For six days, I watched the tender care that my 93-year-old mother-in-law receives from her caregivers, three women and one man. They help her get in and out of bed, go to the bathroom, keep her clean and her hair combed, and cook and feed her. Twenty-four hours a day, one of them is with her, and they have a seamless system, in which each one of them hands off the care-giving to the next with no fuss.
They are nondescript people, someone you would never notice as you passed them in the grocery store or on the street, but their value to all of us cannot get calculated in dollars and cents. What value do you put on demonstrations of what it means to be someone’s neighbor, according to Jesus’ definition, as someone who goes above and beyond to provide care that other would shun away from? Yes, they are paid caregivers, but only in terms of what can be measured, such as the numbers of hours they work.
But it is the intangible elements of their care that cannot be so easily given valuation. Their infinite patience when she asks the same question over and over again. I had to learn from them, for when she asked me twice about the same walk, I started to say, “I told you earlier.”
But the look on the young lady’s face and a nearly imperceptible shake of her head stopped me. I responded, “It was good,” and Mom smiled, for she needed to know that I was happy. I had already told her that I had not gone for the walk because of the severe headache. I learned anew the connection between love and patience, for 1 Corinthians 13:4 states, “Love is patient and kind.”
How do you decide the worth of the smiles they bestow on her when they enter the house and ask of her well-being? This shows that they never lose sight of her humanity. They show her the respect of the elder, not the lack of respect that adults so innocently, though painfully, refuse to give to children or to adults who have dementia.
I was captivated by their determination to help her retain her dignity. They fuse duty with fondness for her long life and all that she has accomplished, and they show her such sweetness. What beauty I saw in their wondrous care for this woman who is not related to any of them. They could just see her care as a job to get done, but, instead, they each seemed to consider it a privilege to spend their time caring for her.
My mother-in-law is a phenomenal woman, born in 1924, at a time when women had few choices between working and being wives. She wanted to be a doctor, but her husband, who did become a doctor, ruled that out, requiring her to stay home and care for the children.
She was a voracious reader and she instilled in her children a love of reading and for science. When her youngest child started school, she went back to college and earned a Masters’ degree. She taught in the Clinical Laboratory Science Program in the Department of Biological Sciences at a local university for over 25 years. She is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and she would have been a great doctor!
To see one of her caregivers reading her books and challenging her to remember words and phrases is such a joy! She loves it, but she tires easily these days that so much of her life is spent in bed, which is painful to watch. But, thank God for the caregivers, those wonderful people who go beyond the expectations of their job description to allow her to still feel valued and of worth. You just cannot put a price on that kind of loving care and commitment.