Getting Paid: One Caregiver’s Thoughts on What Truly Matters

I work way more than the traditional 40 hour week.

I’m on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I provide well over $100,000 worth of professional services in a year… and I don’t get paid a dime.

Technically, I’m now considered unemployed and living at home with my mom. When I file my local taxes, the numbers seem to say that I’m a personal and professional failure, but that’s okay. I don’t actually care.

Don’t get me wrong. I use to care very much. My career plans had included going on to get my Ph.D., making lots of money, and nailing a job that everyone would consider important… but then things changed.

One day, I found out my dad had fallen off the wagon… and I found out the hard way. He almost died of complications from a drug overdose, and while he was in the hospital recovering, I found out that he’d been abusing my mom. I was numb with shock, but I also had to deal with one other hard reality. My mom is profoundly disabled with a number of serious health problems. Suddenly, there was no one else to take care of her. I was all she had left.

I tried to juggle both caring for Mom and work by having a home health aide fill in for me as needed, but then my mom’s health very quickly got out of hand. As she took a turn for the worst, the cost of paying someone to care for Mom while I was at work dramatically outstripped my paycheck by quite a lot.

It was at that point that I had to make a choice.

People sometimes say I should have just put my mom, this precious person with the infections smile, in a home to be cared for by others. It’s a mother’s job to care for her child, not the other way around. Well, after a few necessary nursing home stays after her surgeries, we learned the hard way that no one cares for your loved one like you do.

Nursing homes can be great when you’re at the end of your life and there’s no way to provide better care at home, but I didn’t want my mom’s life to be over while she was still in her fifties. When it came right down to it, I didn’t want or need the high-powered career… I wanted my mom.

What price can we put on a memory of time spent with someone we love? What dollar amount can we place on another precious day where that person is alive and joking. For those of you who have lost a loved one, how much would you pay to enjoy the privilege of having that person truly living life with you for just a little while longer?

Too many people have emphasized the price I’ve paid. They focus on the dollars that I haven’t earned, but in these past few years I’ve made a thousand memories with this amazing woman, memories that I never would have had if I’d left her to die in a home under the care of strangers.

And there’s more.

With aggressive treatment, not only have we cheated death, shared endless hugs, countless laughs, and learned about the power of love and commitment in overcoming life’s challenges… I’ve also lived to see that truly nothing is impossible with God.

If I could count the number of times my mom was suppose to be dead, I’d run out of fingers (and probably toes) to count on. Things have been dark to a degree of inky blackness, but in that abyssal darkness, I’ve seen the truth of chapter one of the Gospel of John:

God’s light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

As Corrie Ten Boom once testified after surviving a Nazi concentration camp, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” By sticking with my mom through twenty million ER visits, surgeries, illnesses, and sleepless nights, I’ve gotten to see just how bright his light can be. In the depths of the deepest crisis, God has indeed still been there.

It’s been hard to find him at times. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I wondered where God was, especially as I sat alone, freaking out in the car in the hospital parking garage. But God says that we will seek him and find him if we seek him with our whole hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).

I don’t know all the answers about why horrible things happen to us and the ones we love, but I’ve put Jeremiah 29:13 to the test these past few years. No matter where or when I’ve sought God, whether it be in church or in the ER, somehow God has always shown up for me, even in the middle of this horrible mess of medical crises and delays. After all of this, I’ve come to know and believe that he truly cares for me.

As much as I love my mom, God loves me even more. He gave up his own life to be there for me, and he’s available every hour of every day of the week.

He wants to be there to love and to care for me, and to be a part of my life in a way that’s just as tangible as the time I spend with my mom. It’s an amazing gift, an enormous blessing, but somehow I doubt I ever would have gained this knowledge of his love had it not been for the trials of these past few years.

Yes, I don’t get paid, but a price cannot be put on the things that I’ve gained instead.

