All posts in Elderly Parents

I Tuck My Mom In


“All night, all day,

Angels watching over me, my Lord.

All night, all day,

Angels watching over me.”

I remember the warm nights at camp in Kansas City. Perhaps nine years old, we sang that song each evening after our night meeting.

It comforted me.

You know, nine years old at camp by yourself without your mom–anything could happen.

But somehow knowing angels kept tabs of my whereabouts helped me sleep better.

As I sang those words last night, the scenario had changed drastically. This time I leaned over Mom’s hospital bed comforting her.

She’s 94 now. Her skin is breaking down, she often forgets what she’s talking about–can’t seem to retrieve words from her brain–and needs two people to help her walk. When she can walk.

But at night, when the lights are low, I cover her paper-thin hand with mine and we sing. I carry the tune while her raspy voice drops an octave sometimes creating a kooky harmony. It sounds perfect to me.

Mom and I have never been friends like I’m friends with my daughter, but I knew she’d always be there when I needed her.

Like the time I was three years old and rode double with my older sister, Paulette. I remember wondering what it would feel like to stick my foot in the spokes of the bicycle.

I did. Mom rushed me to the hospital, scolding my sister all the way. (Really, at that time she should have had me committed.)

Before I birthed Sarah, mom came. And stayed. And stayed. Sarah refused to come out.

Finally, Mom flew home.

Sarah decided to make an appearance and within a matter of minutes, I was prepped for a cesarian.

“Call Mom!” I shouted to Tom as they wheeled me into the operating room.

She came. I knew she would.

So last night, we sang. And tonight we will sing.

And the angels will smile.



Wisdom from My Mother

It had been one of those terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad, days and I was contemplating a move to Australia.

The farming, marketing, processing, and livestocking was about to kill me. Not to mention the fact I’m still a wife, homemaker, daughter, and church member. Everyday I got up looked at my list, checked it off and just like Pinocchio’s nose, when I got up the next morning it grew.

So a few weeks ago, after I’d had an especially taxing morning, I pushed Mom onto our front porch. We gazed over the 10 acre field dotted with colored leaves. My heart churned with anxiety and ungratefulness.

I glanced at Mom in her wheelchair. At 94, her life consists of eating, sleeping, watching TV, and reading when her eyes allow. She is dependent on caregivers to aid her in bathing, walking, and toiletry. Sometimes she gets out once a week and sometimes she doesn’t.

I had a thought. Maybe I could do one thing right. I’d try to be a better daughter and caregiver. “Mom, if you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?” I calculated the extensive list of circumstances and people I’d change.

Without missing a beat she replied. “Not a thing.”

I couldn’t believe it. “You mean you can’t think of anything you would change about your situation.?” I observed her worn face with skin that is breaking down.

“No, not really.”

I hadn’t even asked her for advice, yet her simple words spoke volumes. My eyes watered. My heart bowed low.

I say I believe in the sovereignty of God, but I’d been living like I’m the sovereign one.

Like Moses, I’m in a desert place. A place where I have to be dependent on God. Not my friends, not my church, not my family, but on Him. It’s a hard place to be.

Years ago, I studied the book of Isaiah and claimed a verse as my own.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Is. 30:15.

I repented. And I’m trying to rest. Not work but trust. I need to talk less and pray more.

It’s a hard place to be, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Besides, who wants to move to Australia?



Caregiving, the Second Time

At first I thought she had the mumps. Even though I’ve never had them (are they plural) and I didn’t know what they were. All I knew is that my 90-year-old mama’s neck was swollen just behind her left ear.

It came on all of a sudden. Thursday night I noticed some swelling, Friday morning she looked like a linebacker. But just on one side. I called the doctor.

Our doctor of fifteen-plus-years scrutinized Mom.

“I’m not sure if it is an infection from her teeth or from her glands and there is no way to tell unless we do a CT scan of her neck.” He poked and prodded a little more, eyebrows knit together, mouth tight.

“I’m going to give her a strong antibiotic that she is to take four times a day. If she’s not better by Monday, I’ll do a direct admit.” He paused, watching Mom as she sat with eyes closed, warm hand on her face. “If you have any problem over the weekend, call me. I’m on duty and we can admit her then.”

I thanked the doctor, found my friend Miriam waiting in the lobby, and we left.

Miriam insisted on accompanying me since Mom was weak. Two umbrellas guarding Mom, we sloshed through puddles and arrived at the van through a downpour. Mom was dry. We were soaked.

Mom weakened on the trip home. It took both Miriam and me plus my strong husband to usher my mother into bed. And that’s where she stayed for a few days.

I’d forgotten what it was like to care for someone who was helpless. Dad lived with us for over five years, losing both legs to diabetes. Charles cared for him most of the time. But I took turns, too. But not with Mom. Her illness scared me.

It scared me because I realized that her life–my life, is fragile. It scared me because I might lose some freedom that I’d gained after Dad went to heaven.

She gained strength by Sunday. She walked to the bathroom unaided. She spoke in audible sentences. I thought she was on the road to recovery. We talked about it.

“Pauline, why don’t you go to church. I’ll be all right.”

“You’ll stay in bed, right Mom? It would be dangerous for you to try and walk around.” She agreed.

Near the end of church I noticed that she’d called. “Mom, what’s the matter?”

