A story from Courage Does Not Always Roar.
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
- Reinhold Niebuhr
Courage comes in many forms. Sometimes, it's the fortitude to keep on going day after day. One of the most courageous roles I have witnessed is that of an adult child caring for his or her parent. I experienced this role reversal first-hand for two years while caring for my Mother until she regained her independence after her car accident. But, I think it is an entirely different challenge when you care for an aging parent who will never be independent again.
As the caregiver for her father, my friend, Gail, was a shining example of courage. Gail's father, Harry, was diagnosed with lower neuropathy - leaving him unable to walk steadily without aid. A second back surgery at age 80 left him in a wheelchair. Gail and her mother, Gloria, were his primary caregivers, with a rigorous daily schedule to keep Harry showered, moving, fed and inspired. It was a tremendous responsibility and there was constant fear that he would fall.
Gloria was physically and emotionally exhausted from the daily activities of taking care of her husband. After four years, he was also showing signs of dementia and would imagine things.
Gail was there to help her mother, but she was also working full time. After five years, the worst happened; Gloria had a massive heart attack and died instantly. As Gail was leaving the hospital after her mother's death, they handed her a booklet on elderly care as she exited with ther father in a wheelchair. It all seemed like a bad dream.
Gail was extremely sad to lose her mother and best friend, and now faced caring for her father who was deteriorating every day. Gail described this time in her life as a gift of both beauty and hardship. She had strong feelings of fear, discomfort, sadness, awkwardness and overwhelming responsibility. She leaned on her faith, praying every day that she was making the right decisions for him.
Gail learned to enjoy and appreciate the great moments with her Dad and to get through the difficult ones. She would get him showered, dressed and carried to his wheelchair so they could go out to dinner, only to realize 10 minutes into the journey they had to turn around because he needed to go to the bathroom. But Gail just dealt with it. She made the choice not to dwell on the negative things she experienced with her Father. If she had a setback, she didn't feel the need to tell everyone how difficult her day had been. She loved her connection with her Father. Knowing that he had done so much, her labor was one of love.
Gail also learned to enjoy all the happy, present moment experiences she had with her friends and family. She loved to have a nice glass of wine and good conversation and appreciated that even more. Keeping a positive attitude for her Father and for herself, Gail took the moment to see love in a friend or stranger's eyes, feeling blessed for the joys in her life.
Gail's Dad passed away in 2005, after she had cared for him on her own for two and a half years. She was relieved in one way that he wasn't in limbo any longer. She knew her Father really enjoyed his life - he loved a good cigar and steak and being with friends - and really fought his death. In fact, three days before he died, he told Gail that he was needed only for a few more days. He knew it was his time to go.
Gail is an amazing woman and friend who has inspired me with her courage and strength. Whether it's difficult or pleasant, she lives in the moment, and demonstrates the importance of reminding people that you love them every day, because you might not get another chance. If you are thinking of someone, leave a voice message or send a note-don't wait! Gail practices this every day. She will leave me an encouraging voice mail or note when I am going through a challenge or if there is a reason to celebrate. She takes time to recognize both and doesn't expect anything in return. In doing so, she helps me remember that each moment is fleeting ... and precious.