t perfect and selfless children who want to move their parents in with them and have their ashes scattered at the ballet. They don’t have the vision to see what only the selfless and enlightened can know when in the middle of it, and what I only know now that the experience is behind me, making it easy to say: Caring for your parents is an opportunity.”
On March 21, 2014, about twenty months after I came to help my parents and less than three months before my dad had to be transferred to a nursing home, I wrote the following in my journal:
“It occurred to me yesterday that caring for dad is really a gift; not a burden, but something provided to teach me patience and attentiveness to human need. Help me receive the gift with gratitude.”
It took me quite a while so see the opportunity that Morris alludes to, but I did see it. With God’s help, I was finally able to receive the gift that had been there all along. Now, I’m grateful for every minute I had with dad.
By Bob Ritzema