Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Role Reversal

As a very young minister, I remember making one of my first nursing home visits. It was to the mother of a church member suffering from advanced dementia. The family asked me to bring communion one Sunday afternoon to the nursing home and that they would gather the whole extended family there. The woman didn't know anyone: me, the staff, or any of her family. She responded very little to anything anyone said. But as I gave her communion, she spoke very clearly, "You forgot the other part." I asked her which part. "You know. 'We do not presume to come to this thy table...'" Well, I did know... barely. And while I struggled to remember that prayer from my childhood memories of Holy Communion, she helped me get through it. Never missed a word. But right after that, her daughter helped her get back into her bed. She cussed us all a blue streak of words that would have made a sailor blush. Yet her daughter calmly and lovingly laid her down and said, "I love you, Mom." As we left the room, she told me, "Once an adult, but twice a child."

I am finally getting that. Taking care of your children can certainly be trying. But taking care of an aging parent is more than trying - it can be gut wrenching. It is very hard to "honor" mother and father when you have to treat them like one of your children: with respect, but with authority.

As I write this, my father lies in an ICU bed, victim of an intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) more than likely caused by his high blood pressure. It has robbed him of his memories. He doesn't know me or my brother and struggles to make sentences that make sense. My brother says, "His hard drive is fragmented." Yet like the woman I mentioned above, Dad and I sang "Blessed Assurance" and "Church in the Wildwood" (he sang the bass part in the chorus) and he didn't miss a verse. I had to read some of the verses off of my iPhone - but he needed no such help. Such are the mysteries of brain dysfunction and dementia.

My once gentle, somewhat eccentric but kind-hearted father is currently in restraints, and was earlier cussing and yelling at me for torturing him, telling me that I should be ashamed of myself for allowing this to happen. The more he yelled, the more his heart rate increased until it became dangerously high, as did his blood pressure. The pastor in me trained in pastoral care tells me that this is not my father talking, but the disease. The son in me, however, is having a hard time witnessing it, though. Finally, a stronger sedative has allowed him to rest peacefully.

I have no idea what the future holds for my father. How much damage did the IVH cause? Does he heal and get his memories back? Does his dementia get worse? Does that mean living in an assisted living facility or a nursing home? Of course, no one can answer these questions.

Jesus told Peter, "When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go." I think of what is going on with my brother and me regarding Dad's welfare and care as "role reversal." But the truth may be that it is simply the circle of life, and just an extension of my call as a disciple: to feed and tend the sheep.

Even if it's one of your own parents.



Dawne Belote said...

Caring for the aged is painful. For me, it is hardest when we are unable to control a patient's break through pain. Usually it is more painful for the families than the patient when dealing with cognitive deficits. Sometimes knowing that your pain is most likely worse than his can be a small comfort. I'm so sorry, my friend. Prayers.

Maricia Stafford said...

Even though I can relate so much to what you are going through, it doesn't make it any easier for you and Vance. I would not wish this pain on any one in the world and no one knows how bad it is until it happens to them. You just have to keep remembering the good times and how much Uncle Don loves you and that he is not responsible for his hurtful words to you and Vance. You know you are doing what you have to do even though it will probably be one of the hardest things you have ever done in your life. Just know that all your friends and family support you and are here for you to help if we can. Love all of you so much.

Shelby Webb said...

Sky, I can relate to your article way too much. My mother is at Martin Healthcare since May and dementia has gradually set in. Her preacher (Randy Cooper) came to see her and after a prayer the three of us repeated the Lord's Paryer and Mother did not miss a word. That was amazing to me, but comforting. My prayer for you and Vance is that his memory does return and that he can live a mentally healthy life for several more years. Just know you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Sky McCracken said...

Thank you Shelby. When we saw you and Jere at the Hearth that night, that was when we saw the beginning of his memory probs. Now we know that the brain bleed had probably already started.

Jere and Ms. Odell stay in my daily prayers. So do you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing!

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