Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Caregiver Chronicles: The Four-Week Anniversary

Sam Wiley one Christmas morning a few years ago. 

Yesterday was the four-week anniversary of Sam moving to my house. As you may know, if you've been reading this blog for a while, Sam is my 87-year-old neighbor who's health is failing. He's on hospice now and isn't able to live alone anymore. 

You can read about his move here: When the Time to Move Finally Comes

I love that picture of Sam (above). He was still strong and active and enjoying life. His wife was still living, and he still laughed a lot. He still took his wife out to eat almost every week. He still joked with his coffee-drinking-buddies at the local store almost every day.

Life has changed, and he's not sure it's for the better. His parents, siblings, wife and most of his friends have left this earth for eternity. 

He misses the days of breaking horses, riding the tractor, fishing in the lake, and catching two fish with one cast. When he tells those stories, the things he loved come back to life again.

We're not just reviewing the past, however. We're looking toward the future. Earlier this week, Sam said something that took me by surprise. "I guess you know I'll be better off dead." For a moment, I thought he was depressed, but he wasn't. He was looking toward heaven. 

We paused for a few minutes and pondered all that's to come. Sam loves gospel music and, in heaven, there'll be the best music possible. Sam loves gardening, growing vegetables, and growing azaleas. In heaven, there'll be trees along the river of life with a different fruit every month. He misses his family and friends. In heaven, he'll have a happy reunion with the people he loves the most.

The funny and poignant stories I've written make it may sound like it's been a lovely four weeks. It has been a wonderful time, but it hasn't been easy. Someone asked me yesterday, "How do you do this?" 

My answer, "God called me to it. I'm just doing unto as I want to be done unto."

Sam's had sleepless nights after napping through the day, grief as his body continues to weaken, fear when he's confused, loneliness when he has fewer visitors than he hoped. 

I've had all those emotions along with him, plus a sense of isolation when I can't leave him alone and there's no one to sit with him a few hours, sore muscles from lifting a man a foot taller than I, uncertainty when hard decisions must be made and Sam can't help make them, grief that my way of life since 1989 has changed forever. 

There will never be another Sam. He always told me there would be, and I believed him because I wanted him to be right. I know now that Sam was wrong. 

Sam has the heart of a gentleman and the humility of a servant. He took delight in teaching me new skills. I learned to set a trotline, shoot a gun, and plant a garden from Sam. He took just as much delight in doing the dirty jobs he considered beneath a lady. He protected me, sometimes more than I wanted.

Until he had a subdural hematoma in 2004, I had never taken out my own garbage. I'd never mowed my own grass. Never driven the tractor. Never built a barbed wire fence. I'd rarely been to the feed store for myself and never unloaded hundreds of pounds of feed at a time.

After he had surgery, I had a crash-course in Sam-work. I'm a better woman for it, but I still miss the days when Sam served with such quiet joy.

It would be easy to miss the blessings of the past few weeks in the midst of everything that's been going on, but we're savoring those, too.

The body of Christ has surrounded us with care and assistance and the kind of food Sam loves. Our new hospice provider's staff has loved us, been patient with us, and made us feel both safe and optimistic. We have all the equipment we need, from bedside table to comfy recliner to electric hospital bed, and a good bit more. 

We have peace, hope, love. 

Not all our tears have been sad tears. We've had some happy tears, too. We rejoice when he can stand alone, change his clothes without assistance, eat a full meal. We're excited when he knows where he is and why. 

We still celebrate our victories.

You've journeyed with us, and we're grateful. You've encouraged us, given us hands-on assistance, and prayed us through. We couldn't have made it this far without you, and we're both eternally grateful. 

We have a ways to go, so I'm hoping you'll be patient as I write (far too often) about our trials and victories. I hope you'll read alternate topics when this part of my journey is too painful to write about. I hoping you'll celebrate with us and, when times are hard, I hope you'll weep with us.

Most of all, I'm hoping you'll keep us in your prayers. 

"Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2 ESV
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