Rethinking our attitudes, actions when caring for others
By Lil Goertzen
All of us come into the world and immediately begin to “give up.” We give up the comfort and safety of the womb when we are born. Moving to the teenage years, we give up the days of childhood. We give up childish ways as we mature.
At some point many of us give up our larger homes and downsize to smaller accommodations. We give up positions of responsibility and leadership. We give up our driver’s license and look for alternate means of transportation. We give up our independence when others need to come in and tend to our personal needs.
Walking alongside those who are adapting to the rapid changes around them as they age, we caregivers also need to give up some things. Here is what I have learned as my family walks this road with my parents and other elderly loved ones.
Give up being in control of everything. As a caregiver, it is wise to encourage the elder person to maintain as much control of their surroundings as possible. When safety for them and others becomes a concern, then a different approach is needed. Assist them with decision-making and help guide the process.
Give up correcting their stories. Facts may not be clear, and story lines may be drawn from several different situations. As much as possible, help steer the story without correcting. Do not argue about the details or insist that the story is wrong. At that moment, the elder person is likely not able to distinguish accurately what they desire to convey. Be gentle. Next time, the same story may be told very accurately!
Give up being frustrated with their habits. Many elders grew up in a time when everything was saved and reused. This mentality of “it will come in handy sometime” continues through their lives. Rather than throwing out their beloved stuff, find ways of recycling or reusing these items. Sometimes local community centers can put those tin cans, miscellaneous hand tools, margarine containers and string collections to very good use during their craft and activity time. It may help our elders to let go of some of these items when they see someone benefitting from their collection.
Give up trying to do the caregiving on your own. Depending on the required level of care, looking after an elder can be very time-consuming. Providing good care may require the assistance of trained personnel like home care workers, medical professionals and companions who then become the support team. Establish good communication with this support team and keep them informed of changes and concerns. When possible, have two or three family members or friends be the primary contact persons when the support team has concerns. Have these same family members attend medical appointments so that information is communicated consistently and in context.
In the midst of all these changes and challenges, God is there. He knows the pain and struggle of facing another “golden” day of increased age. As much as possible, encourage the elder to continue attending worship times. Engage them in Bible reading and prayer time, reminding them that God continues to be their Heavenly Father and loves them deeply. He has not given up.
Lil Goertzen is editor of The Recorder, the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference magazine.