I’ve learned that prayers are answered in different ways…sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly, sometimes through our own efforts, sometimes through other people. Often, we don’t even realize what’s happening until we look with a new awareness to see what is before us.
My wife Mary was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease over eleven years ago and has been living in an assisted living memory care facility for almost nine years. For most of these years I kept thinking about whether I could bring her back home to live at some point, but numerous failed attempts to “test the water” to see if it could work, along with her deteriorating condition, dictated this would not be possible. The best I could do was to visit her every day that I could, which fortunately has been virtually every day.
A primary factor in our situation working for us, despite all of my anguish related to bringing her home and concern about her happiness, has been the residence facility’s caregivers and staff.
Visiting Mary almost every day, I acquired a good feel for what takes place in both assisted living and memory care and the nature of caregivers in general.
The caregivers and other staff at Mary’s residence facility have always been great. Everyone knows Mary by name, including the kitchen, cleaning, maintenance, and administrative staffs. They have always smiled and said “Hi Mary” as they pass by, and often paused for a brief chat, or in the case of the caregivers, sometimes stopped to give her a hug. There were stages in my wife’s journey where this affection has really been needed.
She’s been happy at the residence and loves the staff. There have been times when she saw the caregivers, and it was like she was seeing an old friend she hadn’t seen for a long time. The exuberant expressions on her face—smiling, eyes bright, sometimes with her mouth open in happy amazement—said it all. As I was walking around with her, there were even times when she gravitated away from me and toward one of the staff with a smile and hug. This always gave me a good feeling…I knew Mary loved these people and she felt truly loved by all in her time of need.
My sense is that being a caregiver is not “just a job” to most of these people, but a real “profession” or even a “labor of love.” I know, like everyone else, these caregivers need their jobs to earn a living. But I’ve talked with many who said they do what they do in large part for their love of the residents, wanting to help those in need, and in some cases, to honor God. I truly believe we could all learn lessons in humanity and humility from these people.
There was a phase when Mary was unable or unwilling to sit for any length of time, and she always wanted to be up walking around or at least standing. She often stood close to the caregivers and even followed them around because she wanted to be with them. For her at this stage, this was an “activity” she felt comfortable with and enjoyed. I’m sure this was likely inconvenient for the caregivers at times, but they were good about it and made her feel a part of whatever was happening.
I also tried to interact with the caregivers while I was with Mary, at least subconsciously showing her we all were her “family.” In fact, over time they were more of a family to Mary on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis than I was. But they also became family to me.
I was meeting with some folks from church one time. They asked how Mary was doing. I told them she was doing well overall and, most importantly, she was happy, and I couldn’t ask for anything better under the circumstances. We talked about different kinds of miracles, and one of the people prayed that angels would watch over Mary. At that moment, I realized my prayers had already been answered.
Short of a truly phenomenal miracle (like reversing the disease, with Mary returning back to her normal self), I had been praying all along for Mary to be happy…and now she was. I know my being with her every day added to that, but I knew she needed more—much more than I alone could give her.
I realized at that point that the caregivers were like angels to Mary. Whether they were provided by God or simply were truly good people who wanted to help others didn’t make any difference. One way or another they were a true miracle for Mary and me…and this realization has provided inner peace to me ever since.