Tag Archives: caring for elderly

Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 12)

13 Oct

Have you ever had the sense someone was watching you – even in your sleep?  I don’t think I will ever forget the night I woke with a start to a ninety some year old woman standing at the side of my bed at 3:30 a.m. peering down at me! Did I ever jump!!!

Why was she up in the middle of the night? What was she doing? Where else had she been?

 As time progressed with Great Aunt, one of her most common activities was packing her belongings.  For some reason, she continually thought she was moving. I would walk into her area of the house to find the pictures off the walls, blankets – folded and stacked, books, photo albums, jewelry… absolutely everything she could find piled or stashed away into drawers.  I would unpack each treasure, rehang the pictures, and reassure her that she was not moving. This was her home. This was her family.

Remarkably, by the time I came back to check on her, the process would be repeated! How did she do it? What stamina! She was able to pack all of her things several times a day!

Pack – unpack. Pack – unpack. Pack – unpack.

I may be a bit slow, but it didn’t take too long before I realized we needed to make some changes.  She needed less to pack, and I needed to unpack less!

We converted part of Great Aunt’s living area into a master bedroom accomplishing two things. One, she needed less space and fewer things deal with. Two, we were closer to her, providing better and much needed oversight.

The decision had been a very difficult one for me.  In no way did I want to limit her; or worse, move in to her very own abode.  Would she or the extended family think we were selfishly taking her space?

She adapted so well, we wondered why we hadn’t made the change sooner.  The large amount of space had clearly become too much for her.

In a large family such as ours, seldom was Great Aunt left alone. Although Sunday mornings and a few other occasions, she had the house to herself.  She had done well, until… we started coming home to tissue paper stuffed into the gas fire place (with the gas on), the stove top turned on high, water faucets left running.  She was rapidly loosing the ability to function safely without supervision. It was after the episode in the middle of the night,  it became clear that we needed to install a lock on her bedroom door, on the outside.

If I thought reducing her living space was difficult, the thought of locking Great Aunt’s door was worse!

We could no longer trust her judgement.  We did not want to put Great Aunt or the household at risk. We did not want to send her back to the “home-for-the-elderly”. Our desire was to lovingly care for her as long as we were able.

The lock was installed.  Because it was seldom used, it wasn’t an issue.  She had declined enough that it was not offensive to her.  In fact, when moving about her new more limited space, upon trying the door- she would just politely knock on the door, and close by, we would come to her attention. Once again, I was able to sleep without worrying about what the night might bring.

~lessons in grace~

loving when the loving is tough

pulling back when the desire is to give

restraining for ones own benefit

…all while honoring a life well lived


Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 11)

16 Sep

Five Areas to Better Serve

Caring for others, whether it be small children, the sick, elderly… whoever is in need, is challenging and often all consuming.

It was our desire and choice to care for Great Aunt. It was a natural fit,  in that I was already home everyday caring for our own children, we both had some experience in the area, and had purchased a house that suited the situation.  Never-the-less, sometimes the task was overwhelming.  At times I found it affecting every other area of my life.

It was during a low ebb,  drained both physically and emotionally, that I pinpointed 5 areas to redirect my focus to better serve both Great Aunt and my family.


1. Remember who I am serving

I was serving Great Aunt, but ultimately, I was serving God.  I could never do things well enough for Great Aunt and as a result, felt I was always striving, but never pleasing.  I learned to change my focus, no longer on her but beyond her.

2. Be a duck and let it roll

When accusations came, like in the stolen lipstick and undergarments experience, my first response was to defend myself.  Sometimes defense isn’t necessary, better to let the comments roll – like water droplets rolling off the back of a duck.

3. Speak with grace

Whether responding to Great Aunt or speaking about her to someone else, I determined to speak with grace. Not wanting my own words to resonate in my mind like sharp thistles , I considered how I would feel in her place.

4. Serve secretly

In the midst of Great Aunts complaints, I found myself attempting to “win points” by informing her of things I had done for her. As foolish as that sounds – even as I write now – it is pattern that I still can find myself in if not careful.  My goal was (and still needs to be) to serve quietly, humbly.

5. Serve joyfully

Attitudes from within my heart had a way of creeping out.  If I was discontented,  it was difficult to serve with joy. This point circles back to the first.  When I placed the focus on whom I was ultimately serving (taking it off of myself), the joy would return.


