Thursday, September 17, 2009

Called to Care

When you are called to care you can do it any number of ways. You can do it with the attitude of the the inevitable, you can do it under the compulsion of love, or you can do it with the look-at-me mindset of the minimalist.
Some of us choose to have a ready heart and look to be called. Others never knew they had a heart that could answer a call until they were surprised and overwhelmed by a situation. Still others hear a call but choose to ignore it, leaving it to other more capable hands. Sometimes the call is by design because of who you are and the family you were born into. You will respond to that call as if you were born to the task – because you were.
Such was my case in the call of caring for my own loved ones.
Probably, most likely, with rare exception, you will have to answer a similar call. You will be called on to care for family – in sickness, in tragedy, in death, in life … and you will be one of the ones who will make a difference. You’ll be a decision maker, an advocate, a supporter, an encourager. You will find inner strength and hidden talents. You will discover a ‘you’ that you never knew could stand up to this kind of pressure, deal with circumstances that are mind-boggling on a normal day – and you will find that normal days were a figment of someone’s imagination. You will know exhaustion in its purest form and at times it will be a daily companion. You will find strength from unexpected sources and support will be all around … if you’re not too proud to ask and accept.
I mentioned already that as a ‘budding baby boomer’ I came to the conclusion that I would be eventually be involved in the care of my parents and my Downs Syndrome sister. It was at least 10 years prior to any active necessary involvement that our healthy, of sound mind parents called a family pow-wow to discuss their future. This was a meeting with the two of us sisters and our spouses – so, it was six of us sitting down to decide momentous options of the final years of the lives of these three individuals. It wasn’t an emotional time of pain, regret or remorse – it was an emotional time of compassion, strength, and focus. Our parents came prepared. They had living wills, they had predetermined power-of-attorney, custody of Jonell, they had the funeral arrangements and insurance set up.
Although no one wants to discuss his or her death or the months leading up to that final chapter of life, because it is inevitable, it is probably wise to prepare not only yourself but those who will be involved in all of that. With this discussion comes peace and a sense of well-being – also, a sense of control in like being able to direct the moves of this last Final Act of the Story of Your Life.
Granted, none of us ever knows the ultimate unfolding of those last months and days. It could be scary and daunting anticipating the future or you can trust that you did your best to prepare. Still intimidating, maybe, but it does help to know that when you are to a point of not being able to ‘call the shots’, someone you love, who loves you, is in your corner, looking out for your best interest.
The story for our Dad, then our Mom and finally our precious Jonell were unique and independent of each other – with Dad we knew so little about all that was going on but we asked questions and stayed on top of all he was experiencing. We learned a lot about advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease and Scleroderma. We learned how to be comfortable with home therapists and eventually, palliative care. With Mom we learned much about Alzheimer’s and Dementia and broken hips and hip replacement, rehab hospitals and hospice care. With Jonell we kept learning – now about diminishing skills – motor, social and communication. We knew when to call in hospice for help. We learned about oxygen in the home and the turnover of and adjustment to home health care.
In each story we learned how to call upon on our individual strengths and talents. I am so different from my older sister. She is capable of many things I am weak in. I am strong in other areas and so we found our roles and adapted to them. In love, we cooperated and got through these years in a marvelous way … growing in love for our own special family and being honored to be doing just what we were called on to do.
You just do what you gotta do – with love and joy and peace and well-being and pride. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. You ultimately believe you were born for just a time as this. You realize that the end of one story begins another and for this next unfolding you are better prepared, more equipped to handle life. You realize you can never be adequate, never be totally prepared but you know with confidence, that you can give it all you’ve got and you will be fine. Your best will get the job done.
Life, you gotta love it.
As mentioned before, there are lots of ‘calls’ in life. No doubt we are called on every single day to make a difference in some way or another. Our family should be number one. Listen to their needs and act like family. Be there when the times come that you are needed. But in addition to our physical family, there are those whose family can’t help and they are calling – even when no one hears. There are times in life when you come across someone who has no voice – or at least, their voice can’t be heard above the racket of materialism and greed. Can you hear them?
There are a few folks who don’t turn a deaf ear. They choose to have hearts of compassion. If I could, I would sing rhapsody of praise and recognition to these folks that choose to make a difference. Here’s kudos to a few people I love who chose to listen to and answer a call they heard – Michael and Jennifer, Marc and Terri, Karen and Dorian, Jennifer, Mark and Lori. Actually, I am so blessed – I know so many others … and my heart is richer because of it.

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