I Believe in Angels – Caregiving at Its Hardest May Call for Sheltering Wings
Nobody ever said caregiving would be easy, but the pain and stress can be at a whole new level if someone you love is actively dying. For loved ones, this can be a time when a team of earthbound angels can make all the difference between a traumatic experience and a difficult, natural part of living that you have to get through. The point is that the family may not have to survive these final days without help. And, while hospice will be with you and the patient for some of that time, they aren’t there—as some people believe—all of the time.
One of the realizations that stuck with me after losing my husband, Gordon, in 2006 was the fact that one person can’t shoulder the majority of the burden when a loved one is dying. Believe me—I tried. I had been Gordon’s caregiver through every twist and turn of his cancer treatment. Yet the last days of his life were unlike anything that I had ever experienced. So, I wore myself out emotionally, physically, and mentally, which made me more susceptible to the ever-present anguish of anticipatory grief.
When we got the news several years later that our mother had only days to live, I asked the hospice supervisor if she knew of someone who could help relieve some of the pressure that the next few days would undoubtedly hold. Thank God she said, “I know a family that might be able to help.”
There were three women in that family who came to our aid: Renee, Casey, and Chelsea—mother, daughter, and daughter-in-law. Together, they quietly scheduled their own times to arrive and leave, but one of them was there every single minute after I called them to come on that difficult day. Casey took the first shift. During the afternoon, I thought, We really don’t need her here. That night, though, she stayed right in the room with Mother. There is simply no way to measure the comfort that it gave us knowing that Mother never spent one single minute alone.
The most amazing thing was—it allowed us to spend more quality time with Mom. Instead of sitting and watching her every movement and breath, we got to come in and hold her hand, talk lovingly to her, and really focus on the essence of our mother. The extra side benefit was that we could also leave the room if it became too much for us to handle or if we just needed a good cry.
As my mother’s final days of life wound down, each angel became a part of our family. They treated us like their family, and we treated them just as if they were part of ours. Whoever was on duty kept us completely up-to-date with every change, every word, every moan, and every real or perceived need that Mother had.
Chelsea had the difficult shift of being there with us during that long last day. Beginning that morning, she kept me informed every hour on Mother’s breaths per minute. It was an awful day, but Chelsea made it so much easier. As the early evening progressed and Mom became weaker, Chelsea made the call to hospice. Although she’s young, somehow she knew from keen experience that soon Mother would leave us.
It’s been almost a year now. When I think of Renee, Casey, and Chelsea, I wonder how we ever would have made it through those hard days without them. I also wonder how anyone could possibly do that job, but they did it with gentle caring, understanding, and even pride. And, although they got to know my mother for only those few days, they truly “knew” her on a deep, spiritual level.
Accepting the Help of Angels
When you’re facing the loss of someone you love, be kind to yourself. That may mean that it’s not the best idea to shoulder all of the burdens alone. If you choose to accept the help of angels, consider these thoughts:
Start by asking the experts involved for help recommendations. In our case, the hospice supervisor helped find the right resource. If you have a caregiving company involved in patient care, they may have a “special” team to help during the sensitive days ahead. You need helpmates who are experienced in dealing with the charged atmosphere of that difficult final journey.
Be sensitive to the concerns of the patient. Mother loved everyone even up to her final hours, so our helpers were easily accepted. Depending on the awareness of the patient, they may or may not like having strangers in the room. This is one area where our angels excelled; when it was time for privacy, they would meld into the background or simply leave the room and then return after we left.
Your angels should be able to gauge the patient’s situation and be keenly aware of when to summon a family member. There’s a big difference in caregiving for a patient, and caregiving with the family of a dying patient. This is one area that Renee, Casey, and Chelsea excelled in. Their response was unshakeable and focused on the natural process of dying.
If the arrangement feels wrong for you, then adjust it. This is a time where you need to let your emotions lead you. If you find that the angels of mercy are not right for your family, then either change the “team” or go it alone. It’s a very personal time with your loved one, so this is one time that your heart and head should lead you.
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The Losing of Gordon: A Beacon Through the Storm Called “Grief”
(available at www.BasketofCare.com)
Losing Gordon was one of the most difficult experiences of Joni’s life. It took a lot of trial and error, but she was able to find the beacon to get her through. In this book, she gives insights to help others during the grief process.