The good you do is never wasted – do you know that?

I was sitting next to Mum this afternoon, and she was sound asleep. Not just dozing, but sleeping deeply, so deeply I could not rouse her.

You know how sometimes your thoughts run away from you, and you start to think the worst? That’s what happened to me. When Mum was in this deep sleep, I started wondering whether there was something wrong, and whether Mum was unravelling quicker than we thought, and whether this was how it was going to be, and how would Dad manage it all. And just for a moment I was lost in one disturbing thought: “has it all just come to this? Isn’t it all a bit of a waste?”

It was only a moment, but I had used the word. Or thought it. And it was the word “waste” that bothered me. I have to say, I’m not proud about the fact that this word entered my head. But just for a moment it was my reality.

It shouldn’t be. Because even though Mum is not well, and she’s going through some enormous changes, ‘waste’ is a word that should never enter the picture.

Shirley Anne Groenenboom is a great mother and a faithful wife. Along with husband Cor she raised four healthy and exceptionally well adjusted children. This she did in circumstances that were far from ideal.

Mum and daughter Jenny, on the step of the family home in Portland, NSW

There were plenty of people doing it way tougher than our family, there always are, and always will be. That does not invalidate any of the challenges Mum and Dad faced in the 50s and 60s. Mum was a teacher, and worked incredibly long hours. She was always up early marking work, and always up late preparing for the next day. I don’t know how she sustained that.

If you know a full time teacher who has a great social life, and watches TV or engages in leisure pursuits every night, you need to know they are not pulling their weight

For this reason I have never been able to understand people who think teachers have it easy. I am the son of a teacher, my sister is a teacher, and I am married to a teacher. And I can tell you: they work incredibly hard. They are worth every cent they are paid, and they fully deserve every day of leave they receive. Probably more. If you know a full time teacher who has a great social life, and watches TV or engages in leisure pursuits every night, you need to know they are not pulling their weight. Just saying.

Mum, graduating from Bathurst High School

Over the years, Mum has taught people who are now fine builders in Brisbane. She has taught people who are now great pastors in good churches. She has worked and served in church communities. She has written stories for children in a church magazine. She has been a great friend for people going through tough times. She has built a legacy of warm friendship, passionate following of Jesus, and high standards of education. With husband Cor she has raised four children to follow Jesus and who seek to make a real difference in his world. The good you do is never wasted. Not ever.

One day, assuming we do not meet with accident or illness, we will all grow old. The events of the last few days tell me that process can be debilitating and confronting. I don’t think it’s overstating things to say it that way. But the things you do to make a difference in the lives of others are never wasted. They can be normal, everyday things. Just doing your job. Just teaching the class. Just trying to connect with someone who does not want to cooperate. And guess what? You can be frustrated, irritated, angered, and feel like knocking some heads together. But the good you do is never wasted, no matter how hard it gets.

And why? Because it matters to God and he works through it all. Check out Isaiah 55:8-11.

Q: have you ever felt like giving up? Ever thought what you were doing was a waste? How did you deal with that Leave a comment and let us know…

Grace and peace: Dave

Location:Boundary Rd,Cobden,Australia

So hard to watch: coming to terms with your own limitations

Today was not the best day. It turns out that Mum did not sleep too well. To be expected, really. It was her first night in Lovely Banks. The bed will be different. She will wake up to different surroundings. She will wake up tired. And all of that will compound to add to her confusion.

Old man and woman on a bench watching the sunset, watercolour by Erin Groenenboom

Dad and I visited at about 10:00am, and briefly spoke of our plans for the day. We would travel to Warrnambool, organise a phone, and maybe look at a few things Dad needed, and then make our way back to Cobden. Then there was a lamb roast to be cooked, and I was goIng to season and bake the potatoes and pumpkin.

We made the trip to Warrnambool, and finally made it back to see mum at about 3:30pm. By that time, however, it was clear her disrupted night’s sleep was taking it’s toll. She was rambling a little, and confusing her feeling
ill at lunchtime with having to go for a long walk away from home and thinking she was going to ‘croak’.

I made it back a second time to find that Mum was even more confused by that time. We watched as Mum rang the buzzer to go to the toilet. The carers came, lifted Mum to her feet, and took her to the toilet. Jo remarked “up to yesterday, we would have been doing that, or Dad would have been doing that, and I’m so glad we don’t have to anymore.” It’s not that we couldn’t be bothered, or that we felt the task was beneath us. I think Jo captured it when she put it in terms of being broken.

Love always has a cost. And for Dad and Jo, the cost was knowing that they had reached the limit of what they could do. The cost was realising that loving Mum meant they had to provide a level of care that they could no longer deliver. We struggled to accept the limits of our own love.

We struggled to answer Mum when she asked why she could not go with us, why we could not help her up, and why Jo and I were the only ones who were ‘allowed out’. We bit our lip as Mum came to terms with her reality as best she could…

“Can we get out? Can we leave now? Are you and Jo the only ones who can leave? Do I have to stay here by myself, then? On my own?”

“Yes Mum, you need to stay here, and Jo and I have to go. We have to be home by seven. The nurses will come and help you get changed. No, Mum, we cannot do that, they do, that’s what they are here for…”

In that moment, I remembered that as a young father, I occasionally had to leave our second youngest, Melody, at day care. She would be crying, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”, pleading for me not to walk away. But I did. I walked away and left her in day care. It was about the hardest thing I had to do.

…we just have to walk away. We have to go, and now

This afternoon I remembered that experience. When Mum was questioning why we could leave, and why she couldn’t. I made eye contact with Jo and mouthed the words, “we just have to walk away. We have to go, and now.” I knew the longer we stayed, the harder it would be to leave. So we kissed Mum on the forehead, and said we’d we there tomorrow. And then we walked away.

