Thank you, Loretta, for inviting me to share my experience with caregiving. This is a much-needed topic for those who find themselves in the position of being a caregiver to a loved one.
My experience as a caregiver started at a very young age. I can’t remember when I didn’t feel the overwhelming responsibility that comes with being a caregiver. My mother was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis when she was only 12 years old. After being bedridden for a couple of years, she went into remission.
Mother was from Cincinnati, Ohio, and my dad was from Opelika, Alabama. Talk about North meeting South! Dad moved to Cincy as a young man to live with this brother and work at the General Electric plant where his brother worked. That is how Mother and Dad met. My two brothers were born in Cincy, then in 1953, my dad was transferred to North Georgia to work at the newly opened General Electric plant located in that area. I often wonder if Dad was just trying to get back closer to home. He was a country boy at heart.
Then I came along in 1954. By that time, the RA had returned to Mother with a vengeance. At an early age, I took on a lot of responsibilities and because of this, felt like I was responsible for Mother’s well-being. As a child, I didn’t want to go to school because I thought something would happen to her while I was gone. And she was my responsibility, right? Or so I had come to believe. No one ever told me that. I just took on that role.
I couldn’t verbalize the fear I had, so I’d throw tantrums in an effort to get to stay home. I knew Mother wouldn’t be able to get me on the bus. But that didn’t work – she just called Dad and he would come home from work and take me to school. That only happened a few times before I realized it was in my best interest to get on that bus.
Life was tumultuous while growing up. Mother was in and out of the hospital. I never knew if she’d be home or in the hospital when I arrived home from school. My dad had a temper, and this made things hard on top of Mother being sick. I’m sure with Mother being so sick and Dad working and taking care of three small children, he was under tremendous strain.
It was during those years I developed a love of reading that would take me away from all the turmoil and uncertainty. I believe that grew into my love for writing. I got married at the age of 19 (which is way too young), after dating my husband for only three months. It was early in the marriage I realized I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. It would be 26 years before I had the courage to move out.
When I had just turned 21, our first daughter was born, then 2 years later our second daughter, Niki, was born. In 1981, when she was almost four, Niki was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After surgery, she contracted Meningitis and was transported to Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. She remained in a coma for three months. When we brought Niki home, she was severely disabled. Shortly after Niki came home, Mother passed away at the age of 54.
When I finally left my abusive marriage, I moved in with my dad, who was then in his 80’s and in poor health. I now had the responsibility of taking care of him and Niki. I took care of both of them for seven years before Dad passed away at the age of 88. By that time, I needed more help with Niki, so I had caregivers around the clock in my home for 8 years. Believe me when I say the stress was tremendous. But I would do it over again as I was able to keep Niki home for those 8 years. During the time of taking care of Niki and Dad, I began writing, which I believe was one of the things that kept me halfway sane—it was great therapy. I was able to write six books during the time of taking care of them.
In 2015, Niki transitioned into a group home where three other young ladies lived. She has been in her home now for seven years. I had been dating a man, Travis, for many years, but because of the tremendous responsibility I had, we waited to get married. When Niki moved into her new home, Travis and I were able to marry, and we’ve now been married for 7 years.
But the story didn’t end with Niki moving into her new home. As with any long-term care facility, there will be stress for the family, because it will never be equal to being at home. The responsibility continues today. Niki is very medically fragile, so again, I never know when she might have a health crisis.
In 2 Corinthians 1:4 we are told: He comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (NLT) And that is what I chose to do when I wrote my story in “Blooming in Broken Places.” I wove my story between 12 women from the Bible who were broken, and God used, anyway. I wanted people to know that God can and will use us even in our darkest times. And there can be some dark times during caring for a loved one.
I was awarded Georgia Author of the Year 2018 for, “Blooming in Broken Places.” God can take our messes and turn them into messages. The other day I heard someone say, “God never wastes a hurt.” So, I am encouraging you not to waste the challenges you’ve been through as a caregiver. Take those trying times and use them to comfort others who may be going through the same things you’ve already experienced. And please remember, we as caregivers need to take care of ourselves, too, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help – you will discover it is a sign of strength!
Deborah Malone has a degree in Human Services and worked in the field for several years before starting her writing career. Her first novel Death in Dahlonega, finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Category Five writing contest! Deborah was also nominated for 2012 and 2013 Georgia Author of the Year in Novel category. Deborah was awarded Georgia Author of the Year 2018 in Inspiration category for her book, Blooming in Broken Places. She has worked as a freelance writer and photographer for the historic magazine “Georgia Backroads,” since 2001. She is a member of Georgia Writer’s Association, Advanced Writers and Speaker’s Association and the American Christian Fiction Writers.
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Tracy Crump knows from experience the burdens caregivers shoulder after caring for both her parents and her 100-year-old mother-in-law. A former ICU nurse, Tracy dispenses hope in her award-winning book, Health, Healing, and Wholeness: Devotions of Hope in the Midst of Illness Twenty-two of her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and she has published hundreds of devotions, articles, and short stories in diverse publications such as Guideposts books, Focus on the Family, Woman’s World, and Ideals.