Caregiving: A Divine Appointment
About the Guest
Do we have a responsibility to care for our aging loved ones? Author Shelly Beach recalls how her parents cared for her grandmother when she was a child and how that impacted her own decision to care for her parents, as well as her father-in-law, when she was older. Shelly explains that caregiving shouldn’t be looked at as a duty, but as a divine appointment.
Shelly BeachShelly Beach is a freelance writer, public speaker, and author of Ambushed By Grace; Precious Lord, Take My Hand; and the 2008 Christy Award-winning novel, Hallie's Heart. She is the founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers' Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Shelly and her husband, Dan, have two children and live in Sparta, Michigan.
Do we have a responsibility to care for our aging loved ones?
Caregiving: A Divine Appointment
Bob: When we care for an elderlymother or father we become what the apostle Paul called a living sacrifice. Here’s author and caregiver Shelly Beach.
Shelly: I talked to a woman once who said she was terribly criticized for not showing up at church on Sundays because she was a caregiver for her mother. She would actually go visit on a regular basis and because she was a single woman she worked five days a week. The only time she could go visit her mother was on weekends.
I told her, “You know what. That’s an act of worship. When you’re visiting with your mother, or whether you’re caring for your mother physically in your home, that’s worship.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 22nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about the challenges and the spiritual rewards that come with caregiving.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I saw this morning that you’d gotten an email from a friend of ours’ looking for counsel on a particular issue. I thought you get those emails from time to time, people who write to you and just say “What’s your advice on this situation?”
I got to thinking if a husband wrote, and said, “My wife has an eighty-six year old mom who has some health problems and she wants to bring her mom to live at our house. I understand why she wants to do that but I’m not all that sure it’s a great idea. I just need your advice. Is that a good thing to do or not? Do we have a responsibility? Is it an obligation? What do we do?”
Bob: That’s how you’d answer it? Just a kind of a quick and concise yes?
Dennis: No. I would say here are a couple of things you need to do. First of all, you ought to go talk to, I think, a couple of other families who have done this and count the cost of what this is going to mean for your individual lives, your marriage, your family, what you’ve been used to in your privacy. But then I’d encourage them to pick up a copy of the book we’re going to talk about today, Ambushed by Grace, by Shelly Beach. And then I’d give them Shelly’s phone number.
Dennis: Shelly, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Shelly: It’s good to be here.
Dennis: Shelly is a write, a speaker, and she is the author of that book, Ambushed by Grace. She and her husband, Dan, have two children and they live in Sparta, Michigan. Your children are grown now so they don’t live there. They’re scattered to the different ends of the United States, right?
Dennis: Well, Shelly, let’s go back to Bob’s question. What would you say to someone who called you out of the blue and said, “I think my wife’s mom needs to come live with us?” What coaching would you give that couple, just right off the bat, here?
Shelly: I think that it’s good to talk to other people, as you suggested. I think that’s one really good idea. But I think they have to determine, first of all, what kinds of things they have that are going to be resources for them.
Do they have a home that will accommodate another person? Do they have the actual facilities that are going to give them the ability to absorb another person in their home? What about children? Do they have children? Do they have adult children? Do they have small children?
Does the health problem that’s causing this parent to come stay with them, is it a mental health problem? Is it a physical issue? Is it going to have an impact on other family members or are they living alone by themselves in the house? They need to assess what kinds of things the parent can do for themselves.
Bob: I hear you saying there’s really no default answer.
Shelly: No. Absolutely not.
Bob: It’s not a binary decision, yes, no. Even after you weight through all of that there’s still a lot of individuality that goes into making this decision.
Shelly: Absolutely. There’s no yes or no, right or wrong, answer to this. Sometimes the best care for a parent is given in a different setting, in an assisted living setting. We’ve had parents, my parents, my father-in-law. They’ve been in assisted living. They’ve been in nursing homes. They’ve been in mental health facilities. They’ve lived in our home for many, many years. They’ve been in and out of facilities because the situation fluctuates depending on the need. The need at a given moment might be different than it was three or four weeks ago.
So there are a lot of things to consider, finances, emotional support, the actual physical facilities that you have to work with, the kind of support you have as an individual. Does your church support you in this? What kind of resources do you have available through the Area Agency on Aging in your community? Those things vary from state to state.
I think most important is to have conversations within family with siblings and with husbands and with children about what this impact is going to have on your immediate family.
Dennis: One thing I want to make sure our listeners hear us saying for sure though, there is a responsibility…
Dennis: …by the adult children to find out what is truly best for their parents in this situation. We’re not saying that the adult children don’t have any responsibility. Their’s is to make the best, most well-informed decision they could possibly make.
