Being a Caregiver

“Treat your parents with loving care . . . for you will only know their value when you see their empty chair.”

I Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Ephesians 6:2 “Honor you father and mother,” this is the first commandment with a promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

Sara Ellen Cox Westmoreland: my mother, my role model, the most loving grandmother, and great-grandmother, and now she walks in her heavenly home with Jesus. She is missed! This is not an easy post to write because the memories are already pouring through, but I feel God is calling me to write this as encouragement to others who may be living the role of caregiver to your parents. It is not an easy role, but it is a rewarding and worthy role.

My mother passed away in July of 2017. The six years prior to her death, she lived with me and my husband. My mother was very independent and very smart, moving in with her daughter was not something she thought she would ever have to do, but after a stroke we felt it was the best thing for her. A nursing home was not an option. In 2011, mother and her precious Chihuahua, Taki Bella, moved in with Steve and I, and forever after our lives were changed, yet enriched by her presence.

Routines change. Daily life changes. I Corinthians 16: 13-14 tells us to “Watch, stand fast in faith. Be brave, be strong, let all that you do be done in love.” While my mother never thought she would need to move in with one of her children, I never really thought about her moving in with us and being available to take care of her every day. Little did I know that her presence in my house for six years would give me so many wonderful memories to hold onto now that she is no longer with us.

I do not want to talk about the stress that is a part of being a caregiver. That is different for each family and each caregiver. Your role as a caregiver will not always be easy, but then it was not always easy for our parents to raise us. I am sure there were days when they were stressed and worried about your welfare, finances, health, and so much more. What I hoped to offer is encouragement to those who may find themselves in this role. I just want to remind you that each day you have with your parent is one more day filled with memories that you will hold onto for years to come. “To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.” Tia Walker

One of our first commandments is to “Honor your father and mother.” I cannot think of a more rewarding way to honor your parents than to take care of them the way they took care of you during our childhood and teenage years. Personally, I know I was not an easy child or teenager, and my mother had the patience of an angel on her earthly walk to deal with me every day. Yet, she did! She was always there! She was there through the good and the bad, and she listened and loved through all of it. How could I not do the same for her when she needed me.

Our new normal involved doctor’s visit, medicine management, insulin shots, and so much more. Laughter, music, teasing between her and Steve, a beautiful relationship that grew between her and my grandsons, someone else to love my fur babies, thoughtful conversations, and did I say laughter? I wish I had the time, and you had the patience to read through every quick-witted moment with my mother, but there were just too many. Here are just a few of those very precious moments that I would not trade for anything.

September 14, 2013 “On the flip side of my Saturday morning, my mother and Steve are carrying on their own conversation. Mother asks if there is anything she can help with today (bless her heart, she always wants to help), Steve says, “Sure, how about going outside and work on closing up the pool.” My mother in her quickness, says “sure can I push you in first?” She is so quick with those come backs.

October 2, 2013 “I just love my mother! While watching TV tonight, the contestant on X-factor says he has the sweetest wife in the world. Steve says, “No way, I have the sweetest wife in the world.” My mother with another one of her quick come backs says, “Well, you are just doubly lucky then, because you have the sweetest mother-in-law in the world too!” Surprise, surprise! Steve got absolutely quiet!”

September 5, 2015 “So, mother, Steve, and I go to K&W for supper tonight. When you get to the register, they will ring the bell if someone needs help getting their tray to the table, so they rang the bell for us since mother has a cane and so does Steve. The waitress comes and gets mother’s tray and I follow behind them. She puts mother’s food on the table, and turns around and looks at me and says, “I’ll go get your daddy’s food now for him.” Mother and I just about lost it. So, when Steve gets to the table we tell him what the waitress says, and then mother adds, “Okay Steve, how am I going to get a boyfriend if everybody thinks we are together and Lynne is our daughter?” I truly busted out laughing. I just love her quick wit and sense of humor. Katelyn Murrell, I wish you had been here. It was hilarious!”

But you see it was not just her laughter and quick wit that I will always cherish, it was the lessons she taught us and the relationships that grew from her presence in our house for those six years. Yes, there were tears and frustrating moments, but I do not remember those. I remember and feel blessed in the laughter, the quick wit, the lessons, the relationships, and the memories.