I have an amazing mom to laugh with and to love, and I treasure every new day with her. Each morning where she’s in my life is a miraculous gift, the value of which could never be measured in dollars. I also now have a close relationship with my heavenly Father, who’s now in my life like he’s never been before.

Though I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, I don’t have to be afraid. Because I have God, I have hope. Even better, I have peace. It’s a peace I’ll take with me long after my mom does goes home to be with Jesus, and those are all things I’d never trade.

Call me crazy, but I consider myself to be rich beyond measure. I have life, I have love, and I have a God who cares for me. No matter what, he’s always there. So no, I don’t actually care what my tax return says about my life. I consider myself immeasurably blessed, and that’s enough for me.

Thank you for reading. If this article spoke to you, I’d like to invite you to check out the rest of my blog. It’s been my privilege to share some of the experiences I’ve had with my mom and with God in this crazy life we’re living. I hope my stories will encourage you as you make your way on your own journey. God bless you, and if you’d like to learn more about just how much he loves you too, check out PeaceWithGod.net

May God bless you with true riches that money cannon buy.

Audrey Cunningham

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10 thoughts on “Getting Paid: One Caregiver’s Thoughts on What Truly Matters

  1. Thank you for this post. Care giving is the hardest and most rewarding “job” there ever will be. It is also gift to both the care giver and care receiver. Peace to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful! My husband and I were caregivers for 10 years, but the 3 relatives (all were WWII veterans) lived in their homes….for a while. Two we had to help usher into skilled nursing care and watched them slipped into eternity. The were 80 and 84, having lived full lives. We’re not skilled in adult care at all. My husband’s mom is now 94. She was an Army nurse as was her sister. She needed more care than we could provide. My husband’s brother offered to move her in with him and his wife, both are nurses. And faithful believers. But they were 1/2 of the U.S. Away! We praise God as He helped us all through it. It’s so difficult without taking some time “off.” We encouraged them to take more time off. We traveled there for 10 days the first year. We recently spent 2 weeks there helping getting her into a nursing home. They just needed more help as she has Parkinson’s Disease. And they both are still working.
    Not everyone is so blessed to do what you are doing. Your writings are such a great way to stay connected and to share!
    May God bless you and keep you refreshed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. Parkinson’s Disease is so devastating. There really are times when a person’s needs are just too extensive to be met in the home. It sounds like she’s in a good setting and yet surrounded by people who love her. Still, I know it must have been hard for you all. God bless you and your family. Someday there will be no more sickness and no more dying. Until then, we do the best we can by the people we love. Prayers for you and your family, and especially the little one who’s on the way. 🙂

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  3. Oh, Audrey, your mom was that young?! never dreamed; that’s my age, so obviously you’re still what I consider quite young! do you mind sharing more of her situation being that age? my dad lived to 95 at home but he had his grandson come live with him; being a WWII vet he was able to get their program so grandson could get a stipend to stay with him; I would go stay with him to give him some time off but if he hadn’t ended up passing away when he did, not sure how much longer we could have kept him at home, but thankfully we were

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    1. Hi Donna. Mom was actually born eight weeks premature at a hospital that ran out of incubators. She wasn’t suppose to live out her first night, but both she and God had other ideas. Many, of her health problems stemmed from the simple fact that she popped out of the oven simply too soon. The fact that she ended up living 60 full wonderful years really is a miracle. I believe it’s not how long we live that matters, but what we make of the time we lived. Mom didn’t waste a second, and her life, though not as long as I would have liked, is one we can celebrate. Hopefully her story can continue to inspire us to live lives worth celebrating as well. 🙂

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      1. oh, wow, Audrey, and not only survived but apparently married and had a family, right? reminds me of a story in a book of stories about a mom who got polio and lived on to have another child after that and how much that child admired her “pluck”; sounds like not only do you feel blessed to have her but feel she was blessed to have you; she’s an inspiration to me to not waste a second of my life either – trying to find the reference to the verse – Lord, teach us to number our days

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