Friend Larry Spears’ “Universal Mechanism for Ministry to Seniors” proposal is one I know he has worked out through personal experience. He does us the great service of lifting a conceptual map out of the sometimes messy and painful intimacy of caregiving moment by moment.
When we are in the midst of it, we may not trust that we are “doing it right.” When we are contemplating the role, we may not trust that we can cover everything on the checklist, either singly or as a group. Larry’s map reminds us of the lay of the land, so that we can keep going.
If I’m lost on the road (I don’t use GPS), I unfold the huge AAA sheet and puzzle over it. “I’m somewhere around here. I need to be somewhere around there.” Then I look out the window and trust my inner sense of direction. Small signs, sudden moments of comprehension, lead me on a rambling path.
Friends should study and talk about Larry’s gift. It will help them to be more comfortable and patient when they feel lost.
Two stories from my mother’s last years with Alzheimer’s Syndrome:
Food: My husband Jim and I took Mom out for lunch on our days off, wrestling the wheelchair and helping her clamber in and out of the car. One day her juicy Einstein Bros. sandwich was falling apart since her coordination was poor. I started cutting it in pieces and putting them on her spoon. I teased her about our mother-and-son role reversal. When she wanted her next bite, she held out her spoon and grinned: “Peep, peep, peep.”
Mourning: We eventually moved Mom to skilled nursing due to her fall risk and escape-seeking. I published “Howling” on my Walhydra’s Porch blog soon after that move. Crippledwolf is a fictional alter-ego.
Here is the critical excerpt:
Crippled Wolf is sitting with his mother on a tree-shaded deck, beside the large pond behind the skilled nursing care center to which he moved her three weeks ago…. This is not a scene Crippled Wolf had ever wanted to play. No one ever wants it….
A knock-knock to Crippled Wolf’s left.
“Oh, look!” he says to his mother. “A woodpecker! See?”
“Yes. I see him!”
Then, after a long pause, she says, “Look,” pointing behind him to the sparkle in the maple leaves.
He knows that, somehow, he needs to invite Death into the conversations he is having with his mother. He needs to do this while she is still lucid enough to talk about it…or at least to think about it.
It’s not a matter of what they should say to each other on the subject. It’s just that Death needs to be available in the conversation.
“I’m remembering…,” he begins. “I’m remembering when you used to have long distance calls with your mother during her last years.”
“Yes,” Mom says, brightening a bit. “We used to talk on Sunday afternoons.”
“Yes, I remember.”
She notices a spent yellow balloon, caught in the low branches over the pond.
“Grandma didn’t like moving to nursing care, either,” Crippled Wolf ventures.
“She was angry about it.”
They notice other things. All of this time, they have been holding hands.
They hold each other’s eyes for a long time.
She doesn’t nod, but something flickers in her eyes, as if she were nodding.
And so it is.
Red-bellied Woodpecker, by Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons