Caregving

Caring for My Mother and Sister, Only Through God’s Strength, by Victoria Ballance

My father was my biggest teacher on how to care for my mother. He taught us to always respect her and ensure she had what she needed – we couldn’t talk back or disrespect her, or he would deal harshly with us. Growing up, I went on occasion when my mom took us, but I was not raised in the church. By the time I was 19, I no longer wanted to live by my parents’ rules, so I moved out. Footloose and fancy-free, I was the life of the party and lived my life on my own terms.

In the spring of 1996, I woke up one Sunday morning after a night of partying and felt the Spirit of God tell me to go to church. I got dressed and went to my mom’s church. That day I received Jesus as my Savior, however, it was hard to let go of my old lifestyle. The pastor, Bishop Hillmon Moses, would always say, “just keep coming”, so I did. Sometimes I got there late and sat in the back, but I kept coming. Eventually, I felt a shift in my mind, and I finally decided to completely dedicate my life to the Lord.

Throughout my life, my mom always relied on me. I was raised to demonstrate love by showing care and doing things for and supporting those I loved and cared about. Little did I know God was preparing me to be a caregiver dedicated to my family.

My mother was already caring for my sister Bonita, who had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her mid-30s. When her health started declining due to the disease, my mother moved Bonita into her home and cared for her with my brother’s assistance.

In the early 2000s, my mom’s illness began to truly manifest. She had cardiovascular issues for quite some time but as she began to age, her need for medical intervention increased. Since we were together a lot, including attending church together multiple times a week, I became more acclimated to the role of caring for her.

Mom started to experience cardiac issues and was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure. In 2005, she had heart surgery, and a pacemaker and internal automatic defibrillator (IAD) were placed in her chest.

I remember an episode in 2009 where the pacemaker started to misfire during a special service at our church, Tabernacle of Faith COGIC. In the middle of the service, Mom started to yell out in pain as the pacemaker continuously shocked her. During this time Bishop Moses and the Elders surrounded her and began praying for her. As they prayed, the EMT’s arrived, and she was taken to Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Camden for evaluation and treatment.

As I watched my mom in pain, I couldn’t breathe. I was a nervous wreck and felt myself begin to hyperventilate. Lisa Bourne, a nurse, and evangelist from our church helped me to gather myself. She spoke to me, praying for me and letting me know my mother was in the care of God first and foremost and the care of the medical professionals. As she encouraged me to trust God for my mother, I felt God calming me and reassuring me with His presence.

Soon I was running all her errands, taking her to doctors’ appointments and church, and completing her grocery shopping. As the years progressed, she required more physical care, going back and forth to the hospital with breathing issues, elevated blood pressure, etc. Soon it became too much to go back and forth between my home and my mom’s house, so in 2016, I moved both my mom and sister in with me, along with my brother Kevin for his continued support while I was at work. Bonita required assistance with her feeding, walking, bathing, dressing, medication, and receiving her shots.

During my caretaking years, my work schedule was probably the most difficult thing to manage. I was always concerned about getting an emergency phone call for Mom, requiring my immediate attention. I rarely received those calls, and I am grateful for that.

My life consisted of only working and then coming home to care for my family. I had no personal life or “me time”. Even so, I never thought about whether I felt appreciated or supported, I just did what I had to do. It was my duty. My brother was a big help, and also my niece Keely was a vital part of helping during this time. She helped clean the house, ensured dishes were done and clothes were washed, and really took a load off me. Other family members would assist here and there, and I appreciated her help as I cared diligently for my mom. I knew everyone had busy lives, so I was grateful whenever anyone offered help.

I didn’t waver while caring for both my mom and sister. They were such a priority that everything came second to their needs. I was very hands-on so I could ensure they were getting what they needed. I was glad to love them in this way. I knew them both well, especially how feisty they could get so I wanted to make sure they were comfortable despite their illnesses and pain. Many times, I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing, I just saw a need and did what had to be done.

There were times when I felt hopeless because I desired more assistance than I received. But I was never angry due to the lack of support. I was never alone. I always knew God was there – He knew my thoughts and what I needed, and I felt His strength. This was my calling, and I was going to give them everything I had. It was hard to watch them both deteriorate before my eyes. I needed God to strengthen me to keep a smile on my face and give them joy in their final moments.

