With one phone call your life can change. Would you be ready?
The phone rang during work hours. “Hello, Connie. Your mom is in the hospital.” I sat in silence. Suddenly nothing matter but getting to her. I shut down my computer, packed an overnight bag, and made the drive to the hospital.
My mind was swirling. It is hard to explain how your thoughts can bounce all over the place… my mom, my work, my travel schedule, my book. What does this mean? God help me!
During my drive I felt the need to call the president of the company I was working for and share the news. His first response was like none other I had received – “Family first, and we will be praying for your mom.” I had heard him say this many, many times, but this time it was directed at me. They were life-giving words when I needed them most. Even knowing that my work load was very high, his concern was for my mom.
Once I arrived at the hospital, I had to assess the situation. What was wrong? How long would Mom be there? What would be our game plan going forward?
The doctor told me Mom was experiencing severe muscle wasting. She was down to 98 pounds. “It’s time to call in hospice,” I heard in disbelief. What? No way! I’m going to be her hospice. I can’t tell her they said that. It would take her hope away. But I had to tell her husband what the doctor said.
As we sat in the waiting room, I shared the details of how sick mom really was. We just cried. Actually, broke down would be a more accurate description.
My mom has suffered with COPD for many years. Now it was just much more advanced. You see, her family members had been farmers who grew many crops, one of which was tobacco. So smoking was a normal pastime for them. Even though she quit smoking 27 years ago, the damage was done.
Then, in 1971, my immediate family was in a serious boating accident. My mom suffered second and third degree burns over her entire body. This accident also severely damaged her lungs.
But back to our experience in the hospital. I was told to enjoy our days together. Enjoy our days?! Surely they were wrong. So I did what any person would do. I got another opinion. When the specialist came in the room, I asked her to step outside as I needed to speak with her. She was of the same opinion.
“Your mom has a year. But she could pass away at any time. Especially if she gets a cold. Her body isn’t strong enough to fight it off.” Tears just flowed. All I could think of were the words “pass away at any time.” The thought of losing my mom was overwhelming.
After I pulled myself together, my resolve was to fight. If she needed to gain weight, then I’d make sure she ate more. Six times a day to be exact. I spent hours researching COPD – its stages, reversing muscle wasting, treatments options. In order the fight this I needed to fully understand it.
We knew God was in control so we prayed for wisdom, direction and healing. With Him we had hope for tomorrow.
Now that I knew the type of care she needed I decided she and her husband needed to move in with my family. So my thoughtful daughter moved out of her room (it’s bigger with a private bath) and into her brother’s old room. We worked diligently to get it ready for them. We would take care of her.
Mom and her husband moved in with us. I worked before she woke up, during her naptime, and after she went to bed. It was reminiscent of what I did when the kids were younger and I homeschooled them all. I was used to working around schedules. Balancing work and caring for mom was working.
This worked for two short weeks. That’s when they starting missing being in their own home. I thought to myself, go home?! How do I make that work? The kids are in one city, and she lives one hour and a half away. We couldn’t just drop by to check on her or make sure she was consuming enough calories. This became a new challenge to overcome.
I knew I couldn’t afford to take time off from work for many reasons. Finances, I have two kids in college. Responsibility, I signed a contract. I had to honor my word. Plus others were counting on me to do my job. And I was part of their leadership team. I had to figure out how to juggle it all.
My thoughts went from one thing to the next. As a planner I had to come up with a plan to make it all work. Caregivers do this all the time, right? Now I was a caregiver.
The plan was to stay with them three or four days a week, then go home or go on a business trip. We brought in home health care to help set up what was to become a new normal.
Every morning I was relieved to hear the kitchen light turn on at 6:00. That meant she made it through the night. Whew! Today would be a good day.
I cooked, cleaned, and took her to doctor appointments. Things were settling down. We started to find a new rhythm. We talked about end-of-life issues very vaguely. I told her how important it was to follow the doctor’s instructions.
Then we had one of the hardest discussions of my life. I started by reminding her how very fragile she was and that her condition could decline rapidly. It was at that conversation we decided to live life fully alive. Not waiting to die. And after all, that is exactly how God calls us to live anyway.
As the days have turned into weeks, and weeks into months, I am amazed at how strong she is. Her desire to keep going and never quit has made all the difference. She has hope for her future.
At the time of this writing we are ten months from that day. So much has happened since then. While Mom’s health has declined, her spirits are good. She doesn’t get around like she once did, but that doesn’t stop her. She now uses a scooter. I believe she has done so well in part because we didn’t let others write this chapter of her life. As long as there is hope and faith you can do the unthinkable.
Through it all, the company I worked for remained supportive of me and committed to praying for her. I firmly believe the last ten months could have been much more difficult for me.
I don’t know what God’s plan is, as only He knows the number of our days. But I am confident that God will continue to guide and provide for us. He is faithful in all things! I have decided to reduce my work load in order to enjoy more time with mom and my family.
If you are going through hardship, don’t lose hope. Allow yourself to take each moment as it comes. You will, at times, feel out of control. Don’t spend time worrying about all the “what if scenarios.” God will see you through. Sometimes you can only take one step at a time, but be faithful to take that next step.
She has hope for the next day.
Have you been a caregiver for an aging parent? How did you manage your new normal?