Reading through my journals and finding these principles, again,

I was struck at how applicable they are to me today.

This is how I want to live.

This is how I want to serve.

Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 9)

27 Jun

  Motivating with a Stethoscope

When a virus invades the house of a big family such as ours, it usually sticks around for a while.  Seldom do we all get sick at once. Typically one of the younger children would have the first symptoms. Within a few days another one or two might become sick, from then on, it’s like watching dominoes fall – only in slow motion.  The process can take a month or two.  My goal is to quickly rebuild the first child’s immune system, in hopes of avoiding the whole process from repeating all over again.

Great Aunt was right in the mix of all the other dominoes.  Inevitably  she too would become ill.  The problem was, she no longer had the drive to get back up again.  Once in bed,  that is where she wanted to stay! In our earlier years together, I could reason with her – to a degree.  She saw the importance of good hygiene, nutrition,  exercise, and fresh air.

Eventually, at least for a time, I had lost all authority in her care.  She no longer knew who I was and chose to deliberately disregard anything I said.   Her line became, “The doctor told me I was to stay in bed.” To try to speak truth, that the doctor had not been there, was to challenge her word (not a good call).  Her ability to think clearly was continuing to diminish.  Although she appeared to be unaware of the trouble most of the time, I remember one particularly lucid moment, as she attempted  to describe the jumbled up mess she was experiencing in her mind.  My heart ached for her.

Never-the-less, I was still faced with a dilemma.  She needed care, yet was unwilling to receive it from  me.  I no longer had her respect…  until the day I was given a brilliant piece of advice…  If Great Aunt had respect for the doctor, why not become “the nurse”?  I thought it was worth a try, after all, I had been a nursing assistant in a nursing home years ago.

Borrowing a friend’s stethoscope and wearing a white smock, I marched into Great Aunt’s room with complete confidence.  After taking her pulse, I informed her of a concern about her lungs and the dangers of pneumonia.  I stated  instructions for her to get out of bed and take a short walk out side.  Her response was incredible!  She simply got up, no questions asked.  I helped her dress and assisted her outside.  She walked and walked enjoying the gardens, watching the children play, and breathing in the fresh air.

In the mean time, I took the opportunity to  make up her bed, open the windows and flood the room with sun light.  She returned to the house with a renewed enjoyment for another day of life.

With stethoscope and white jacket in hand, I had gained the authority I needed to carry out my job without confrontation.  Great Aunt gained the motivation to continue to embrace each new day.

Lessons in Grace with Great Aunt (part 7)

14 Jun

 Polyester Pant Suits

 It had been some time since Great Aunt had lived in her own home. She moved to an apartment with assisted living, then to the nursing home, and finally in with our family of, at the time, 8 children.  Her once lively lifestyle had become more and more confined with each move.  Even so, a variety of remnants from her past remained, and we desired to provide as much life and vitality as we were able.

 In previous years, Great Aunt had enjoyed  hosting card parties with her lady friends.  Wanting to encourage those friendships, we had decided to help her host a party in her new place.  She was no longer able to see a cooking project all the way through, but she did enjoy getting her hands into the mix of things.   It was our hope that by having her friends come,  Great Aunt might gain a sense of belonging. This was her home.

One of the remnants of Great Aunt’s past was her wardrobe.  She loved bright vibrant colors and bold gaudy jewelry.  With this in mind, you can imagine the process of getting dressed for a party!  Her favorite selections included various  pant suits that were in shades of lime green, bright orange, and brilliant purples .  The fabric of choice was consistently, the ever-wearing, polyester.  It truly  never did wear out!   She no longer was confined to the typical rules of a matching an outfit. She had found complete freedom to mix and match.  The brighter the colors, the better she liked it! Hair done, lipstick on, she was good to go.

I think I was more excited about this event than Great Aunt.  I enjoyed planning ways to make it special for her and generating her participation.  She genuinely liked the ideas and was ready to greet the ladies as they arrived.  Tea and dessert were served.  Cards were played.  The visit was a success.  Having heard Great Aunt speak of these special people, I was thankful to have met them. They were faithful friends showing both their love and concern.