Dennis: Now concerning you and your own background, your parents cared for their parents as you grew up as a little girl.
Shelly: Yes they did. They did that in our home.
Dennis: You actually shared a room with your grandmother?
Shelly: I did, for a while. She shared the bed, right a couple of feet from me. That was an interesting thing. I was a teenager, about fourteen.
Bob: And it was a little traumatic? I don’t want to overblow it but it was a little intimidating for you to have a ninety year old grandmother in the bed next to you.
Shelly: It was and Swedish was her first language and English was her second language. There was a little bit of a cultural gap there between us. Grandma and I didn’t always see eye to eye on things.
She was not in good health. I would frequently wake up in the morning, afraid to open my eyes, thinking that maybe Grandma, a few feet from me, might not have made it through the night.
Dennis: In fact, you named your first chapter in the book out of an interesting experience you had with your grandmother.
Shelly: Yes. I have worn glasses from the time that I was very, very young. I would wake up in the morning fearful that I was going to find Grandma having slipped on off to heaven in the morning.
So I reached over one morning hoping to get my glasses off the bedside stand and, rather than putting my hand out and finding my glasses, I actually slipped them into a mason jar full of cold water. That so startled me that my hand clamped and I actually grabbed Grandma’s dentures in my hand. That produced this kind of panic instinct in me and I took the denture in my hand and kind of screeched and flung them across the room screaming. She woke up with her eyeballs bulging out of her head.
Dennis: Not being able to speak very well, either, even in Swedish…
Shelly: No. And it wasn’t an optimal situation to have this teenager sharing a room with this ninety, she was actually like ninety-two at the time. That was just one of the realities of the fear that was there for me. I really was afraid that Grandma was going to die and didn’t want to open my eyes in the morning.
Bob: So, if somebody came to you and said, “Here is out situation. We can bring in my mom but she’s going to share a bedroom with our fourteen year old daughter.” Would you say that’s probably not a good idea?
Shelly: I would say that might not be a good idea. But you need to definitely talk that over with the daughter. You need to make sure that you’re getting her honest feelings about it. That might not be an actually very healthy situation.
I’ve had people consult with me about having loved ones who are on Hospice, who are going to have their bed in the living room. Well, what about the loved one, their need for dignity?
If there’s no bedroom space and you’re setting up a Hospice situation in a living room, where their last days are going to be played out in public view and your children have no play area. There may be younger children, maybe six or seven or eight or eleven and you’ve taken away their social venue. They have no ability to have friends come in our out of the house.
My son… When Dan’s father, my father-in-law, was living with us, he had some mental health issues that prevented us from being able to have people freely come in and out of our home. Although my son was in his twenties at the time, he was deathly afraid that when he was home with Grandpa, Grandpa was going to die on his watch.
So talking through those issues honestly and openly is very important. Like you said, weighing the cost, knowing whether or not you’re going to have the family support. Your family is going to invest in this and understand how your family dynamic is going to change. It will change. It will change.
Dennis: It seems to me that when we come to a decision like this, there can be one of two extremes.
One extreme, which is to feel like we’ve just got to take them to a rest home or an assisted living situation, they just can’t live with us. The other extreme, however, would be to say, “Oh it’s my responsibility. They must live with us. It doesn’t matter what it does to our family, to us.”
That’s one of the things I really liked about your book. You came at it from a no-nonsense, very level-headed approach, saying there isn’t a one size fits all. That you really do need to work it through and you need to evaluate what is best for your family.
I want to move back to the big picture just for a moment. I think this is one of the gifts that you give the reader of your book, to help them think of their parents coming to live with them as a gift from God. Let me just read this.
You say, “Caregiving is a gift that comes wrapped with the price tag still dangling, a tag that reads ‘inestimable cost, eternal value.’ To make caregiving simply a task is a distortion of its purpose. Rather, it’s a divine appointment, a redemptive encounter, and an act of worship.”
I really like that because you’re talking about caring for another human being and, perhaps the most important human being in your life, in the early years of your life. Now you get a chance to return the favor.
Shelly: It really is the most Christlike thing we will ever do because there is investment on our part for no real hope of reward or getting something back. We’re being asked to pour out for the sake of love without really hope of getting some kind of value or service or material gain. There’s nothing really to win back in this. This is simply giving for the sake of love. This is investing for the big picture and for eternal purposes.
This is what we’re called to do. We’re called to be image bearers. We’re called to be Jesus, to be like Him. So there’s a price that will come with this. It comes with a price tag. I will tell people from the very beginning, there is a price tag here. But you will never, ever, out give what you will get back in this, not that it won’t be painful. It’s a theological thing that you’re carrying out.
