Isolation remains one of the biggest challenges for a caregiver. The impairment or disease itself creates exhausting logistical hurdles, and the ever-present emotional issues often saps the remaining energy required to engage socially. As familiar with the harshness of isolation as I am, a listener to my radio show for caregivers provided me with yet another complex and painful reality of a caregiver. With a great deal of embarrassment and shame, she shared about her family member who is 90 and suffers with Alzheimer’s disease—who is also an incarcerated sex-offender. Every Sunday afternoon, she listens to my show as she drives to the prison to visit him—and she feels torn with anger, resentment, guilt, weariness, and love.
“The disease caused him to act inappropriately, and I just want to have some more time with him before his mind is completely gone.”
Her initial question reflected a desire to find some type of path towards getting him released early on furlough. Permanently in a wheelchair, he is daily losing functionality, and she knows he doesn’t have much longer—but he still has several years on his sentence.
Listening to her share her anguish, embarrassment, and conflicting feelings, it quickly became apparent that she, too, inhabits a “prison” of sorts. Friends and family had abandoned her and this man, and at nearly 70-years-old, all she had was her job and trips to visit this man who daily strayed further and further from awareness.
“If I could just get him home, I could take care of him and …,” she trailed off with thick emotion.
Allowing her a moment, I then switched gears and told her about the horses at Gracie’s parents’ home in Montana.
“These are tough horses and they stay outside all the time, but the Montana winters are harsh and are made worse by brutally cold winds that can gust to near hurricane levels.”
She listened attentively—wondering where I was going with this.
“Given those conditions, my father-in-law (with a tiny bit of help from me), built a windbreak type structure for the horses that allowed them a respite from the piercing wind chill. Complete with a roof and two offset entrances (depending upon the way the wind blows), the horses can get out of the weather and stay a bit warmer on those windy days.”
Sensing her growing puzzlement, I added, “It’s not a complete barn with stalls, etc., but it gets the job done and the horses have a place of safety.”
Letting that hang for a moment, I then stated, “You loved one is certainly not in what you would call an ideal situation, but he is safe and being cared for in a way that protects you from the howling wind of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.”
“If you succeed at bringing him home to live with you, you will have to register him as a sex-offender and more than likely have to relocate, and further isolate yourself.”
“Do you have the financial resources to care for him by yourself?”
“No,” she answered quietly.
“At nearly 70-years old, do you have the physical stamina to care for someone who is wheelchair bound and has Alzheimer’s disease?”
“No,” she sadly replied.
Gently, I shared with her, “I appreciate that you want to care for this man. That you see beyond what he was found guilty of doing, and seek to give him a bit more dignity. But you didn’t do this to him …and you can’t undo this. If you successfully lobby to have him released early, it is likely you will either regret doing so—and become extremely bitter, or the crushing weight of caring for him will cause you to develop serious physical and emotional health issues.”
“I don’t know what the right thing to do is …or the wrong thing to do,” she struggled to say.
“Instead of trying to decipher the right or wrong thing to do, let’s talk about what’s the healthy thing to do …for you.” Right now, he is safe, but you are not. He is 90, and you are approaching 70. He is in jail, but you are surrendering your freedom. In a short while, he will lose awareness of his circumstances, but you won’t. You have an opportunity to develop a healthier life for yourself.
“You’re not dishonoring him by making healthy choices for you, and you don’t have to abandon him. You are not honoring him, however, by crippling yourself with something you are not prepared to handle.”
I spent some more time with her pointing her to support groups, encouraged her to get involved with a local church, my book HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER, and gave her a copy of my new CD, Songs for the Caregiver.
“I can equip you with tools and point you to safer ground, but you have to make the decision to incorporate these things into your life …is this something you want to do?”
“Yes, I do,” she replied with great sincerity.
For a few more moments, I pointed her to our Savior who loves this woman and is keenly aware of her anguish. We then ended the call with prayer …and a promise from her that she would follow back with me and keep me posted on her progress.
Isolation cripples and imprisons caregivers. This is why I am grateful for each advertiser and supporter of our radio show for caregivers. Just as this lady gained courage to call after listening while driving to the prison, there are so many more we want to strengthen.
Healthy Caregivers …Make Better Caregivers.