Pictures played an important role during this period of time.  With every event, we captured memories in print.  As time progressed, it often became her only memory of us.  The past became increasingly present in her mind, and recognition of who we were faded in and out. We used her photo album as a tool to try to keep her remembering the recent past. Today, I am thankful we did, as they now have become precious memories for our family.

As I helped Great Aunt get ready for bed, I cheerfully tried to engage her in recounting the happenings of the day.  It was gone.  All memory of her friends and the visit had faded away.  To try to persuade her otherwise was an insult to her intellect.

Was it a waste, I wondered?  Had I gone to all that work in vain? No… I knew the answer had to be no.  Great Aunt lived that day.  Embracing her friends, she loved  and served them.  Equally importantly, those ladies embraced their friend one last time.  Yes, it had been worth it all.

Lessons in Grace with “Great Aunt” (part 4)

9 May

Stolen Lip Stick and Undergarments

Stopping in at one’s home for a visit, merely gives a window into a life.  I don’t think we were prepared for what all was truly going on in Great Aunt’s mind.  Looking back, we could see hints during those visits that we just hadn’t picked up on.

Often our day would begin in a normal manner.  I would wake Great Aunt and encourage her to get up and dressed before breakfast. Sometimes I would find her already up, dressed, and ready to go.  What took me off guard was the day she began accusing my daughters of stealing her lipstick and undergarments.  Shocked that she would even think such a thing, my “protective mother instincts” rapidly came to life! I quickly corrected her and defended my daughters.  Not only were the children not to wander in Great Aunt’s space without invitation, I knew their young hearts and was confident they would not steal and especially not lip stick and undergarments!.  Yet, her mind was made up, there was no reasoning. They were guilty. I was horrified she would think such a thing.

I had prepared myself for extra work and challenges, but not for an attack on my children.  Why could she not see?  She simply would not listen to reason or logic. I was offended.  I was upset.

Getting another person’s view is usually a good call.  Wanting to gain council and understanding, I relayed the heated conversation to my dear hubby.  It was not long before his  “protective father instinct” had come to life, maybe even stronger than mine!

What Mark and I had not realized, was that Great Aunt was not in her right mind.  Sometimes she was, while other times – not. We never had warning.  Often engaged in a seemingly rational conversation it would suddenly turn on a dime. I found myself becoming easily frustrated, not only with Great Aunt, but with myself.  Rather than patiently understanding, I would be caught off guard and become undone.  So many things I had learned through working at a health care facility (as a teenager), years of marriage, raising children… why was it so hard to apply in this situation?

It may have been during this time the phrase – “Be a duck…” became well used in our home.  As a duck repels water droplets off its back, I learned to let Great Aunt’s hurtful comments roll.  Regretfully I confess, it took time. It took years. To my advantage, Great Aunt seldom remembered the harsh words she spoke nor my reply, whether good or bad. Yet, I knew. I daily sought God for His ultimate grace to flow through me.

The lipstick and undergarments turned up later. Sometimes our searches took days, while others were short, but without fail, the “stolen” items were found.  She had no memory of stashing her things away and continued to feel the need to blame someone else for what she had lost. That never changed. What did change was my ability to let her make her accusations and receive them with understanding.  Rather than blaming the children, the thief  was given a ficticious name  and remained in the house until Great Aunt’s final days.

My Lessons in Grace With “Great Aunt” part 2

25 Apr

One of the first things I learned about Great Aunt was that we had very different taste.  She was known as being an excellent cook and had many favorite recipes.  Yet, after her husband died, her eating habits were not what they once were.  Living alone can have a way of changing things.  What was once important no longer was.  Never-the-Less,  I think we were both taken by surprise, at least I was.

I love lettuce salad with a variety of fresh veggies tossed in the mix.  She much preferred a good Jello salad with some canned fruit added.  We made all of our own freshly ground whole wheat bread, while she was much happier with a white wonder bread.  I tried to go easy on the sweets,  she gladly consumed them.

Most of the time, especially in the early years, Great Aunt ate with us, which I think she enjoyed.  Although since she was used to being in her own space,  I made a point to occasionally bring meals in to her dining room.  Sometimes a room full of voices is too much for anyone!