My two grandsons will be forever blessed for having her in their lives for those six years. They genuinely loved their Grandmami Sara, and they will always remember her. She went to their ball games, school plays, birthday parties, but even more she sat with them when they were at our house. She danced with them, played with them, and most important she loved them the way only a great-grandmother can love her youngest great-grandchildren. After her death, our youngest grandson was asked to draw an illustration and write a story about one of their fondest memories. Cooper drew a picture of him with Grandmami Sara, in her room, jumping on her bed, and watching Clemson play football. That moment can never be replaced. That moment would not have happened if mother had not been living with us. Some days I think she was more my caregiver than I was hers. She never stopped caring for and loving her family.

There is a familiar joke in our family among the girls about the word ‘fine’. You see we always knew if mother was not happy about what we were wearing she would simply respond, “That is fine.” There was just something in the way she said it, you knew she was not happy. When mother moved in with us, those three words were still spoken often. To this day, when I get dressed, I can still hear saying those words and I have been known to change on several occasions, and I never regret the change because she was always right. She was the epitome of the Southern Lady. She knew how to dress for every occasion, she knew how to set a table, and she was an incredible hostess and cook. I learned so much from just observing her, but when she moved in with us her presence was even more valued than before.

My mother loved words, reading, and history. She loved God. She loved our country. These things were evident in every facet of her life. She would come to my classroom and share stories with my students of The Great Depression, WWII, and so much more. She would join my summer book clubs with my students, read with them, and discuss the books. She grew up in the mill villages of Greenville, SC and she had so much history to offer anyone willing to listen. She was a phenomenal storyteller. My love for words, reading, and history came from her inspiration.

In closing, a few years ago my husband and I decided to renovate his childhood home and move to the neighborhood where he grew up, yet it just so happens it was in the area my mother grew up also. The move was beneficial for me because our first house was huge, and the yardwork was very demanding. Trying to take care of mother, Steve, the house, and the yard was draining. The move was beneficial for my mother because it took her back to days gone by, filled with love and memories. It was another one of those wonderful periods of time that I will always cherish. After we moved, I wrote a tribute to my mother that I would like to share now.

Tonight, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting about life through my mother’s eyes, heart, and memories. She amazes me every day with her ability to recover memories from days gone by.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers every house and street they lived on while she was a child in a blended family.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers the stores she went to as a child, the streets she walked with her step-father (my Papa), and the businesses they frequented as a child.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers every mill they worked at during the 1930s and 1940s.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers Pearl Harbor, the day the USA entered WWII, and the day the war was over.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she still remembers every song sung and played at the piano, every message learned through a Southern-Gospel song, sung, and played at the piano in our living room, growing up in Burlington, NC.

She remembers what she was doing with her sisters when they announced WWII was over. She remembers walking down Main Street, Greenville, SC and celebrating when it was announced the war was over.

Through her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers graduating from Parker High School the same year WWII was over.

She remembers what Greenville, Main Street, USA looked like in the 30s and 40s.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers marrying the love of her life, starting a family, and moving to North Carolina.

She remembers the nervousness in being alone, yet meeting new people who would become lifelong friends – the Tilleys, the Hearnes, the Glenns, the Morrises, the Tylers, the Chandlers, the Allisons, and so many more.

In her eyes, her heart, and her memories, she remembers the sadness, the happiness, and the fear of times that families go through to show their strength and their faith in God.

She still remembers lessons learned, respect earned, and lessons taught through her parents, from friends, and from family members while she was growing up and becoming an adult.

Through her eyes, her heart, and her memories she still remembers the heartache of a cherished son-in-law lost through tragic circumstances, another one lost through cancer, and a daughter-in-law lost through divorce. She still remembers the heartache and the love gained through all these experiences.

Yet, through it all. Through all she has lived, loved, and lost, she is the one who remains the strength, the grace, the poise, and the measure the rest of us should live by.

My God is an incredible God, but my mother is the best! At age 87, she still insists on going to every baseball game, play, musical performance of every grandchild, great-grandchild, step-grandchild, and so forth, not for herself, but so those around her and those that are a part of her life, do not have to grow up wondering and thinking about whether or not they matter to someone else.

We can learn and experience so much from the ones who learned and experienced from the best years of their lives! What examples our older generations set for the rest of us!

Caregivers know that your love and care of your parents is of the highest honor! Cherish the moments that make you smile, that make you laugh, and even the ones that make you cry. You will have all those memories to hold onto when they are gone. Nothing can wipe away your memories and the moments you shared with them.

Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous for the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go.” He will be with you every moment, every smile and tear, and every frustration and success.

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