A module of articles compiled by Focus on the Family – Parenting a Special Needs Child with excerpts from Unexpected Journey are under module #5, “Feeling Isolated”: click here.
When Life Gets Tough(er) – by Joe and Cindi Ferrini, Cleveland, OH
©Joe and Cindi Ferrini
Life as we knew it was about to change – again. Along with our “special needs” young adult son and our college and high-school aged daughters we began a series of challenging adjustments when Joe’s mom joined our household. Recovering from a two month hospitalization and nursing home rehabilitation stay, she unpacked her few and simple belongings along with the sad realization that her vascular dementia/Alzheimer’s diagnosis was causing her decline at a more rapid pace than we had yet to see so clearly.
At that point, we had weathered seven years of storms: losing Joe’s dad to cancer, Cindi’a brother to suicide and her mom’s sudden death followed by her dad’s death 5 days later (after a long and slow 6 year decline), and stabilizing our son’s medications for gran-mal seizures. We weathered these storms like we all do, while continuing to work, doing ministry, investing in family and friends, and trying to find the good in each day. We hadn’t had a chance to catch our breath when Joe’s Mom’s health began taking some new turns as the “new” Mom Ferrini moved in.
The helpful woman we had known now needed help showering, finding her glasses, shuffling down simple steps, knowing which medications to take, and figuring out how to use the phone that she mistook as the remote control.
She’s wasn’t the only one who had changed. We all had to change. We had to adjust to less sleep and more responsibilities. Hearing different noises from Mom’s room would be our “call” to check on her for fear she might wander toward steps or other areas she was not familiar with in our home. We had to change our schedules, our outside commitments (job, ministries, time with family and friends), our daily expectations and even our attitudes. Sometimes the children had to rearrange school activities or time with friends. We all did our share of canceling things we really wanted to do because we felt the need to stay with mom. When therapists came, we would have to arrange our day to be home to talk with them and learn what we had to do to help Mom.
There were also the changes we had to make regarding our emotions and our attitudes. We occasionally had to lovingly confront Mom’s self-centeredness (a part of the disease, not what she was like previously). She had become so selfish and negative, that even conversation with her had become very challenging. We initiated an activity each night at the dinner table in which we could all participate. Truly, we all needed it! Each of us shared the “blessing of the day” and “how we were able to help or be kind to someone else”. This activity helped us to see the “positive” in each day, and how God was helping us through this time.
We all experienced changes, and noticed that our personal character development was as ongoing and constant as our care for Mom. Just as Mom and our son needed help with daily living skills, we recognized we needed help, too. We needed help to focus outside of our world or caregiving and reach out to others wherever God asks us to serve. We had to accept criticism from others who thought things should be handled differently, causing us to take inventory of our own flaws and deficiencies when these criticisms come to us. These challenges continued to “redirect” us each day and moment to moment as we relied on the Holy Spirit to control and empower us. When we were frustrated, we asked the Lord for help through these challenging times. He taught us through His word, to do what we knew to be right, not just what was comfortable, easy or fun. He helped us to show unconditional love to Mom as He has shown to us. Because he gave us these challenges, we learned to be more loving in relationships, more purposeful in ministry, more creative with our use of time, and more reliant upon Him. We continued to focus on who we are in Christ as we proceed through the process of becoming more like Him.
Along the road of our unexpected journey, a few years have passed, and Mom Ferrini is now with the Lord, we have one child married, and Joe is semi-retired. We sense a new freedom in being able to differently consider the use of our time, talents and treasures for our family and His work. We also sense, that while we are experiencing some freedom right now, there will be a time, probably not too far around the corner, when life will challenge us and we will once again be called to make some choices. We know these choices will cause us to make changes in our life, attitude, emotions, etc.
We know we become “new and improved” as we go through the process of change, but in our humanness and selfish ways, we sometimes wish for a quick fix to life’s challenges. We want to put in our order, and like a fast food meal, get what we asked for. But just like time-tested products that do their jobs effectively and efficiently, God is teaching and molding us to better serve Him by serving others, even when the serving is very difficult. Yes, we recognize that the challenges we had and choices we made have caused us to grow in our walk with Christ. And, it continues to be “true” that we don’t seem to learn as much through the good and easy times, like we do – when life gets tough(er)!
Joe and Cindi Ferrini have written UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, sharing their story of caring for their son and parents in their special needs. To find out more about their story, or to order a book, they can be contacted at www.joeferrini.com.