A note from Kelly King: Many of our readers understand the challenges of taking care of aging parents. I’ve watched many of my friends grieve the loss of a parent, but the grieving of Alzheimer’s can be long and painful. If you or someone you know is walking this road today, I pray Kaye’s words will be an encouragement.
For most, it is the things in our past—regrets, mistakes, woundings—that we can’t forget that cause us internal pain. However, for those suffering with early onset Dementia or Alzheimer’s, the pain is in the forgetting.
As you read these words, I am in Texas visiting my mother-in-law who was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. She is a young 73. I know some women who have difficult, adversarial relationships with their mothers-in-law, but that is not the case for me. I am crazy about mine! I won’t say it has been that way the full 31 years I have been married to her son, but for the past 25, it has been pretty wonderful.
I am writing today not only to those of you ministering to women hurting from watching the decline of their parents but also to those of you who are walking a similar path with a parent yourself. This is uncharted territory for me. This is hard. Let me pause here for a minute and acknowledge the hard. It is hard to hear your mother (in-law) crying on the other end of the phone because she can’t remember when you’re coming. It is hard to have to repeat yourself over and over with answers to the same questions. It is hard to hear her say she would rather die than live like this. It is hard to watch her personality change or disappear. This is hard. That said, in preparation for this new season and true to my personality, I have been reading, researching, and talking with others ahead of me on this path.
Allow me to share with you some things I am learning in this season. Hopefully they will be like breadcrumbs to follow (or help someone follow) if you find yourself on a similar path.
- Acknowledge the hard. Name it, talk about it, journal it. Keeping it bottled up will not serve your soul.
- Allow yourself space and grace to grieve. There is a loss to name here and quite often it is a new or different loss every day. Name it. Grieve it. Remember you are grieving, and give yourself the emotional space to do so.
- Forgive. Forgive. She or he is going to say or do something that hurts you. Expect it. Turn your hurt over to God and forgive them. I’m sorry if your parent’s expression of their disease causes them to be angry or hurtful.
- Remember it is a disease. They are not deliberately trying to annoy, hurt, or irritate you. They have a disease.
- Patience. Patience. Enough said there!
- Do not underestimate the power of prayer over their disease or over you as you love them.
- Find the funny somewhere, anywhere! It is healthy and good to laugh.
- Accept and seek out help. Do not isolate! If you are the primary caregiver YOU NEED A BREAK! You need BREAKS! You need to still be yourself, have fun, and be refreshed. If you can’t afford in-home respite care, then let your church or a small group of women minister to you by giving you time away.
- The more you know, the more it can help you grow. I recently read, Surviving Alzheimer’s: Practical tips and soul-saving wisdom for caregivers, by Paula Spencer Scott. It was helpful. I’m not (nor is LifeWay) endorsing her or every word she’s written, but this book was a help.
I hope this helps you on your way. If you know of a book or resource that has been helpful to you, or if you are further down this path and have something to share, please leave us a comment. We are better in community. We need each other.
Kaye Hurta has a Masters Degree in counseling from Liberty University and is a crisis counselor for Women’s Events through LifeWay Christian Resources. Whether speaking, singing, or listening, Kaye’s passion is to help others find intimacy with Christ and soul transformation through the living pages of His Word. Kaye met and married her husband Chris in Austin, Texas in 1987. They have two daughters through the miracle of adoption, Madison and Cami. They live in the Chicago burbs where they are both on staff at Willow Creek Community Church. Kaye is also a contributing author for the LifeWay resource, Women Reaching Women in Crisis.