If you’re caring for an aging parent, it’s possible to experience a special kind of loneliness. This is soulful work that you might do alone. Today I want to explore some of what that might mean for you. To encourage you, to remind you that you’re not alone and to help you find some comfort in your loving attention of a loved one.
First, this loneliness—however it’s described—is very real for you. Even if you’re not the only caregiver and you share necessary tasks with others, there may be frequent times when you feel isolated in your work. When you feel separated from your ordinary life, when your private moments with your mother or father sequester you away from others. On those occasions when there are just the two of you—parent and adult child—there is no one else who knows what you are doing. Right then, you’re the only one present, so you can’t share with others the entire responsibility for love and understanding. You may not be lonely in the classic sense of that term, but feelings of being separated, isolated, forsaken or withdrawn can still arise within you.
These emotions may weigh on you in ways you don’t recognize at first. You might be emotionally drained after a visit with your loved one. You could feel left out of the normal routines of life. You might notice your relational skills stretched to their limits. Or you could find yourself just a little off-kilter emotionally. Again, this is not as much loneliness as aloneness.
I know these feelings from the time Chris and I spent caring for my mother several years ago. We shared the caring tasks and helped make our mother’s later years satisfying for both her and us. Even though we knew that we were not ever truly alone in this work, there were those moments when the solitary nature of the care—together in profound moments—helped us fully understand intensely personal ministry of any kind.
One example stands out: Because my mother loved birds of all kinds, she was especially fond of an exquisite bird book—given to her by one of my brothers—that included the actual sounds of bird songs. We spent many days looking at the pictures and hearing the calls of those birds, both of us fondly recalling her experiences. Her enduring memories intertwined with her enduring love of the natural world—a lifelong reminder of the Creator’s loving hand in her life.
Chris and I also came to see the wonderful ways in which those soulful times brought both of us closer to our mother, closer to God. We realized that these solitary visits required—and brought out—our God-given gifts. In those alone times, the Spirit provided good reasons and ample time for appreciative thoughts about her character—her witness and her legacy. The visits became an oasis from the noisy busyness of the rest of life. There were no distractions as our mother’s small room became a sacred place. We could concentrate on what was and would be important in life. We could pray. We could find joy in small places that we might have overlooked in a larger group of caregivers.
Our mother? She prospered in the individualized care that came to her. In the skilled hands of staff at her assisted living facility. In Chris’ special relationship with her. Most importantly, she never felt alone, abandoned or outcast. In the presence of each solitary caregiver, her spirit thrived. Until the moment of her death, she was surrounded—one person at a time.
If your caring ministry for your loved ones includes some loneliness, accept this as part of what you have chosen to take on, an indispensable part of your lifework. Remember that times of aloneness can also be filled with God’s Spirit.
I wish you well in your sole soul caring…..