Dad's Story: A Look at Christian Caregiving
My heart ached as I watched my father's body deteriorate. He had always been such a proud and determined man. Everyone who knew him admired his gentle and caring manner. It seemed unfair that he had to suffer. I was later to discover, though, that what seemed unfair to me was all part of God's intricate plan for me and my family. I have listed only a few of the many remarkable opportunities the Lord provided for sharing His Word.
Thank you, God, for preparing me through your Word. You, Lord, laid the foundation in my life before presenting me with this "test" (Romans 8:26, 1 Corinthians 2:4). It was the Holy Spirit who let the words come to my mind and gave me the strength to speak the words of comfort and peace for my brothers and other members of my family. It was a difficult time for us who loved Dad and Grandpa so very much. It was, however, a time for spiritual growth and learning for each of us. For Dad, it was a time to draw closer to the Lord that he knew all of his life. Reduced to wearing a diaper, barely able to stand and walk, unable to share the thoughts in his mind, Dad was forced to turn to his only source of true comfort and hope.
I was proud to speak a eulogy at Dad's funeral. In that great big Catholic church I was able to share my firm conviction that Dad was with the Lord. What a blessing to be able to share Scripture with my entire family. I was never stronger spiritually than I was that day. Here is the story of Dad's physical death which, of course, is only the beginning of his eternal life with the Lord in heaven.
"Your father is a prime candidate for sudden death." The words echoed through the hospital halls and through my mind as my brother and I clung to each other and cried. Dad was the "jewel" of our family; we loved and admired him. The thought of his not being there was devastating. We knew Dad's heart had been failing over the years. Now he was in congestive heart failure and would soon die.
Once I had recovered from the initial shock (and it is a shock when the word "terminal" is finally spoken), my head filled with questions: How would we get through these final days? How long will Dad be with us? Should we tell him? What about the spiritual? Dad and my family were all Catholic; he knew Jesus, but was he certain about the way to heaven? How can I help Dad? What should I do....on and on....until chaos filled my mind. What about Mom? She had been suffering from the effects of dementia and was becoming steadily worse. She could never be alone. The stress of Dad's failing health caused her to be even more confused. She was becoming paranoid and suspicious of the home care nurse; distrustful of us and our motives; rebellious and selfish in her actions.
My two brothers and I decided early on that Dad was our #1 concern. He would soon die. Mom's healthy mind would never return, and we would plan her future after Dad was gone. Meanwhile, we took each day as it came and dealt with Mom's condition as well as we could. She and Dad had been happily married for 60 years; we would not separate them now. A hospital bed and commode were moved into their home. We began daily visits between the three families and physically cared for their needs.
Meanwhile, I enlisted the aid of my pastor and Christian friends. They began prayers and offered their encouragement while I sorted out my feelings of distress and grief. Having been involved as a counselor with Christian Life Resources for eight years, my spiritual life was strong and active. During evangelism classes, I found myself listing many Catholic family members on my "prospect" list. I had always been able to talk with Mom about God. She taught me from early on that He was in control; she loved looking at her "holy pictures" and praying to Jesus. But Dad was different. Oh, he was a devout Catholic, but spiritual talk was never part of our conversations. I remember a few times in the past while visiting them, talk would turn to death and heaven. Dad would quietly go upstairs, uncomfortable with the discussion. Mom would listen as my husband and I shared scripture references about dying in the Lord.
Each time I drove to my hometown to be with my parents, my Bible came with me. Scripture was something we had never done together and I didn't know how to begin. So on those first trips it stayed right there in my car. Driving home I would pray that God would give me the courage to take that Bible in with me next time. Eventually I began to talk about the Bible classes I attended at my church. Would they be interested in my sharing a Bible study with them? When they replied "Yes" I spoke a prayer of thanks.