I talked to a woman once who said she was terribly criticized for not showing up at church on Sundays because she was a caregiver for her mother. She would actually go visit on a regular basis and because she was a single woman she worked five days a week, fulltime employment, caring for herself. The only time she could go visit her mother was on weekends. She had to drive a long distance to go do that.
I told her, “You know what. That’s an act of worship. When you’re visiting with your mother, or whether you’re caring for your mother physically in your home, those times when you’re pouring out sacrificially and giving, that’s worship.”
Bob: I want to go back to when you and your husband had the conversation about the choice you were facing. It was his father who had both physical and mental issues? Is that right?
Bob: What was your life situation like at that time? What did the conversation sound like as you guys tried to decide what was right to do.
Shelly: We had just recently moved to Iowa. We thought we were empty nesters. My son was kind of in a prodigal state in life and kind of bashing around and making some really unwise decisions. My daughter was on Neus Island right after the tsunami had hit, doing relief work. She came home from Neus Island with post traumatic stress disorder and landed in our home, just in a really very diminished state from what she had left. And then the call came from our son that he wanted to come home and come back from Michigan to Iowa to get his feet under himself again spiritually.
Bob: So your health is not good. Your daughter is emotionally exhausted. She’s just moved back in the house. Your prodigal has just turned the corner and he’s back in the house.
Bob: And then what?
Shelly: And then we get a phone call from Missouri from some of Norman, my father-in-law’s friends, saying he’s not himself, there’s something wrong. It appears that there may be some kind of mental health issue at stake here. Can you come and take a look? His friends, people at church, just basically called us and said he’s not himself.
We drove down, we assessed the situation immediately. We knew that something was amiss. We didn’t know there were some other issues in his past. He’d been in our home for four to six months at a time in earlier years. But we knew that this was significant. We couldn’t leave him in Missouri alone. He was going to have to come home with us.
We made that decision almost instantaneously. We had talked about this earlier on in our marriage, that when the time came for parents to be cared for, if it was their desire and the best situation, that we would take them into our home. Dan’s sister could not do this. She lived in a big old Greek revival home with big old high thresholds and it wouldn’t have been a safe home environment for him.
Dennis: Now wait a second, Shelly. If you were counseling a couple who were going through what you were facing at that time, do you think you would counsel that couple to step forward, to bring this man who’s got physical and emotional illnesses, into their home?
I know you would today because you did it. But if you’d been on the sidelines, counseling another family with your set of circumstances, like Bob just reviewed a few moments ago…
Shelly: I probably wouldn’t advise them to do it. But I’d ask them to really check their spirit to know what God was telling them to do. We knew at that time that God had told us to do this. There was not a doubt in our mind.
Bob: Did you even check to see if there was some assisted living nearby that he could move into, a nursing home of some kind?
Shelly: He had no financial resources available to him. W e didn’t know at the time that we were moving him into the county and the state that had some of the best support services that would be made available to him. I had to learn to navigate the system.
We didn’t know at the time that God had brought us to Blackhawk County, Iowa, that had great resources available for Norman. We knew that God was asking us to do this, not that there’s always one right decision that you have to default to. But in this, Dan and I were unified as a couple. We knew that this was what we wanted to do.
And the question, too, that I was also asked often was, “How long are you going to do this?” We knew that God would tell us when we couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe we’d only be able to do it for three months. But we were going to attempt it. And we did it for as long as we could.
Dennis: You mentioned something just very briefly. You scooted past it. But I want you to comment on it. You said you and Dan, your husband, were together on this.
Shelly: Absolutely. We had to be.
Dennis: How dangerous is it for a couple to attempt to do this who aren’t together?
Shelly: It’s extremely dangerous to do this not together, because even when you are together you can default to this attitude. “It’s your father, Dan.” All the medical appointments—Norman had at one time about nine specialists—I took Norman to those medical appointments. Dan was the breadwinner. My job was a part time job. It would be very easy for me--and my husband was my boss. At the time he was a Christian school administrator. I was his English teacher--for me to go into work, close the door behind me, sit down in a chair, and start pointing my finger at him about his father, about his father. No, we made the decision together. Fast forward another five years. My mother was in our home.
Dennis: Were you together?
Shelly: Absolutely. We were together. Same thing. We were totally together on the decision. My mom and dad came to live in our home. But my mom came to be very hard for me to manipulate physically.
I remember sitting down with Dan one day and saying, “I know that the modestly issues are going to be hard for you but I dealt with the modesty issues with your father. Just because I’m a woman didn’t made it easy. But I had to deal with those issues with your dad. Will you be with me on this? I need help. I need you to help me navigate my mother and it will be hard for you. Will you be with me?”
