Recently I realised that with “Becoming you” as the name for my platform, I’m perfectly placed to get a bit more real and raw around these parts…
Which is why today I’m starting a brand new series: My Journey with…
I’m aiming to push publish second week (depending on how many brave woman decide to share their stories) and the idea is that each post will feature a new brave warrior women sharing her journey of living through the “tough stuff”.
My hope is that these real, powerful stories will make a real impact in your lives over the next few months.
Today I feature the very first story as shared by Lisa…
My Journey With… Caring for Elderly & Ill Relatives
A few days after celebrating our first wedding anniversary my dad died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Whilst this was a tremendous shock, and the grief that followed was immense, we knew immediately at the time that life as we knew it was going to change and we had to make sure we were a strong support for my mum.
My mum was still independent, working and living in her own home, and caring for my uncle who had cerebral palsy. Over the next 5 years my mum retired and it was over this period that my mother-in-law got lung cancer but with an operation and chemo treatment it went into remission.
Walking the journey with a cancer patient was hard, especially with a newborn in the family, but we lived around the corner so my husband got to visit her regularly throughout her treatment.
Then my mom’s health took a decline after she retired and she ended up in hospital frequently (up to 6 times a year!) as she has a lung disease, COPD, and just the onset of bronchitis is enough to send her into ICU!
As an only child, with all our family’s relatives living in England, it was my responsibility to ensure I visited her and my uncle each day and that they had a warm meal daily – all the while having a full time job and 2 babies!
3 years ago both my mom and my uncle’s health took a drastic decline… He was diagnosed with bowel cancer and she with colon cancer.
After my mum’s op she ended up on life support fighting for her life, but thankfully her will to live eventually meant she could be weaned off the ventilator. My uncle also took a bad turn in Groote Schuur, in fact, visiting ICU one night we started talking about funeral plans, but he pulled through.
It was at this time we felt they could not go back to live in her home on their own. So they joined our family and moved in with us and my mom had to go onto oxygen full time.
As you can imagine, it changed the family dynamics, and with 2 small kids, there were some real moments of strain. We sold my mom’s house and built a garden cottage on our property for them (building does add to life’s stress, but the finished product was worth it!).
Life was really looking up…
Then we got the devastating news that my father-in-law had a brain tumour… whew… the year that followed was a fog of hospital visits and coming to terms with the fact that there was no cure, savouring moments spent together and trying to get to grips with his financial and business affairs.
With my mom’s health not in good shape, she also ended up in hospital on a few occasions while my father-in-law was at a different hospital at the same time. There were many a night of trying to fit 2 hospital visits in at 2 different hospitals. There were some real moments of feeling stretched, trying to juggle too many things.
Walking the road with someone with a brain tumour was very hard and seeing someone’s quality of life deteriorating is gut-wrenching. Last year we finally had to say our good-byes to my father-in-law.
This was the same year that we also learnt that my uncle’s bowel cancer had spread to his lungs and kidneys and we had to arrange home-based carers to move in to the cottage and my mom moved back into our house. The carers were wonderful and made his last days very comfortable.
Now that you have the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you might have done differently during this experience?
I would definitely have asked for more help. People are willing and keen to help in times of need, all it takes is to ask.
Some things I wouldn’t change. We decided to change both our working arrangements – mine to get home to be with the kids in the afternoon and log into work later in the afternoon/evening, and my husband now works 2 days a week from his mom’s house.
What, or who, helped you to push through this experience? A book, a person, an incident, therapy, medication etc?
We have been blessed with an amazing sense of peace and strength during this whole phase of our life. It has been stressful, but we are always reminded that God will not give you something you cannot handle.
The verse from Jeremiah always comes up “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Also I draw strength from this verse from Philippians: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
As a couple we also still make sure to get out for regular date nights in order to connect, and that has been the saving grace in our relationship.
Obviously there is not always a reason for going through such hard times in life, but now that you are further down the journey can you share any insights or personal growth that the experience taught you?
We are not through it yet, but we still know that you need to take life one day at a time and also make the most of every day as life can be short.
We have been lucky that all these seniors in our life had their financial affairs in order and were able to share the details with us… I shudder at the thought if this happens in families who aren’t organised.
My best advice to anyone before they get into this kind of situation is to sort out their finances, medical aid, life insurance, will, etc. It really does help the other family members cope without any financial burdens they would need to take upon themselves. The cumulative amount of my mother’s medical bills for instance is well into the Millions of Rands!
Where do you find yourself now? Please share an update on your current progress or new space to encourage others who find themselves in the midst of the “tough stuff” right now.
We recently found out that my mother-in-law’s lung cancer, that had been in remission for 5 years, has returned, along with a new primary tumour in her breast. In the last month we have heard that it has spread to her brain and bones… so we are still walking the journey, one day at a time with her.
We have got full time nurses employed so she can stay in her own home at her request and we have the amazing support of her nieces and sister-in-law who are providing meals, whilst my husband and his sister sort out all the admin issues that present itself.
We have chosen to focus on having good times and making memories together as each day over the next few weeks and months is precious.
Words: Lisa Airey