As my father-in-law is naturally isolating more and more due to his dementia and its affect on his self-confidence, I am heartened not only by the exceptional medical and dental professional care I rely on, but by the loving support we are receiving from friends and our church family.
My wife and I call Claire our best friend. And its no wonder for there isn’t anything she would not do to support us. She has been through the fire of self-sacrifice as caregiver to her father, exemplifying the approach to care-giving that Teepa Snow warns against: the “I’ve got this” and “Lone Ranger” (without Tonto), laying her life on the line approach. She almost did not survive this terrible but beautiful loving 7 year ordeal in the trenches meeting her Dad’s every need as he declined due to the ravages of almost three decades of Parkinson’s Disease. She really does not want her best friend to die early either. So her wealth of experience in managing symptoms, dementia and health professionals has been invaluable, not to mention her loving presence to our little family: my father-in-law regularly asks me to remind her that he needs one of what he calls her “healing hugs.”
Then there is Vicki, a single mom who cared for her own mother through her Alzheimer’s, moving back to Almonte from BC with her kids, giving her Mom and her children the best gift they could have in her final years – each other. Vicki was superwoman as running her farm, home-schooling her children and caring for her Mom were all in a days work. When I was inspired to place an ad in the Millstone looking for someone who was willing to cook a meal and visit with my in-laws, two super-moms responded, greatly contributing to our household as we all supported my mother-in-law in her grace-filled exit. She stuck around afterwards despite my father-in-law’s resistance to having anyone tending to him and has been such a blessing to us ever since.
In the two hour window in which she takes over our home we are always the beneficiary of her superwoman tendencies as she leaves our place in better shape than she found it (much to my wife’s delight who then has less to do when she gets home after her long day at work) and my father-in-law is always happier and sparkier. She has admitted to me repeatedly how much she loves him, and could not control her tears during her enforced absence due to our Covid concerns. Fortunately for us all we have come to better understand the coronavirus and realize that the risk to our health from Vicki’s presence is far less than the cost to our well-being during her absence. And so we have reinstituted her regular ministrations to our needs with some common sense precautions. Vicki is not connected to any church but is a great blessing to us in her loving ministry to our family!
As my father-in-law has grown weaker and less able too participate regularly in his beloved church services, our friends at St. Paul’s, sometimes at my invitation, other times at their own initiative, have made it a practice to occasionally come by for a visit. This of course was halted by the pandemic but then St. Paul’s organized themselves to ensure that each parishioner got a loving phone call each week. Our designated caller is Dee. She is our volunteer full-time office administrator at St. Paul’s and she calls on Thursday mornings, co-ordinating with me to successfully access one of his short windows of availability between his naps. She has also taken it on herself to e-mail me a print version of her weekly newsletter because she knows he does not access computers any more and is thoughtfully giving me the convenience of a printable PDF. I told him about this and feeling really touched he asked me to thank her. Her laconic response was “It takes a village.” This brings me to my last example of the village’s care and support of our little family.
St. Paul’s, like other communities whose ability to gather together has been shut down by our public health’s efforts to flatten the curve, has adopted the drive by sidewalk visit as a way of celebrating birthdays for members of our congregation. And so Dee, Jonathon our priest, a group of other members of our church family and Vicki came at our invitation on my father-in-law’s 93rd birthday and truly helped it be everything a birthday could be when you cannot gather together or go out anywhere. He was so happy and blessed to have 10 friends drive over from Almonte and spend time wishing him a happy birthday and chatting as he sat on the veranda. Truly it takes a village! And we are so blessed!!!
With loving and practical support like this, the long last phase of my journey with my father-in-law will be survivable and blessed. If you are a caregiver reading this, reach out to your village and please consider us (Claire and I) a potential part of your support structure. We are happy to help. Or if you know someone who is a caregiver, make sure you are (they are) reaching out to your (their) “village” and if not, please reach out to them. You do not have to be alone. Again, we at Stonebridge Haven are here to help!
Originally written July 2, 2020