Archive for September, 2010

An Interview With Shelly Beach

Many of us in grief have taken care of a loved one before his or her death. How does this impact us in our loss?

Shelly Beach, author of five published books including Hallie’s Heart, Christy Award winner in the Lit Category for 2008, has written two of her books on caregiving. One, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, was a 2008 finalist for ECPA’s Christian Book Awards.

Recently, I spoke with her about grief in caregiving.

Shelly, for a total of eight years, you cared for your mom with her Alzheimer’s, along with your father-in-law with his many physical and mental health issues. In your books, Precious Lord, Take My Hand (Discovery House Publisher, 2007) and Ambushed by Grace, (Discovery House Publisher, 2008), you speak openly about the trials you went through caring for them. Tell me about your mom in particular. Watching her disappear into Alzheimer’s must have been a grief in itself. What was that like for you?

First of all, it was difficult to even admit Mom had Alzheimer’s. I didn’t want to say the word at first, knowing what would lie ahead for Mom and for us as her family. We all faced a thousand emotional adjustments along the way. Losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s means watching the erosion of not only their physical body, but also their emotional and mental state. The most difficult part for me was that my mom was often in a state of emotional torment. I longed for her to be at peace as we sought the best doctors available to pursue the best medications to bring Mom to a state of tranquility. It was grueling to struggle with her violent outbursts, knowing she was in a horrible state of confusion and often, torment. It was important for my husband and me to get respite and take breaks as often as possible. I joke about the fact that Dan and I rode our Harley to help maintain our marriage, but it was true. We needed to find places to unwind and relax outside our home. Our Harley was that place for us. We also used every service available to us through our community. We took frequent short vacations and called upon friends and loved ones to help lighten the load for us.

During the height of your caregiving years, you had your own immobilizing health issues in the form of a non-cancerous brain lesion and had to relearn walking, seeing and reading. What kept you sane?

I am blessed to be married to the most selfless and patient man in the world. He supported me in every way possible. Without Dan’s consistent love and encouragement, I’m sure I would have crumbled. He stayed by my side at the hospital, nursed and nurtured me whan I came home, and has supported me through the neurological complications in the years since. I am so grateful for his devotion.

In Precious Lord, Take My Hand, you tell the story of coming home to rest after an exhausting vigil at your father-in-law’s side during his final days on earth. You found your mother clothed in great disarray, salsa music blaring from the radio and TV’s Animal Planet declaring giraffes as having the loudest burp in the animal kingdom. You turned to Dan and said, “No one has my life. No one even believes me when I tell them about it.” Your solution was to take your mother in your arms and dance around the room…creating a golden memory. How has this attitude of  ‘finding  joy in the moment’ helped you?

In the everyday struggles of life, we can choose to go to gratitude or grumbling–to the God of the Universe or the god of ourselves. Alzheimer’s will offer a hundred reasons every day to choose despair. I chose instead, to create memories, to look at each moment with my mother as an opportunity I couldn’t afford to waste. I have never regretted that decision.

What was it like for you after your mom died?

My mother’s pink bathrobe still hangs in the closet of the room in my house she and my dad stayed in. I often found myself caught off-guard and crying at small things. I missed my mom a lot. After all, she’d lived with me and had been part of my daily routine. I’d quit my job and devoted my life to caring for her, and I loved her dearly. I expected the grief to comes in waves, and it did. It’s still coming after two years.

What was your ultimate source of comfort during caregiving and now, in your grief over the deaths of both your mother and your father-in-law?

 My ultimate comfort is knowing their lives are not over. They are enjoying  eternity in Heaven and I will be with them. Their lives had eternal purpose and suffering is serving a purpose in the lives of others through the books I’ve written.

What is the most important thing you’d like to say to my readers about caregiving grief?

When I considered a title for my first caregiving book, I wanted to title it “Aaaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhhh! But God Is Good.” I think that summarizes my thoughts on grief, as crazy as that might seem. It is a difficult journey, but God is always sufficient; always good. He provided a way to overcome our grief with life and joy through redemption through His Son, Jesus.

You’re now involved in some new caregiving ministries. What are they?

I’m blessed to serve on the board of Music for the Soul (http://musicforthesoul.org) with Dove Award winner, Steve Siler and to be involved in the creation of the Dignity project for caregivers. I’m also the Christian faith “expert” columnist for Caring.com, an affiliate of msn.com. (http://caring.com). Caring.com is the Internet’s most visited site for those providing care for their aging parents and receives almost three quarters of a million hits per month.

For more information on Shelly and her books, check out her website at http://shellybeachonline.com  or her Caregiving Journey page on Facebook.


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Their Loss…Or Ours?

Every year on my grown children’s birthdays, I tell them the story of their birth. A slightly different version each time.

This re-telling on my youngest daughter’s birthday last week, brought back memories of her dad at 2:03 p.m. on the afternoon of her delivery. How he was all gowned up to watch her birth and didn’t make it into the room on time; how the doctor sent him in to me without telling him his daughter was already born. And how he gazed down at her nestled in my arms, surprise and delight etched on his face.  “Why she looks just like me!”

Bittersweet memories. He’s not here to see what a beautiful wife and mother Jenna has become. Wasn’t here to know of the birth of her son three years ago and won’t be here for her second baby’s arrival this January.

As the years pile up since Bill died, so does the list of things he’s missing out on since his death.

But he’s in Heaven….that place of perfect joy. Is he missing out? 

Or is it those of us who are left behind, who lament the absence of our loved one at these milestones?

There’s nothing wrong with that. After losing her mom, my friend Peggy says, “I allowed myself to cry out the grief of missing her and the future events she would never share in my life. Grieving is necessary for healing.”

What do you wish your loved one could still see?  What brings you comfort and healing?

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