I was intentional to not put Mom in a nursing facility unless specific medical care was warranted. When I was no longer able to care for her, I struggled terribly with the decision, but I knew she needed round-the-clock care. I was concerned about the level of care she would receive as she wouldn’t be living with family, but I knew she needed medical support I simply could not give.

The conditions in the facility amplified my fears for her. I saw my mother in pain and during different procedures to alleviate her pain, I empathized with her. She often talked about wanting to go home, and with love yet firmness I had to remind her she could no longer live on her own. I did my best to remain stoic for her. I visited her as much as I could – I always wanted her to know I was there for her. I also needed to know she was ok and being taken care of, and that everyone in the facility knew she had a family who loved and cared for her.

On my last day with her, it was difficult to see her struggle to breathe. I couldn’t even bear to wake her up and let her know I was there. In the middle of a snowstorm in 2018, Mom passed away. My immediate response was relief, followed by a calmness. She was home with God and in no more pain.

I truly believe in the scripture honor thy parents and thy days shall be long upon the earth. Honoring my mother for all those years by caring for her needs came naturally from love. This scripture reassured me during very tough times of caring for mom and comforted me after her passing, as I knew I did all I could to honor her.

As I was grieving the loss of my mother, my sister Bonita passed away the following year in 2019. It was difficult to accept their time on this earth had ended as such a large part of my life as their caregiver also ended. I was relieved they were no longer in pain and knew they were right where they wanted to be – in the comforting arms of our Lord and Savior, but I had to reckon with the reality of missing them terribly.

I soon came to understand and accept that God does all things well. I knew He was sovereign, and His decisions were best. I realized how much more God knows from what we know. He knew what twists and turns their lives would take and what position I would need to be in when that time came. 

God really doesn’t make mistakes. It does sound cliché, but it is a fact. He can see what we cannot, and He moves us and our lives around to accommodate what is to come. We don’t understand at the time but true surrender means trusting him for the unseen. It is a true test of our faith to literally go where He sends us.

Life Lessons:

Looking back, I’m grateful for my niece Keely, who took care of our home needs so I could focus solely on their care. She also never needed to be asked, she just did it. I believe this kind of unsolicited support goes a long way for many caregivers. Sometimes, we are not in the mindset to remember or think of the “extras” and so someone who can just make those things happen is a blessing beyond words.

Time is so precious, and I understand everyone has their own lives. So many are busy, but as believers and family, it is so, so important for us to support the caregivers in our lives. One visit, one grocery run, and one shift can alleviate some of the pressure they are under.

So many caregivers are burnt out because people often tell them how great of a job they are doing, but never step in to help them do that great job. If you see someone caring for someone else, figure out what you can do. Give them an hour to themselves, send them dinner, or find another thoughtful way to support them. We need help.

Love is an action word and people must learn to not just say they love someone but show it. One of the statements from our church is that we are examples through words, time, finances, and visitation as a way of love. We need to remember this! Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to care for a sick loved one. There has to be a team mindset. The quarterback may start with the ball, but it takes a collective team effort to make the touchdown.

Patience is a virtue, not just with those you care for but for those around you as you care for them. Know you will go through, you will have good times and bad times, but because God sits on the throne and will never change, He can be trusted. He is truly a friend that sticks closer than a brother and His word promises that He has good plans for us, to give us a hope and future.

Throughout my caretaking years, I grew closer to God, and He carried me as I carried them. A daily conversation with God and communing with Him is what carries me when I was tired, comforted me when I was weary, and gave me the answers I needed, even when it wasn’t the answer I wanted. God was and continues to be my hope and I pray He is the same for others who have been given the enormous task of caring for a loved one.

Prayer for Moms:

Thank you God for being God, creator of everything, the beginning, and the end. Lord, continue to order our steps, shape us and mold us. We should look to the hills from whence cometh our help, our help comes from you. As we make decisions concerning our loved ones, help us to hold to your unchanging hand and seek your guidance. Your word says you will never leave us nor forsake us and you will never put more on us than we can bare. Give us strength so we do not get weary in well doing and as we care for our loved ones, we will forever be grateful and thankful to you for entrusting them to us.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

~Victoria Ballance

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Want to hear more of Victoria’s story? Watch her Moms Night In conversation on YouTube

Or watch on Facebook here.

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