Bob: You’re’ talking about bathing and continence-type issues?
Bob: Just as you’re describing what it was like with Norman and nine different specialists and I’m thinking it’s a little bit like becoming the mother of triplets or having a child with a severe chronic condition where all of a sudden that’s the dominant feature of life.
Shelly: It’s absolutely the dominant feature of life. I watched yesterday as I checked into the hotel, a gentleman in a wheelchair getting into the wheelchair and then taking his wheels off of his wheelchair and putting his wheelchair into the car behind him and remembering the days when Norman was wheelchair-bound for a good portion of the time that he lived with us. I had to lift him. He was at one point in his life, like 6’2” and weighed 175 pounds. I was lifting him. I was doing all the transfers. I was taking him to his appointments. It does become the primary… That’s why I ended up giving up my job later on.
Bob: So there had to be days where you though, “I did not sign up for this. I would like to be teaching English to high school kids” or later on you had a college position. “That’s what I want to do. I don’t want to stay home and change the diapers,” and I’m not trying to sound cold hearted, but there have to be days like that.
Shelly: There are days like that. The first time I was asked to write a book on caregiving I told my friends, first of all, I can’t write this book for a several reasons.
Number one, my relatives didn’t ask to be exposed. My mother didn’t raise her hand and say, “Please write a book about me having Alzheimer’s.” There are some issues having to do with respecting her dignify. And Norman as well. I had to get permission from family members to write about those things because I had to be honest about what this is like.
Nobody deals with Alzheimer’s that doesn’t deal with issues of nudity, people disrobing, people cursing, people swearing, how language changes. How you are embarrassed about certain things about their behavior. How you become resentful. I’d tell people that when I first wrote my first book of caregiving I wanted the title to be this raging scream followed by “but God is good.” Because God is good.
He provided everything I needed every step of the day. But there were days, yes, when I thought “I can’t get up in the morning.” But whenever I needed my strength renewed God was always there.
I wouldn’t cash in a moment of that time, as difficult as it was. There is an eternal investment that I made in my family members and I cherish those days and those moments, as difficult as they were, as painful as they were.
Dennis: Their lives had dignity.
Dennis: And the assignment is a God-given assignment, like you said. There’s couple of things you’ve said I just want to remind our listeners of here.
Number one, Exodus chapter twenty, verse twelve, is the fifth commandment out of the Ten Commandments. We haven’t talked about it but we’ve talked all around it. “Honor your mother and your father.” I think this is a part of honoring them, of showing courtesy, grace, love to them in some very difficult years of their lives.
Then a second, and I think this is real important that you highlighted this, Shelly, and that is as a couple, when you make this decision, you need to be one. And undoubtedly we’re talking to some listeners right now we are either facing this decision or they’re in it, and they may not be one. I would really encourage them to get a copy of your book and perhaps as a couple start to read this together. See if together they can’t embrace the assignment and make the decision of what needs to be done together.
Bob: Now I’m thinking this would be a perfect book for somebody to give to a person or a couple you know who is in the caregiving role. If you know somebody who is taking care of her mom and dad or an elderly relative get a copy of the book Ambushed by Grace and give it as a gift to that person. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Shelly Beach’s book, Ambushed by Grace.
Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The audio of our conversation with Shelly is available for free mp3 download, again on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you have an iPhone, you can get an iPhone app for FamilyLifeToday and that way recent programs are immediately available with just a couple of pushes of the touchscreen on your iPhone. Again, all the information about Shelly’s book and the resources we have available can be found online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
This month we have been encouraging men to step up. One of the ways we’ve been calling men to step up is by praying regularly for their family. Our friend John Yates has written a helpful book called How a Man Prays for His Family and we’ve been making that book available, along with a CD that features a conversation we had with John Yates on that subject, and a couple of laminated prayer cards for dads.
Those resources have been our gift this month for those listeners who are able to help us with a donation to support this ministry of FamilyLife Today. We are listener supported and without your financial help we could not continue this radio ministry. So we appreciate those of you who, from time to time, will go online at FamilyLfieToday.com and make an online donation or who call 1-800-FLToday and make a donation over the phone.
Again, this month, if you are able to help with a donation, we’d love to send you the prayer resources for men. Just type the work “PRAY” on the key code box that you find on the online donation form or when you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone. Again, we’re happy to send these resources out to you thanking you for your financial support of this ministry. We really do appreciate your partnership with us.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation with Shelly Beach about caregiving and about how God meets us in that spiritual assignment. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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