Wanting to find ways to please her and make sure she had good nutrition, I enthusiastically cooked up big batch of mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and steamed broccoli.  Bringing a warm plate of food into her room, I was sure she would be delighted.  I knew she liked meat and potatoes! To my surprise and disappointment, when I came back to pick up her plate, she had hardly touched it! She really couldn’t pinpoint what she didn’t like. It just did not suit her taste.

As Mark and I talked, we were concerned about her lack of eating.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have a good appetite, she could put away a fair amount of Jello salad and instant pudding.  We decided to experiment by serving her the same meal,  pre-made in the form of a “TV Dinner”.  We found one that had meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and broccoli – perfect!

I carefully arranged the microwaved instant “food” on to a plate so as to look as nice as possible. Sheepishly, I brought dinner in to Great Aunt.  I truly wanted to hide in the corner  watching, to see what she would do. To my amazement, when I came back to pick up her plate, not only had she eaten every last bite, she gave me the sweetest complement and asked for more! A bit stunned, I honestly didn’t know if I should be hurt or pleased!

Two things happened after that discovery.  One, cooking for Great Aunt became much easier.  The second was much more difficult for me – I began to deal with a pride issue I  had been unaware of. I have to admit, being brought up in  a home that made everything from scratch, it hurt my pride a bit to be in the grocery store buying a “TV Dinner”.  I self-consciously hoped I wouldn’t see anyone I knew!

How funny! I never would of guessed buying TV Dinner’s would be so hard!  It probably seems silly that it would bother me at all, but living in a small town at the time, we were known as the big family with lots of kids. It would be one thing if I only had to buy one or two boxed dinners, easily hiding them under some more nutritious groceries. Maybe no one would notice.  No, I was buying one to two weeks worth of instant dinners at one time.  Can you imagine how that fills a shopping cart? Especially since, just one meal often did not satisfy her growing appetite!   What went through people’s mind when they saw me coming? In my mind there was no doubt – “Look what she feeds her children!”

Looking back its easy to wonder why I even cared. But I did care.  Over time it mattered less. Let people think what they would. In truth, they probably didn’t even notice.

The biggest blow to my pride was the cold hard fact: Great Aunt much preferred TV Dinners to my cooking. Her meals became much easier, she gained a healthy amount of weight, and she was happy.

My Lessons in Grace With “Great Aunt”

18 Apr

This story covers a six year period in our family’s life.   For some time, I have intended to record it in written form.  Already being stretched in writing for Not Without Aim, I decided to reserve the first day of the week for this topic.  A little unsure of how many Mondays it may take… I will begin.

It had been an eventful spring. Three weeks before the birth of our eighth child, we closed on the sale of one home and on the purchase of another.  The same week this son was welcomed into the world, my much loved grandmother’s life ended. (She is worthy of another story on another day!)  It did not take us long to settle in to life on our hobby farm.  Enjoying our little chunk of land to the fullest, the garden was planted, ducks and chickens were wandering the yard, and fencing was put in place for goats and pigs.  We put every square inch of those few acres into use!

By mid summer one of our “Great Aunt’s” health began to decline.  She could no longer live alone and entered a health care facility.  She very much wanted to move in with us as soon as possible.  There was no question in our minds. Yes, of course, we would be honored to care for her.  In an attempt to make a wise decision, we tried to take all things into consideration. We weighed out the pros and cons.  Although the cons were apparent, our foremost desire was to care for her.  With the family’s support, we began to reorder our lives, again.

Our growing family of ten had already pushed the limits of our small house.  Either we would have to build an addition, or purchase a larger home.  Revisiting a place I had kept my eyes on over the last year, we found it not only for sale, but also vacant.  By Thanksgiving we had sold the “little” and we (and Great Aunt)  moved in to the “big.”

While we spent the morning moving in our own boxes, Mark picked up Great Aunt and all of her belongings.  By mid-afternoon, they had arrived.  As I considered her position, 8o some years old, never having had children of her own, twice uprooted in the last few months, and suddenly planted into an active large household, I knew it was essential to make her transition as easy as possible. More important than settling my own family, was to first get her settled. Working together, Great Aunt’s living room and bedroom began to take shape, filled with her own belongings.  She could not have been more thankful. We were pleased.

That day marked the beginning of “My Lessons in Grace With Great Aunt.”