The phone started ringing early (for us) on the Fourth of July.  The first call was from the Funeral Director to obtain the new Pastor’s phone number.  The second call was from the new Pastor on a much needed vacation with his family from whom he has been separated most of the time for the last five months.  He asked me if I would do the funeral.  Since I served the congregation for over twelve years until I retired almost exactly a year ago, I know the family well.  I agreed to do the service.

I have now been reminded how difficult it had come to be just to do the basics of the ministry before I retired.  Even with the Volunteers who have been so willing to stay with Mary Ann, scheduling appointments and meeting times on short notice is beyond complex.  

Just the phone calls are sometimes difficult to handle since Mary Ann’s need for help often comes with little warning, no matter what I am engaged in.  Completing a phone call, especially a long one, is sometimes virtually impossible due to a fall or a bathroom need. 

This family includes one of those who has Volunteered with Mary Ann in the past, so she suggested that the first planning meeting be at our house.   That eliminated the need for trying to get a Volunteer on the Fourth of July weekend with less than 24 hours notice.   The meeting was scheduled for 2pm.  The morning routine started fairly late in the morning.  The morning fainting spells began and a long nap meant that getting Mary Ann dressed came early in the afternoon.  I needed to make a meal.  The ingredients for a Quiche were in the house and ready to go. 

I started during her nap and moved sort of methodically completing each step before going on to the next.  I knew if I had hot pans cooking bacon and preheating oven and sauteeing onions and egg mixture and softening cream cheese all going at once, along with Mary Ann’s multiple requests, all needing to be done before the family arrived, the stress on this inexperienced and unskilled cook would be explosive.  The timing worked out so that the Quiche would not be done before they came.  Mary Ann needed something else to eat since she had not had anything to eat since pill time about an hour before the nap began.  I tried to postpone the meeting but could not get through to them. 

I managed to get my clothes changed for the meeting, the Quiche in the oven and scrambled eggs made from the leftover egg mixture, onions, bacon and cheese for Mary Ann to eat. 

When the family came, we met on the back deck while Mary Ann was eating and the Quiche was cooking.  I left the meeting periodically to check on Mary Ann, adjust the oven temperature, and take the Quiche out of the oven.

Understand, the meeting was with parents who had just lost their adult son.  One of their daughters, his sister, was with us.  Ministering to people in such painful circumstances demands full attention.  People deserve that kind attention when they are in such powerful grief.  The Son who died had lost a daughter at two and a half years of age many years ago.  The pain of losing that Granddaughter was still fresh after all the years.  Mom had lost her mother when she was just a little girl.  Those feelings remain intense. 

It is important to be there for people in times of such grief, in this case in multiple layers, listening intently and responding in ways that validate the pain and help provide a framework with which to handle it.  It is hard to do that while running back and forth to deal with another center of focus equally complex. 

Today reminded me why I made the decision to retire.  Doing a responsible job serving the people of the Congregation and being there for Mary Ann at a time of such need simply had moved beyond the limits of my ability. 

This week will include another very substantial meeting with the family to process feelings and gain information for the message at the funeral.  There is already a Volunteer scheduled at a time that was workable for the family.  There will be a number of hours after Mary Ann is in bed writing that message.  I have just completed the plan for how the service will be done, putting the pieces together so that a service folder can be prepared. 

For the funeral itself, Volunteers are simply not available (at least not so far) since some will be attending the funeral.  Mary Ann may be able to attend, but will need someone to help her during the time I am attending to the service and its preparations.  If she attends the service, that Volunteer is in place.  If she cannot go, I will need to arrange a paid agency person to serve as backup.  That may or may not work out. 

On Sunday afternoon I will be conducting the Ordination Service for a young man who has completed training and internship and will begin serving a congregation in Iowa the following week.  The plans for a companion for Mary Ann and an agency backup are now in place. 

The convergence of work needs and Caregiving needs is something that some who read this blog are experiencing.   To you I say, if you think what you are doing is impossible, you are right.  You are doing it and will continue to do it.  As I look back, I have no idea how I survived.  Those of you who are working full or part time and Caregiving also have no answer to give when someone who knows what you are doing asks, “How do you do it?”

I am being reminded this week why I retired.  I am grateful that I could, and glad that I did.  Mary Ann and I need every hour of every day just to deal with what the Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  We are full time care partners.  It is what we are called to do. 

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