We began a study on the Book of Job. Dad listened, often with tears in his eyes. Mom often asked questions, some so deep that I had to bring back the answers from my Pastor. My former confusion subsided as I realized what the Lord had in mind for me to do these next days and months. With whatever time and opportunities God gave me, I would share His Word with Mom and Dad and my family members.
Frequent phone calls with Dad's home care nurse kept me aware of his physical condition. She spoke openly to me; I appreciated her candor and obvious concern for Dad's emotional state. Dad's family doctor was not one who could look a patient in the eye and tell him he was dying. The cardiologist was more honest, but Dad was unable to fully understand the medical terms. Dad wondered why he wasn't getting better. Rosemary (the home care nurse) said a family member had to speak with Dad about dying. Neither of my brothers was comfortable telling Dad, so that left me.
Having asked for more prayer support from friends and armed with encouragement from my Pastor, I drove in that day wondering "How am I going to tell Dad he is dying?" I fervently prayed for guidance and wisdom. Nearing their home, it occurred to me that I had never finished the Bible study on Job. (Circumstances did not always make it possible for me to read Scripture every visit.) The day passed and I felt heavy and sad inside - I dreaded having this "talk" with Dad. Finally, I suggested that we finish our Bible study. "O.K." they answered. As we finished the last chapters, I closed my Bible and looked over at Dad. "Your situation is similar to Job's, Dad." He began to cry. "But I'm not going to get better, am I?" Dad asked quietly...... "No, Dad, you're not."
Our conversation after that covered many topics, including Mom's care and his financial state. We spoke about heaven and what God's Word says about eternity, faith and trust. Dad said he believed the Bible was true and it took precedence over the Catholic church's teaching. What a blessing and joy for me to hear Dad's firm statement of faith and belief in Scripture.
After our "talk" I wrote to my brothers, explaining the details of that day. It was a great opportunity to share God's Word with them. Closing comments in my letter gave me a chance to point out encouraging verses such as Romans 8:28, Matthew 6:34, Philippians 4:4-7.
Dad became very depressed. There had been several hospital stays during this time, each one leaving him weaker and more frustrated with his condition. Often Dad was angry and uncooperative. This time he decided to quit eating. Rosemary called me and said "I think your dad is wanting to starve himself and just die." (Of course this would never be allowed to happen under doctor's care.) She and my brothers tried, unsuccessfully, to encourage Dad to eat.
During my next visit I looked him in the eye and confronted him with what he was attempting. I recalled the fifth commandment and reminded him that suicide was a sin. The time of his death was in God's hands, not in his own. Dad began to eat again. In fact, he perked up and got dressed, and we went outside for a walk.
The last time Mom and Dad were at my home was Mother's Day. My brothers and I decided we would still try to take Mom and Dad for visits; if Dad died while at one of our homes, then so be it. (Rosemary looked the other way when we did this, as terminal patients are supposed to remain in their homes.) Dad was becoming more accepting of his situation and seemed happier. He looked at me and, though there were tears in his eyes, he spoke with pride and conviction saying "When Jesus calls, I'll come." My heart ached as I spoke a silent prayer "Thank you, Lord."
Dad was released from another short hospital stay. He would not return there again; nothing more could be done to remove the fluids accumulating in his body from the congestive heart failure. His final days were beginning. We hired 24-hour caregivers and gave them instructions regarding Dad's death. During the hospital stays we had papers signed, limiting attempts to resuscitate Dad when his heart finally stopped. At home we had more control since the private caregivers were answerable to us, not to an agency or hospital. Rosemary was still the home care nurse and instructed us in the filing of no-code forms, ensuring Dad's peaceful death at home.
A drug called Kayexalate was prescribed. It's purpose was to suppress Dad's high potassium level. High potassium levels cause the heart to race. With his already weak heart, a fast or irregular heartbeat would cause Dad to die quickly. My temptation was to encourage Dad not to take the medication. His body was already swollen and his skin was beginning to pop from the pressure. He was becoming miserable and hated the awful tasting drug. Why prolong the process of a slow and painful death? Withholding the prescribed medicine might hasten his death. Having Dad die quickly seemed like the better choice to me!
