I live by a 2-day week. Day one is ‘chuck-roast’ day. Day two is ‘cucumber salad’ day. These are the two meals that Johanna can eat, and between them is the entirety of Johanna’s diet. All 12 foods. Between these two days I spend at least eight hours driving to co-ops, shopping for specific foods, and cooking. I am such a regular customer at the co-ops that I know nearly every worker by name and have some of their personal cell numbers [Shout out to John if you’re reading my blog]. I even once got let into the store when it closed early due to snow because without buying food I would’ve had no way to feed Johanna that night. You know you really have a strange life when you are getting to know the employees of your grocery stores more than just about anyone else. Preparing food for Johanna is a continuous process. I cook when I am well and when I am sick and always with a very special particulate mask to protect Johanna’s food.
On each of the days during my 2-day week, I also care for Johanna physically. The only exceptions are times when her sister, Bekah, is able to help or when her mother, Gail, is here, but even then, I still do the cooking every day. I am not going to spend much time describing the physical caregiving details to you. It involves many practical routines such as mixing medicines, bathroom cleaning, blanket folding, table wiping, readying for bed, and lots and lots of waiting. It takes hours to do all these things, and the work is very unexciting, even tedious. A lot of days I also wash Johanna’s laundry, call her compounding pharmacy, and replace filters in our air system. I have two ‘City of Minneapolis’ trash cans because of the vast number of filters I use and dispose of each month. Most everything I do to care for Johanna is repetitive. It’s non-stop and has been that way for the past nine-months especially, and for the past few years generally. Caregiving is monotony.
To be honest, I sometimes feel like I’m going from task to task, just doing the next thing. I’m relieved to be done with one thing, but that’s short-lived because “another thing” is always just around the corner. It’s “survival mode.” I’m surviving. While I’m surviving, I have a hard time connecting what I’m doing to deeper realities. I find myself making mental checklists of things I need to do, eagerly anticipating checking an item off the list, only to know more of the same is coming. Even though these monotonous tasks are repetitive and time-consuming, my soul is still feeding on the environment and stimuli around me. Whether I’m aware of it or not, my heart is always absorbing something, and so I’ve been left wondering, “How does God fit in to the daily grind of caregiving?”
God’s presence and help are always nearby, but I’ve had to learn ways to remind myself of this. I’ve had to foster new practical disciplines – tangible ways to nourish my soul during the monotony. One way I’ve been able to add truth and meaning to some of these repetitive caregiving tasks is by memorizing Bible verses and passages. It’s something I wouldn’t have started without my wife’s encouragement. During Johanna’s daily medicine and hygiene routines, I spend a lot of time waiting. I’m often ‘on call’ and need to be ready in a moment’s notice to help. Johanna encouraged me to use this waiting time to memorize Bible verses, instead of using my phone for what I often do – checking the news, checking email, etc. (my phone can be such a distraction…). We started this discipline by memorizing the same passage together, but after we finished that one, I kept going on my own, reviewing verses I had memorized years ago in college, eventually learning new ones.
Although I don’t always enjoy it, memorizing verses and passages in the Bible has been immensely helpful in unexpected ways. Having passages memorized has allowed me to ‘read’ the Bible in places I normally wouldn’t be able to. It allows me to reflect on verses while doing the monotonous tasks of caregiving! I carry them with me wherever I am. It’s been fountain of water in a dry place for me. It’s even given me a drive to memorize more and more, helping me understand Jesus’s words in deeper ways (I’ve currently been working on the book of Luke). For those doing monotonous tasks (which is everyone in different measure), I encourage you to find 10-15 minutes a day to put some passages to memory. Then, if possible, practice them in those monotonous moments, filling your heart and mind with enduring truths and meaning amidst the most monotonous tasks. It still feels like work each time I do it, and it certainly would be easy to distract myself with something else, but it’s been a deep blessing to me.
A final thought I have about the monotony of caregiving is that it serves as a helpful contrast to eternal realities. Caregiving is hard. It’s repetitive. I wish Johanna was well and that I didn’t need to do so many tasks each day. In these repetitive moments it’s easy to think, ‘I was meant for so much more’. I don’t mean that I deserve novelty (I don’t), or that I ought to be doing something else (I don’t think I should!), but just that there is more to my life, and everyone’s life, than a series of meaningless, endlessly repeating tasks. My life has meaning and purpose even in the monotony of caregiving. I was made for more than cleaning, folding, wiping, cooking, and waiting. I am thankful for the monotony of caregiving because it juxtaposes my current realities to future eternal realities. By it, I see the beauty of my future with God more clearly, and I’m filled with longing and hope. Surprisingly, instead of monotony remaining something to endure and tolerate, God has used it to teach me, bless me, and help me see more of Himself.
I know I’m not alone in experiencing monotony daily, so please leave comments, questions, or even your own helpful hints below and join me next week as I discuss the loneliness and isolation of caregiving. See you then!