November 14, 2016
Today we discuss one of those on-going chores of being a caregiver—cleaning up messes. Most of us thought we had pretty well mastered this after raising our families. We faced blow-out diapers, milk stains, projectile vomiting, and more with our babies. Some of us faced pet stains on the carpet and furniture. We had to figure out how to clean things we were never taught to clean up at home.
Then, perhaps after our children grew up and left home, we decided it was finally time to get the furniture we had always wanted, forever forsaking the “early newlywed” hand-me-downs we have been making do with while raising the children. So we indulged in the beautifully upholstered couch, the electric recliner, and the pale champagne carpet. And then “life” happened.
When grandchildren visit, we can pack away the expensive decorator pillows and throws. We can place a plastic tablecloth beneath the high chair. We can banish their pets to the outdoor kennel. And although we love every minute of their visit, we breathe a sigh of relief (and exhaustion!) when they leave.
But what about when an elder comes, not just to visit, but to live with us? Must we redecorate our home to mimic a nursing home’s décor? Of course not. But there are some actions we can take to protect our furniture and ourselves from unnecessary wear and tear. In some cases the elder is no messier than we are. But sometimes, through no fault of her own, she wets the bed, soils the recliner, spills her food, and falls asleep while drinking her coffee. Suddenly, we’re faced with messes bigger than any we faced with our little ones, plus we have less energy to face them with—after all, we are no longer twenty-five, are we?
Remember this: our Father God is faithful to equip us with the resilience, patience, and creativity to deal with these challenges. He equips us to do what He calls us to do. Take a deep breath and enjoy the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit as you proceed to serve Him by serving your loved one in this humblest of ways. Be reminded that Jesus praised the woman who lovingly washed His dirty, stinking feet. What we do for our loved one, we do for our Savior.
The best cleaning is that which you don’t have to do, so take preventative measures whenever you can. When spills are not the exception but the rule of the day, use a cup that won’t easily spill. Try using a plastic mug with a large handle on the side and a straw in the lid. It is easy for shaky hands to grasp, virtually unbreakable, and doesn’t spill easily. We stocked up on these at a dollar store during the summertime.
Think about other ways to protect your furniture. My mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s, lives with us. She loves to watch The Andy Griffith Show while we eat dinner. Although she cannot talk very much, she clearly understands the simple story lines and she hoots with laughter at the antics of Barney Fife. The challenge? Our only television is in the living room and as her coordination has declined, she spills more food.
Although our leather sofa can be wiped down, I decided to tuck a small blanket on her seat to keep the crumbs from falling between the cushions. I place a hand towel on her lap and she eats from a lap tray. This is a tray with an attached bead-filled cushion that balances well on her lap. I still have crumbs on the carpet to deal with, but these steps help to minimize the mess. The next step will be using an adult bib. We have avoided these to help her save face, but she seems to be beyond the stage where wearing one would hurt her pride.
Keep cleaning products and tools close to where you will need them. Purchase duplicates, if necessary. This will save you many steps as you care for your loved one. I keep spray disinfectant, window cleaner, paper towels, floor cleaner, and rubber gloves in the bathroom that my mother-in-law uses. Not only are they handy for messes, but I can clean the bathroom while she takes care of her business. Sometimes her bathroom is the cleanest one in the house!
As you face the messes of life, remind yourself that people are more important than things. That new couch or pretty vase is just temporary. How you serve your loved one will be rewarded in Eternity.
Note: Part 2 of this discussion will be featured in the January 2017 newsletter.
© 2016 by Marcia K. Washburn who writes from her home in Colorado. Through the years, Marcia has cared for four adult relatives in her home, and presently cares for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s. Marcia is the Assistant Director of Christian Family Eldercare. Her latest book, Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers, is available at www.ChristianFamilyEldercare.org.