After speaking with Pastor Fleischmann and my brothers, I reluctantly agreed to continue with the Kayexalate. Meanwhile I prayed that the Lord would take my Dad quickly. The Lord gave me a most unsettling answer. One of the caregivers misunderstood the directions on the prescription and gave Dad only a small fraction of the medication. (She may as well have given him none the dosage was so diluted.) This unintentional low dose went undetected. Dad's heart never raced. When we discovered what had happened, I felt the Lord's hand heavy on me. I was not the one "in control" here. I humbly asked the Lord to forgive me for my sin. I now have a keener understanding of temptations caused by emotions and grief and the desire to control.
The Lord decided that my dad would live one more month.
Rosemary listed various physical signs which generally occur when death is imminent. Each time one of them happened, we knew the end was closer. I was unsure how to pray these last days. My pastor said it was all right to ask the Lord to take Dad peacefully. One week before he died, Dad became extremely agitated. Because of his stroke, he could not speak the words to tell us what was troubling him. His brow was furrowed, he was restless, and his eyes begged us to understand what was in his mind. I sat with him and searched his face. I asked Dad if he was asking God to take him in death. Loudly he shouted "Yes! Yes! Yes!" And I could assure him that, this time, his request to die was a good prayer. I then prayed with him the Lord's prayer and read portions of Scripture. Dad relaxed and peacefully slept.
Dad's last day was his most peaceful. His eyes reflected quiet and calm acceptance. When I asked him what to read from the Bible, he nodded yes when I listed the category "When in Sorrow." Knowing my dad, I'm sure that he was grieving for Mom and for us. I read John 14 and followed it with Psalm 121. Dad's eyes spoke the thanks and love that was in his heart. And I could speak the thanks and love that was in my heart. What a unique bitter-sweet joy to lead my Dad to the gates of heaven. . .Thank You, Lord. To God be the Glory.
We found a live-in caregiver for Mom. We were feeling good about her future life and knew that we were fulfilling Dad's wish that Mom remain in their home rather than some institution. We were becoming accustomed to this disease called dementia which was silently stealing her mind.
Eight weeks after Dad died, Mom was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer. Surgery removed 60% of her stomach and three days later, the rest of the stomach began to hemorrhage. Medication was unable to control the bleeding and the doctors eventually recommended that all IVs be withdrawn and she be kept comfortable. Prior to her surgery Mom spoke with me and said that she missed Dad and wanted to visit him. I answered by saying I understood how she felt and gently reminded her that the timing was in God's hands.
There were several family members and a priest at her bedside when Mom died. My brother looked over at me and said "Why don't you read something appropriate out of that Bible of yours?" I took it from the foot of her bed and everyone listened as I shared the sweet comfort of Psalm 23. Goodbye, Mom. . .Thank You, Lord. To You be the Glory.
There is no way to measure the far-reaching effects of God's Word on my family. For me there is peace and certainty that my parents are in heaven. That is a blessing beyond compare. As for the relative who once said he was an atheist, the young relatives who have live-in partners, the countless others who have strayed from their Christian church affiliations and are caught in uncertainty and guilt, God only knows how they will respond. For me, witnessing opportunities have opened and will remain open for future witnessing attempts. My family has seen and some have made comment about the strength I exhibited while my parents died. To those comments, I was able to reply that my strength came from the Lord.
I thank all my Christian friends for listening to me when I needed to talk and offering encouragement and prayer; my husband and children who willingly let me spend all those days and nights with my parents; my Pastor who supported me with the Word, offered prayers in my church and attended my parents funerals.
This story was written by a Christian Life Resources counselor actively involved in her Chapter of Christian Life Resources.
Life News, 1998
Article Shortcut: http://www.christianliferesources.com?4823
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