In midlife my husband, John, became denominationally employed with the Adventist Church’s health system. After retirement it took several moves to settle down, and finally a move to a Seventh-day Adventist retirement community seemed to provide a new impetus for him.
He appreciated the Christian community’s atmosphere of grace that provided us, while we aged, with good fellowship all week long, not just on Sabbath. We both became involved with the campus church, a service of blessing we learned at our home church in Akron, Ohio, when we met and married. John seemed quite content.
Yet discontent began to move in, and something I’d sensed happening for a while became more evident. During a visit with our new nurse practitioner, she detected John’s lack of cognizance. She suggested that he see a neurologist. A series of silent strokes were discovered, and dementia was labeled. John also struggled with congestive heart failure, blindness in one eye, and the fading of vision in the other eye.
At the same time, COVID-19’s black cloud draped itself across our globe like a pall, affecting nursing homes worst of all. It came to the point when no visitors were allowed, even for the dying. In most cases, no funerals were allowed either—people were dying without recognition or closure for those left behind.
Thus, I determined that I would do everything possible to keep my husband at home. So caregiving began. After being his helpmeet for more than 70 years, this was not the time to bail out. He needed me. I didn’t go into this new role blindly, but I wasn’t expecting such a change in me. Stress became my albatross.
I sensed impatience in myself as I cared for John’s needs. His unwillingness to cooperate and his daily agitation produced behavioral difficulties hard to deal with. I listened to the advice of others who had already traveled this crinkum-crankum road. Yet as I listened to and read of others’ travails, especially from the caregivers of those with cognition/memory problems, the same frayed thread was woven throughout: impatience. And weariness is a twin of the impatience malady for caregivers, as it leaves one feeling failure for the calling.
I’m a creative woman, and I found that part of me fading away because of my responsibilities. I resented not having time for my creative outlets because they’re tied to my “others” motto of personal ministry.
Fortunately, I belong to some artistic groups that offer creative individuals new challenges throughout the year to keep our gifts and skills in good repair. Because I no longer drive, and because COVID-19 has been hanging over us like a shroud, we have largely been kept corralled at home. I feel grateful for my outside involvements, especially with my fellow poets via e-mail. There’s something about poetry that’s especially calming. I believe that’s one reason the biblical psalms provide so much comfort—particularly David’s honesty of soul. Those psalms call me to derive spiritual strength from God. Thus, as I deliberately set aside time for this part of my infilling, my ability to continue with caregiving revives.
Dementia’s social issues can be heart-touching, especially when John and I go for frequent doctor’s visits. John is constantly declaring “I love you” loudly. Once he stood up and shouted the words. Strangers in waiting rooms responded with thumbs-up and hand clapping to support us. One precious woman clasped her hands to her chest and said, “Thank You, Jesus!” They are in essence praying for us strangers.
My advice to other caregivers is this: be honest with your family, friends, and medical team about your situation. I’ve sometimes shed tears with them. Pretense that everything is all fair weather makes the storm worse.
For us, continuing our daily ritual of devotional time together morning and night by inviting the heavenly Trio is solace. So what if John can’t remember names of close friends and family sometimes? God knows whom he’s bringing to Him in prayer. With that Team to guide us, I’m trusting that this valley will be another lesson here on earth to prepare us for heaven.
Knowing that prayers surround us is a comfort. Bless every one of those who are praying for us!
*Sadly, Betty Kossick’s husband, John, passed away after this article was written.
Betty Kossick writes from Longwood, Florida.