My mum, Lenore Claire, coming up to her 92nd birthday, had a mini stroke 10 weeks ago that set in motion a spiral (ever downwards) of changes in her life – from overworked but determined provider and homemaker for my 94 year old dad, to a ‘client’ in a nursing home.
Mum has cared full-time for Derrick, the only man she ever loved, for around seven years; he has been increasingly dependent on her to be his eyes, his memory, his cook, cleaner and medical advisor.
Now all that has stopped. My parents have reluctantly moved to a nursing home in Canberra where they will be close to my sister. They have separate rooms so Mum has no direct role in Dad’s care and now relies on my wonderful sister for many decisions.
Mum has lost her daily routine of to-do lists and the security of her vital role, but she has also been freed from the 24/7 burden of keeping Dad alive.
With none of her daughters or grandchildren living in Sydney (how she must have talked to God about that!), my mother has missed out on weekly support – phone calls don’t quite replace popping in for a cuppa and a ride to the doctor’s. My parents also missed out on church community when they moved to a retirement village in their eighties and never made new church connections.
So what does married life look like now for a woman who wed at 21 in the post war era, and contributed three children to Australia’s baby boom?
Who never had paid work after she married 71 years ago but who volunteered in various vital ways to church life locally and across the state. Who cooked and cleaned with zeal (I found over 20 different cleaning products in the flat when we were clearing it).
She has certainly fulfilled her vow to love in sickness and health, for richer and poorer – mostly poorer! As Dad has grown frailer and his mind has grown weaker, Mum must be confused and all I can hope and pray for is that she will find comfort and strength in God and in the next generations of her family.
Written on a chart on the back of the door to her new “home”, she answered the question,
“What gives my life purpose and meaning?” with seven words: My family, going to visit my husband.
In Canberra, my sister and her daughter and grandsons will provide news, laughter and diversion for my mother. And though she still follows the machinations of Aussie politics on the nightly news, her world is now focussed on family.
We should have managed the process of Mum and Dad’s declining health more carefully so that changes happened with their full involvement, but few people I know have avoided some sort of trauma in caring for aged parents (and mum and dad have been rather stubborn!) But that word ‘care’ is obviously key. How blessed we are to have a family that works together and has the capacity to give time and love.
I know Mum prays for us all each day – may her prayers be powerful to bring hope and meaning to the very different lives of her three daughters, five grandchildren and 4.9 great-grandchildren. And may she, like Anna in Luke Chapter 2, rejoice in her legacy of service, knowing she is a daughter of the King.