Inaudible noise. “Come home.”

When I arrived home, she was sitting in the family room, trying to call me again. I lost it.

“Mom. Why are you walking around! You told me you were going to stay in bed, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone to church!”

She looked pained. Then she told me about the horse that had a bad leg and all the chickens loose in the house, and the choir ladies who were waiting to rehearse. I knew from past experiences with both my parents that it wasn’t dementia, it was just the infection. Both of them hallucinate when they run a fever.

Guilt. How could I have left her? What must it feel like to see things that scare you with no one to help? Why did I yell?

Fear. Fear of change. Fear of loss.

She’s better. A few days ago, I had a hair appointment.

“Anything you need before I go, Mom? I might run a few errands after that.” She said she was fine. Then she added, “Come right home.”

“Why, Mom? You’re all settled. Is there something that you need?”

She didn’t answer. Then as I left the room, I heard her response. It was barely audible.

“When you’re here, I feel safe.”

I came right home.

Monday’s Musings-A Caregiver’s Walk

“What should I get her?” asked my friend.

“I don’t know, she doesn’t need anything. She said she’d take money.”

“Of course she will. That is so your mom!” Miriam chuckled.

After we hung up, I wondered the same thing. What do you give someone who is turning 90?

This Saturday, my little mama will reach that milestone.

Born on September 4, 1920 on a homestead in Colorado Springs, Mom was one of six children. Their father—my grandfather was a Romanian man who traveled to this country by himself when he was 12 years old. He worked hard, married well, and tried homesteading. After a few years that didn’t work, so he took a job in Detroit and that is where my mother, Pauline Botu grew up.

She married my dad and had 48 of the best years of her life. (48 out of 59 ain’t bad, according to my father.) He died a few years ago, so now it’s just mom. She lives with my husband, my son, and me.

She frets because she can’t help. I assure her that she worked hard for several years, so her job is to pray. And she does.

So we’re going to have a party. A tribute to Mom. There will be a lot of good food and great friends. We’ll say all the things that we’d say at her funeral, but we just want to say them now.

My husband Tom is going to do ‘A Top 10 Things I Like About My Mother-in-Law.’ Number 10 is that she pays rent. (He’s considered billing me.) I know that a few of those top ten will have to do with the fact that my mom is a sports nut. She encouraged me to love football and baseball. For a few years, I even cheered for ‘the cubbies’ because of her.

“Just pick a team and root for it!” she told me when I complained about Tom watching too much football. I took her advice. I may gone overboard, because now I watch reruns of football games and think ESPN commercials are hilarious.

What do I give someone who loved me when I was unlovable? Who stood by me when I made lots of bad choices? Who cares even now when I get a cold? How do I measure the strong, simple faith that she exemplified to me and my sisters?

The answer is nothing that I could give her could repay all that she’s done for me. Which is really all that the gospel is about. Being unable to pay an insurmountable debt. Grace, pure grace.

But I could give her a gift. Like living my faith out in order to show Jesus to my almost-grown-children. That is a gift that reaps eternal rewards.

Something tangible that I might give her is to watch an entire ballgame in her room. We’ve switched to the Tampa Bay Rays because we were tired of losing.

And if that doesn’t please her, I could always give her cash.

A Caregiver’s Walk-Monday’s Musings

I received three Mother’s Day Cards this year. Two from my adult children, and one from my mom. She thanked me for being a good mother. I saved it.

Whenever we go places, she introduces me as her mother. That role now belongs to me. I remind her to change her Depends. I take care of her money. I make appointments. I arrange her birthday parties. I guess that qualifies me to be her mom. And we’re both okay with that.

So when my daughter visited us in between semesters at college and mentioned that Grandma commented on how I never went into her room, it bothered me. All day.

Most mornings were taken up with writing, straightening, house management and family business stuff. Many afternoons, I work out of my house until dinner time, shipping software for a transcription company. Then there is a rush dinner to prepare. Plus, I’m involved in two Bible studies and I do have a husband.

Although, I oversee Mom’s care and do most nights and afternoons myself, other caregivers take her to appointments, give her showers and fix some meals. So this morning, I decided to have quality time with my 89-year-old daughter.

Martha Stewart blared on the TV as I entered Mom’s room. She was sleeping. I waited and watched as you would a child, until she awakened.

“Hey, Mom. Thought I’d watch the show with you.” Climbing into her hospital bed, I relaxed. I knew that I had writing deadlines, but this was important, too. She lounged in her green, lift-chair. We offered our opinions on the wedding attire fashion show, gasping at $650 pants that Martha thought were affordable. We remarked at the number and length of commercials. We admired the home made wedding pedestal cake.

Then, I left. I’ll never be sorry that I took a few minutes to watch a show with Mom, but I’m sure that I’d have regrets if I didn’t.

It’s hard to find that balance between caregiving and taking care of yourself and your family. It’s taken several years and many emotional conversations to come up with our plan. And just because you come up with a plan, doesn’t mean it will work a few months from now. There is always room for re-evaluation and balance.

I thought of how I home schooled my two children for 9 years. Even though I taught them daily, I was too busy. If there were one thing I would have done differently, it would be to sit down and enjoy them more often.

So I did that today with my mom. And we both decided against the $650 pants.