A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith


Failing health and other knicknacks

posted by Linda G. Howard

Sometimes I found myself wanting to treat my husband’s failing health as though it were a knicknack.  In that way, I could put it on a shelf and forget all about it.  I fought almost daily with this notion of detachment.  Psychologist call this “compartmentalization.”

In The Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, there are three families in crisis at this moment.  Each story is unique.  Yet the bottom line is that parents are treating their failing health as though it were a knicknack that they can simply put on a shelf and ignore.

Often there is a pattern that is followed that goes something like this narrative.  Diane’s family earnestly prepared for their deaths until the last ten years of their lives.  At that time, their younger daughter’s life fell apart and the parents needed to provide for her family.  They poured money and resources into her life and their grandchildren.  Diane’s sister became complacent, knowing that her parents would provide.  Then the savings and assets were gone; and the parents naively put  their failing health on a shelf as though it were a statuette that they could dust and ignore.  Diane was pushed into crisis mode when both parents died.

There is a constant debate within churches regarding this problem.  Pastors and their staff understand that there is little that can be done until we are asked.  When asked, however, we often jump with the speed of a gazelle. At Special Gathering, families may want their son or daughter to go and live in a group home.  Among pastors who minister in the  ”normal”  communities, there is a running debate about nursing home care.  The cost of personal care giving has been considered the more expensive option.  However, it may be that personal care is now the more reasonable option.

Nursing home care has become increasingly difficult as Medicare and Medicaid funds are continually being cut.  What may not be known by most people is that hospital workers and physicians are not able to give direction or advice because of legal consideration; but they can answer questions.  Therefore, whether you are reaching “that” age or your parents are becoming more feeble, you need to be prepared to ask the right questions and know what is available for good health care.  Here are six things which help.

  1. Establish a working relationship with the office personnel in your family’s physicians’ office.  These nursing and clerical staff can often give you more information that your doctor, who may be bound by more stringent legal restraints regarding the information they can freely give to you.
  2. Become familiar with the systems of support in your community and the community of your family members.  Each state is different.  In Florida, each district is unique and may handle a problems in a diverse manners.
  3. Make sure that your family members understand that you are there to help in the times of crisis.  Keep in touch with them often.  Then when they need you, they will know that you want to hear from them.
  4. Understand that most older individuals will cling to their independence too long.  Look for times and ways to lovingly intervene.
  5. Before the crisis, speak opening and honestly with your family about what they may face in the future.  This is a touchy subject and it requires tact on your part.  You may be able to get your point across in conversations that family members initiate regarding other families who have faced an emergency situation in the past.
  6. Reestablish broken family relationships.  This is usually easier than we think.  Come with humility and honesty.  Regret usually follows a death and regret is a bitter tasting pill that can never be fully swallowed when the person has died.

We have found that when there is a crisis, our phone number is frequently put on speed dial because families within the developmentally disabled community trust us.  They know that we care.

Remember, there are no easy answers.  In a crisis you may find that there are no right answers, only unfortunate options.   “Too often,” Richard Stimson, our executive director,  has said, “there are also no good answers to bring the situation into resolution.”  We must choose between two or more bad solutions.

Failing health should never be treated as a nick-nack that goes on the shelf no matter how inconvenient it may be at the time.  Crisis seems to fall at the most inconvenient times and crises cannot be ignored.

What are some ways of the beneficial things you have learned in the middle of health crisis?  What other crisis events have crashed into your life?



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