The Beatles said it best: “All you need is love.”
There is good reason to believe that spirituality and love improve seniors’ quality of life. They give them hope, companionship, support and a sense of purpose.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken to social media to share my parents’ sappiness (how loving and romantic they have been toward each other). It’s been both beautiful and slightly uncomfortable to watch. It’s uncomfortable because they are my parents — and who really wants to see their parents being romantic?
However, after reading several of the comments on my social media posts mentioning the sweetness in my parents’ gestures and suggesting that I write another book telling their love story, I paused to soak it all in. I’m still pondering the suggestion while I reluctantly acknowledge that my parents’ love is especially beautiful now during the winter of their lives.
At 81 and 83 years old, respectively, my parents, who suffer from dementia, have trouble remembering recent facts and events but have never forgotten us or each other. They depend on each other in a special way I had not fully understood until recently.
Momma and daddy are away from each other now and have been for a few weeks because momma broke her hip, had surgery and is in a rehabilitation facility. They miss each other terribly and are always asking about each other. We take daddy to visit momma every few days and frequently must remind him of what happened. Every time we tell him or make him pause to absorb it, he gasps and shakes his head in deep concern for his “honey,” as if hearing it for the first time. He often follows up with, “We will pray for her.”
As we navigate caring for them separately, ensuring they visit often and communicate regularly, I am reminded of the power of love and its importance to the healing process. Momma perks up, sits up straighter, and her disposition quickly improves when daddy walks into her room. Daddy gets a little pep in his step, immediately kisses her and verbally affirms his love for her when he enters and departs.
The love they display is not the love we remember seeing them share while growing up.
My parents have taught us so much over our lifetimes and continue to teach us today, even in their fragile state. They are educating us about true love – the kind that stands the test of time, heals wounds and soothes hearts. Their story is the perfect love story filled with the imperfections of human beings who are living and learning.
I recognize now more than ever that love has sustained them through ups and downs, most of which my brother and I never saw or heard.
The unconditional love that my parents have shared with each other and their children over 56 years of marriage has made this caregiving, journey one worth traveling. Our love for one another keeps us going when we are exhausted, encourages understanding when crankiness and uncooperativeness creep in and reminds us to be patient kind, and forgiving to one another, even when we are frustrated. The love we reciprocate to our parents as caregivers is what we observed and received from them as they raised us.
Love is an essential ingredient to caregiving, which can sometimes become routine and business-like. Caregivers must love those they care for, even if they are not their own family. A good amount of compassion and kindness helps those being cared for feel their dignity and worth, which makes them respond more positively to the care they receive.
Caregiving is a special journey. Some view it as a privilege while others consider it a burden. While it is, in fact, difficult on many levels, I accept the journey with pride. I am honored to care for such loving and spiritual parents. I realize, however, that not every caregiver feels the same or has had the same experiences.
Even if you are not on a caregiving journey at this point in life, start now. Celebrate the small things that are important to your loved ones so when they are older and unable to remember new things or do for themselves, they can be comforted by those precious memories.
There are times when caregiving will be extremely difficult to manage. Be loving, kind and patient as much as possible through those challenges. Pause, collect yourself and try to give your best because those you care for will feel your energy and respond accordingly.
As St. Paul tells us, love is patient and kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. So, always bring plenty of love into your caregiving journey.
Dr. Tracy Daniel-Hardy is the author of “The Adventures of Butch and Ruby: Chronicles of a Caregiver” and director of technology for Gulfport School District. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.