Somebody asked me that very question the other day. “You don’t work [outside the home]. It’s just you and your mom, yet you’re always so tired. What do you do all day?”
Okay, what else do I do all day?
Picture this: It’s 8:00 am on a Tuesday and I’m snoring away in the snuggly comfort of my bed while my kitties snooze peacefully beside me. Downstairs, my mom has already risen and is spreading jelly onto a couple of pieces of bread for herself. The sun is shining, nary a cloud in the sky; it’s a beautiful day.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
By the time I snort and snark myself awake, Ma has managed to spread jelly not only on the slices of bread, but all over the bread-bag, table, counter, and herself. She no longer remembers to use a plate nor can she precisely control her hands like she used to. Fortunately for me, since I am the clean-up crew, she has long since forgotten coffee. Six months or so ago, she made it every morning – with way too much coffee and no filter, if you get my drift.
My mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, a disease characterized by memory loss. Her short-term memory is shot. On a good day, she can recall simple events or conversations no longer than a minute or two afterward; on a bad day, it is a matter of seconds at best. She forgets what she’s saying even as she speaks and has difficulty finding the right words. Fortunately, I know my mother well enough that I can usually fill in the blanks. Nowadays, however, her conversation is rather limited since she’s unable to fully formulate a cohesive thought AND express it before her brain short-circuits and shuts down.
Her long-term memory is breaking down as well. She remembers some things from her childhood, however faulty, but nothing from my childhood. It’s like she sort of passed us by. Most of the time she thinks I’m her sister; occasionally she calls me Mom.
Beyond memories, though, Alzheimer’s continues on its destructive path. One does not just forget events and words and people and memories, but the brain slowly loses the capacity to process information; to think and act accordingly. My mom can no longer dress herself appropriately. She puts on two or three shirts over her nightgown, steps into her shoes, and thinks she’s ready for church. I have to dress and undress her. She has difficulty even remembering how to take off or put on her clothes. Too many steps or choices are overwhelming.
Right now my mom is able feed herself although manners are a thing of the past. She uses a fork and spoon, but isn’t safe with a knife. Sometimes she eats with her fingers. She talks with her mouth full, which is kind of gross (wanna see a train wreck?). I serve her soft foods only, with everything cut up ahead of time. I tell her to drink her milk, take her pills, brush her teeth. Making jelly bread and pouring herself a glass of water are the only nutritional acts she remembers. Anything else is too confusing. She can’t even make a bologna sandwich anymore. If I did not prepare her meals, she would never eat anything except jelly bread.
Eventually, my mom will no longer be able to walk, talk, feed, bathe, or toilet herself. Those things will become my job. She will lose all recognition of me, my sisters and brothers, and eventually even herself. Unless God takes her home sooner rather than later, she will become a kind of human vegetable.
It is my desire to care for my mom at home until the end. I hope to never need to place her in a nursing home. Be assured, however, that I am not looking forward to cleaning up poop and pee, vomit and drool on a daily basis.
In fact, I’m pretty well aghast at the idea of bed baths, bed messes, bed changes, or anything else associated with the nasty secretions of a crumbling human body. Yuck! But I do want my mom to spend her final days and weeks and years in the comfort of our home, safe and sound, with me to watch over her. I can do this, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit through God’s radical and free-flowing grace toward me. God always provides what is needed to carry out His will.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Let the reader understand: there is no way on God’s green earth that I ever would have chosen to do what I am doing. I am no self-sacrificing, gentle, kind, loving thing. That is only Christ in me. Let there be no comments like, “What a good daughter you are!” I am not a good daughter – not on my own, not by myself. God put this in my heart. I came kicking and screaming to obedience and it certainly has not been smooth sailing ever since. But God’s mercies are new every morning.
So this brief telling explains a little of what I do all day.
It’s been a long, strange trip solely fueled by a daily dying to self through the power of the gospel. The credit, the glory, belongs to Christ in me. Amen! So be it.
And now I ask: What do you do all day?