Grace and peace: Dave

One small step for Mum & Dad, one huge step for love

Mum normally does not get going until about 8 or 8:30. Today, she was up well before that. Probably around 6:30am. When i asked why she was up so early, she said it was because something big was going to happen that day. And again I am reminded that Mum is fully aware of what this day will bring.

Mum & Dad, walking into Lovely Banks in Cobden

We’ve talked about that, my sisters and I. We’ve often wondered whether Mum really has a complete understanding of what is happening. I mean, how do you just move away from your husband of 57 years? How do you leave your family home? How do you just walk into a place like Lovely Banks, knowing it will be your last move before you die? How do you do any of that without breaking down, or worse, throwing a tantrum and digging your heels in?

Mum & Dad, December 19, 1953 married at the Leigh Memorial Church, Lithgow, NSW

I can think of two reasons. The first is that even though Mum is suffering her delusional fantasies, and she sometimes has trouble interpreting reality, she has enough of a handle on what’s going on to know that she needs this level of care. The second is that she knows Dad can’t be here carer anymore. Dad has chronic back pain, and so the lifting, the care, the pure and simple everyday being there was just getting the better of him. It was nothing for him to be up two or sometimes three times a night helping the disoriented love of his life to the toilet and back to bed again.

Settling in. The wonderful staff take Mum and Dad through some basics.

Dad told me tonight that this afternoon he has asked Mum, “You know why this was necessary, don’t you?” and Mum had said “Yes, because we couldn’t go on doing what we were doing anymore.” Some nights, Dad only had three hours of sleep. If even young guys have trouble coping with that, we can understand a 78 year old will never be able to manage it..

I think this says a lot about the love that Mum & Dad have for each other. Love is not doing what you want. If it was, Mum would still be home, irrespective of what harm it brought her and Dad. But that is not what love is. Love is a decision. Often and joyous one, but sometimes a painful one: to deny yourself, your wants, your comforts, and to consciously and selflessly do what the other person needs. So, as hard as it is, Mum decided that she had to make the move. That level of maturity, and that depth of love, is inspirational.

It’s a divine decision. It’s the sort of decision Jesus made, when he turned his back on his glory and made himself nothing for us. He denied his own wants and comforts, and instead he consciously and selflessly did what others needed.

Mum’s new room on Day 1

So we lie down in our beds tonight. Dad is alone in his room. Mum is alone in hers. And there is love. And there is peace. And we are thankful that God has led us through this day.

Have a read of Psalm 91. It’s brilliant!

Q: What do you think about love being defined as self denial and a decision to serve the other? is this actually doable? Leave a comment…

Grace and peace: Dave

Moving Mum

Want to know what it’s like to check your Mum into full care? I don’t know either, but one thing’s for sure: I am about to find out…

I am on a flight from Brisbane to Melbourne. This will be followed by a two and half hour drive to Victoria’s western district. Tonight I will stay at my parents’ home. It will be the last night Mum and Dad will spend together in their family home. I don’t think the momentous nature of this change has settled on us just yet.

Mum, March 2010

So, it all started about three months ago. I was visiting Mum and Dad on one of my ‘flying visits’: quick mid week jaunts where I would stay over with them for two nights and then return home. Mum, Dad and I were to go next door to have tea with my sister Jo and her husband Fred. Jo was picking up some tea on the way home from work. So here we are, waiting in my parent’s lounge room, and Mum simply said “Do you think Jo will have enough food for all these people?” The phrase “all these people” took me by surprise: there were only the three of us in the room, and with Jo and Fred, that still only came to five.

“What do you mean, ‘all these people, Mum?’ There are only three of us, and then Jo and Fred” I said.

Mum gave me a bit of an odd look. Like she knew I was right, but also that there was some other reality invading hers…

I don’t think the momentous nature of this change has settled on us just yet.

Chatting with Jo later that night I learned that these ‘visions’ had been happening from time to time.

Then, two weeks later, I called Mum to see how she and Dad were going. Mum asked me whether I had heard what had happened earlier that morning. I hadn’t. So she told me: mum explained how that morning she had fainted, and she thought she had died, and that some people revived her, but now everything was OK. Or so her story went.

Since that time there have been a good number of other stories, all with a similar cast of other people. For some reason, they all seem to be dressed in black. We have come to call these people ‘the men in black’. These apparently benign and everpresent figures are very real to Mum. The problem is they are not real to anyone else who might be present at the time…

At this point, we have learned not to challenge the existence of the Men in Black, or anything else that Mum may “see”. Instead, we have decided to explore Mum’s experiences with her. We ask her what the Men in Black are doing, or what they are saying. I think this has helped ‘normalise’ Mum’s experiences for her, and I’m sure that if we challenged her every time she mentioned them, she would only become distressed. So our goal has been to keep things as normal as we can for Mum. It seems, at this point, to have been a successful strategy.

In the last three months Mum’s delusional ‘realities’ have made their presence felt in our lives. While we are still waiting for an official diagnosis, it seems that Mum is being drawn into the world of some sort of Alzheimer’s or dementia. In way, the diagnosis is kind of academic. Whatever it turns out to be, the ACAT clinician says Mum should go into full care, and hence this plane trip. And this blog post. And the ones that will follow.

In the next few posts I want to explore this time of transition for our family, in the hope that it may be helpful for others in the same position. And, of course, I’ll keep you up to date with how it all goes.

Q: Have you ever had to check a parent or loved one into full care? How did it go? Feel free to share your experiences by posting a comment.

Grace and peace: Dave