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Caring for an Aging Parent
By Joan Biek

This is the story of my personal spiritual struggle as it relates to the care of my frail, elderly mother. Have you noticed that sometimes our greatest trial or challenge turns out to be our greatest blessing?

Caring for my father during his six month terminal bout with cancer was hard, but this past four years caring for my mother has seemed much more difficult and stressful. Mother helped care for him. Now, as the only child, I have no one with whom to share the responsibility of her care except my two cousins, the paid caregivers, and a wonderful support network. Dad's mind was clear to the end. Mother failed physically and mentally. My dad and I were very close. Although I love my mother I've also had a lot of resentments toward her.

STRESS IS A GIVEN WHEN CARING FOR THE AGED. A respected geriatric nurse columnist says: "No matter how well families plan, adjust, and cope, the stress of caregiving can affect physical and emotional health as well as strain the family ties and marital bonds." I work full time now and spend every other weekend at mother's home, 65 miles away. It was necessary to locate and schedule caregivers after mother had successive hip and vertebrae fractures and a minor stroke which destroyed much of her short-term memory.

There is a lot of work involved in keeping her in her home: paying bills, struggling to comprehend medicare and insurance statements, arranging for medical appointments, replacing dentures and hearing aids, and arranging for meals to be prepared or for meals on wheels. Homecare is often a necessity and may be provided by a Home Health Aide via a Home Nursing Care Agency or sometimes by asking local friends for recommendations. (I have placed an ad for a caregiver.) I've also learned that old houses, like elderly people, have various systems that need repair or replacement.

Mother and I both have our emotional and social needs. It finally struck me that I was spending a lot of time doing things FOR my mother but not much time doing things WITH HER. Mother enjoys large print romance novels and videos of old musicals which are both free at my local library. Sometimes we invite one or two of her friends over to share her video, popcorn, and a snack or to play cards. I've noticed that visits by her friends have dropped off as her capacity to converse has diminished. It's important for me to have some fun over the weekend, too. Before I leave, instead of rushing about trying to finish up various details, I need to take a few minutes for intimate, close time with her, maybe to hold her hands, rub her back, or share something to help her feel valued and loved.

THE GRIEF PROCESS is what we experience whenever we lose someone or something important to us. The elderly suffer so many losses: spouse, general mobility, independence, physical and mental strength and competence, dear friends, social life, self-esteem, and their attractiveness. Mother's world has shrunk incredibly. I, too, feel sad and grieve over her losses. She's not the same person I knew in the past. We can't talk and share as we did. It also puts starkly, before me, the vulnerability of my own aging.

PATIENCE IS A CARDINAL VIRTUE. Didn't the two major defaults on our planet occur in large part due to lack of patience? On Urantia Book page 941D we are told, "The family is the fundamental unit of fraternity in which parents and children learn those lessons of PATIENCE, altruism, tolerance, and forbearance which are so essential to the realization of brotherhood among all men." Patience is NOT one of my long suits, and I frequency pray for it (and right now, please, as the joke goes). Our elders, as they lose their sense of judgment and some bodily control, can develop some very irritating behaviors. Sometimes mother eats off the serving spoon and then puts it back into the bowl. Not being able to hear and not being able to remember results in her repeated questions, "Huh?" "What did you say?" or after a phone call, "What did Mary all have to say?" She may ask this question up to five times in ten minutes.

At a study group meeting, we read in The Urantia Book (P.1213D) admonitions from a personal Adjuster who pleaded with his human associate, "...that he more faithfully give me his sincere cooperation, more cheerfully endure the tasks of my emplacement, more faithfully carry out the program of my arrangement, more patiently go through the trials of my selection, more persistently and cheerfully tread the path of my choosing, more humbly receive credit that may accrue as a result of my ceaseless endeavors..." and I was very emotionally moved. My study group observed that I seemed to be in a lot of conflict. Why was I so frustrated and feeling such conflict between my behavior and my ideals? I have reactions that fall far short of what I desire for my mother and me.

A Urantia Book reference that I found comforting and encouraging under the heading, PROBLEMS OF GROWTH on page 1097 is: "New religious insights arise out of conflicts which initiate the choosing of new and better reaction habits in the place of older and inferior reaction patterns. New meanings only emerge amid conflict... Religious perplexities are inevitable; there can be no growth without psychic conflict and spiritual agitation." Perhaps this difficult situation has meaningful lessons and some real advantages for me, too.

SELF-RESPECT is addressed on p.1765D. Jesus emphasized: "...Forget not that I will stop at nothing to restore self-respect to those who have lost it, and who really desire to regain it. " Because I strongly believe in self-esteem development, I consciously try to avoid mentioning an accident or episode that would embarrass mother. We try to avoid doing for her what she can do for herself. When I pay her bills, I encourage her to sign the checks to give her a sense of control and confidence. One day she said, "It really makes me feel good to sign my checks."

FREE WILL CHOICE is stressed frequently in The Urantia Book. For example, on P.1217C: "The Adjusters manipulate but never dominate man's mind against his will; to the Adjuster the human will is supreme..." and on P.1204D: "The adjusters respect your sovereignty of personality; THEY ARE ALWAYS SUBSERVIENT TO YOUR WILL." Isn't that an incredible statement!? Since our heavenly Father is so respectful of the human will and holds each human will in such high regard, can we afford to disregard that divine pattern in our relationships?

I am leaning more and more to appreciate how important it is for each of us to maintain as much control over our lives as possible. In "Making Peace with Your Parents," Harold Bloomfield, MD (psychiatrist) says, "Any loss of independence or control can be a blow to an older person's self-esteem. Most older people will fight to keep their independence as long as possible. Some will deny or mask their dependency. They'll insist they can manage very well, will refuse any offers of help or will even attempt to control the lives of other family members."

I needed to reread that. I believe older folks sometimes seem so stubborn about little things because they have so little real control to hang onto. What they can control becomes exaggerated in importance. The battle for control often becomes very bitter and we who are ministering to our parents need recognize this-phenomenon. The Urantia Book provides the spiritual ideal (P.1521B) "Jesus was now passing through the great test of civilized man, to have power and steadfastly refuse to use it for purely selfish or personal purposes."

One Saturday morning in my meditation I decided that in dealing with mother's failing judgment I would honor her preferences or decisions without over-riding them unless it involved her welfare, health or safety. Driving home on Sunday, I was appalled to realize that I'd had a big squabble with her over what she would wear to church. Sometimes it takes a flagrant mistake to force us to realize the now obvious error of our ways.

This past weekend my mother and I prayed together as I tucked her in bed. We each prayed for forgiveness for our many mistakes and shortcomings with each other. She prayed for faith, courage, and strength to meet any trials during her transition. She recalled how special it was that Dad said to her, "I'll be waiting for you." And I recalled his saying the night before he died, "I'm going to wake up in the morning to a beautiful surprise." We held hands and I really wanted to hold her, embrace her, and kiss her a lot. We recalled how grateful we were for a lot of precious moments those last few months with Dad. I wrote in my journal: "Now I'm thankful for those precious moments together with Mother. I told my mother that I love her and really mean it. Thank you, Father for your answer to my prayers."

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