Janie B. Cheaney: Sanctification through caregiving | WORLD
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Janie B. Cheaney: Sanctification through caregiving


WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: Sanctification through caregiving

Christians work out the gospel through the stress and sacrifice of caring for others

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LINDSAY MAST, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 26th, 2024. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Lindsay Mast.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. WORLD Commentator Janie B. Cheaney with hard-won lessons from caring for a loved one.

JANIE B. CHEANEY: Two sisters in my Alzheimer’s support group are currently caring for their father, who lives with one of them. This demanding, dementia-ridden dad consumes a lot of his daughters’ time and emotional resources, and they can be forgiven for occasional venting. When they shared their frustrations with a friend, she made a modest proposal. “Why don’t you just stop feeding him?”

Was she serious? Yes, apparently. When they shared this exchange at a recent meeting, we all stared at each other, stunned.

In bookkeeping terms, it sort of makes sense. The old man barely knows what’s happening. If he had imagined his current condition while still in his right mind, he would have recoiled in horror. What self-respecting man wants to end this way, spoon-fed and bottom-wiped, blocked from decisions about his own welfare?

Besides, the stress and sacrifice of caregiving can take years off the responsible party’s life. Like a parasite, the terminal patient sucks the vitality out of the caregiver with no lasting benefit. He’s going to die anyway.

Stop feeding him. Just good sense. And also, in a way we instinctively know, profoundly evil. That way lies dystopia, where humans serve cost-benefit analysis and not the other way round. When things don’t make sense, when the calculus doesn’t add up, that’s when humanity is most human: weak yet strong. Vulnerable yet noble.

Some caregivers in our group confessed to mixed feelings: they loved their husband/father/mother/wife, but would it be better if the loved one passed away peacefully that night rather than prolong a life they would never have chosen? Our guest speaker that day, a grief counselor and pastor’s wife, gently probed the question. It would be easier, certainly, but better? Better how? Better for whom?

My own mixed feelings crystalized the night my husband almost died of sepsis shock in the ER. He was stable but still critical when the Life Flight crew loaded him on a gurney for transport to the nearest hospital with an ICU bed—two hours away. I went home to pack an overnight bag, trying to decide what I would need and for how long. At the last minute I pulled a document from the file cabinet: the deed to burial plots we purchased years ago.

What if he died before I reached the hospital? The details flashed through my mind while on the road: mourning, flowers, cards . . . freedom. The alternative was diminishment, wheelchairs, wipes, bedsores. After calling up relatives and friends, I called on the Lord. I don’t know what’s best, I told him, or even what I truly want. Thank God that You do.

Months earlier I had written in my journal, He’s not a parasite. He’s my sanctification, and I am his. The sanctification continues.

I’m not a patient sufferer; I scream with frustration more than I care to admit, and he sometimes responds to interference with toddler-like rage. Moments of tenderness lighten long stretches of boredom. Meanwhile we’re working out the gospel of losing life to save it, groping through the paradox where we find our true selves.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

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