Caregivers recognize each other.
Yes, each caregiving path is unique. As different as each caregiver and the person he or she cares for, as different as their environment and lifestyle and family or lack of family—as different as each of our lives is different.
But unique as we are, caregivers recognize each other. With a pang of empathy and immediate respect, we recognize each other.
On Easter Sunday, my husband and I met one of my sons and his family at a restaurant for brunch. At a big round table in a beautiful dining room, our oldest son and his wife and our three senior grandchildren entertained us in the way only they can do—just by being themselves, unique individually and a unique unit in our larger family.
Though the room was full, the tables were arranged so everyone had plenty of elbow room. But when I felt a touch on my shoulder, I realized I was just a bit in the way of an older man guiding his wife’s (my assumption) wheelchair across the thick carpet.
“Oh, excuse me!” I said. I adjusted my chair, noting as I did so the gentleman’s well-polished wingtip shoes. (Wingtips always remind me of my father.)
Without making eye contact, the man nodded and moved on. As he walked away, I noted his carefully trimmed silver hair and handsome dark blue suit, and wished I had gotten a longer look at the lady in the chair. Then, just about the time I decided they must have been leaving the restaurant, I saw them coming back in our direction. Their table for two was just beyond us. I made certain they had a clear path this time and took the opportunity to see the lady who was dining with this debonair man.
My first thought when I saw her was Exquisite! Smooth, pale skin with little makeup, just a touch of blush, it appeared, and rose-red lipstick. Her dress draped her shoulders and lay across her knees with the unmistakable soft sheen of silk; her hands lay crossed on her lap; her feet rested in baby-pink, low-heeled pumps on the steps of the wheelchair.
My second thought was Alzheimer’s. Her husband wore shoes like my father’s; she wore the expression and air that had settled over my mother during the years of her decline into Alzheimer’s.
Our lovely celebration continued. My grandsons teased their big sister as they always have and she enjoyed it as she always does. On their parents’ faces I saw reflected the amazing light of their children. Harold and I basked in the light of the generation sitting with us and the later ones we expect to see. It was one of those exquisite occasions that marks and highlights the sweetness of life.
At the table just beyond, there was silence. Courtesy kept me from watching them openly, though I doubt they—he—would have noticed if I had. I did glance over occasionally and each look confirmed my second thought. I saw him reach across her plate and, with a smile, offer her a spoon. She looked at it, then at him; he laid it on her plate. At one point, her expression changed ever so slightly—was it a smile? He ate slowly, deliberately, watching her, always watching her. No talking. Just watching. I don’t think I imagined the look of exquisite pain I saw on his face.
We were sampling each other’s desserts when he wheeled her across the carpet again. This time they didn’t return.
Later, at home, I surrendered to thoughts I had pushed away as we celebrated.
This man had taken his wife to Easter brunch. Was it a tradition for them? Had he chosen her clothes? Put blush on her cheeks? Applied her lipstick? How long had it been since she got dressed up on her own? Stroked perfume across her wrists, straightened his tie, handed him his handkerchief? Had it been sudden, the silence? Or had it been that slow decline that let him deny reality, hope against hope? How did it feel—having someone leave who is more than half your life to you? Just leave? Leave you alone, to take care of them alone?
If I had asked my father that question—how does it feel, Daddy?—while my mother was still alive, he would have given me his standard answer to my concern for his well-being : “It’s ok, Baby. It’s fine. I’m fine. We’re fine.” It was true, I know. But I also know how far “fine” is from “exquisite.” Because yes, my parents had been exquisite together. Nothing less than exquisite. And when she died, he wanted her back. “However she is,” he told me, “I want her back.” I didn’t wish her back into the empty shell of Alzheimer’s, but to him, even that shell was always full of his love. Always exquisite.
If you know a caregiver, pray for him or her. If you are a caregiver, know that I pray for you.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:7-8 ESV)
LORD Jesus, You call us “friends.” You gave Your life for us. In Your infinite kindness, please bless those who are giving their lives as caregivers to loved ones and friends. In Your name, we ask that You give them wisdom and strength, and please, Jesus, remind them they are never alone. Show them Your presence. May they feel You smiling on them, their loved ones, and their work. Thank you.