Much of life is a head down, do my best, nothing spectacular series of moments. But every once in a while, I get a glimpse of beauty that knocks me to my knees.
Life with my hubby’s parents has been, well, interesting these last few years. My mother in law began losing her memory more than a dozen years ago. The family watched, helpless, as my father in law dug in and refused to make any changes that would be helpful to her. This was not out of any malice–his love was sincere–but borne of a misguided stubbornness and protective pride.
They lived in the mountains, in her parents’ old cabin, and when things got too bad we forced them to move to a retirement community near my hubby and me. My hubby is the third of four kids–one lived in Canada, one in Maine, another planning on traveling–and it made the most sense to move them near us.
We found a wonderful Christian assisted living center which became their home.
And mostly things were okay. Grandpa, as I always refer to him, was angry, a lot. The truth is he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for quite some time…long before we noticed. Grandma’s memory had been virtually non-existent for so long we weren’t even looking in his direction. Her dementia was our focus…and he went unnoticed.
We simply thought he was being grumpy.
The truth is he was scared. Often. For good reason.
Two years after we moved them, he got sick. It was only dehydration, but it profoundly affected him. We had to find a new place for them to live, as the care they needed exceeded the facility they had called home.
Although he had Alzheimer’s he passed the memory test to live in an Assisted Living home with a memory care license. We crossed our fingers and prayed for the best, but they did not last. They could not find their room, ever. We printed out directions and a map and taped it to their walkers, but it did not help. Two weeks after they moved in, we moved them again to the memory unit.
Home was now behind a locked gate, a locked door, with 24 hour supervision. Grandpa threatened to kill himself. He jumped up and down. He screamed. He cried. I heard my mother in law cuss for the first time in my life.
My daughter and I sat on the floor outside their room and cried. She was just eleven.
The next day he had forgotten all about it. We plodded along, making the best of the decline.
There have been hospital visits and emergency rooms. There has been anger, endless confusion, fits of rage and, gracefully, equal parts laughter.
My husband tells the same jokes every time we visit. Bless him. This last fourth of July he held up a cardboard American flag and led the whole community in the Pledge of Allegiance.
I fell in love with him all over again.
Three short weeks later, Grandpa began to decline again. As a family, we were wrestling with decisions about hospital visits and future medications. Before final decisions were made, he was back in the hospital. We decided to put him on hospice and focus on comfort. The doctor gave him 2-3 days to live.
The next day, he perked up again.
Hospice was a gift. He was no longer encouraged to do things he didn’t want to do. He didn’t have to eat if he didn’t want to. He could stay in bed all day. He could get up. He could do what he wanted, and he liked that.
We no longer got calls that he tried to hit a care giver or threw his juice on the floor. There was breathing room.
Then, last Tuesday, when the caregiver tried to feed him his oatmeal, he told her, “No.” That night he spiked a fever.
I went to see him the next day.
He was dying.
And my mother in law had no idea. She didn’t know me, didn’t remember her kids, and didn’t recognize him.
My hubby and my now thirteen year old had a trip planned to another state for a fun, fun weekend. We decided they should go. So Ryan, my youngest daughter, my brother in law and I spent our days taking grandma out to lunch, wiping Grandpa’s forehead, and making sure his mouth didn’t get too dry.
We tried to keep busy, gently explaining to Grandma what was happening.
She can not hold on to facts. She has no emotional memory of her life, no ties from her heart to her head. However, she is pure and simply loves what is right in front of her, whether she knows who they are or not.
By Saturday afternoon we were all weary. I was sitting on Grandma’s bed. I had prayed for Grandpa an hour earlier. Grandma came in to use the restroom, and on her way out said, “Is that my husband? He sure does sleep a lot.”
“Come here, and sit,” I patted the bed next to me. “The truth is, your husband is getting ready to go to heaven.”
Her eyes were wide.
“I believe God is waiting for him with open arms, and very soon he will be with Jesus.” Then I explained why that was good.
She looked intently into my eyes and said, “I have had a wonderful life. I had wonderful parents. I have wonderful kids. I had a wonderful marriage. How long were we married?”
“Sixty one years. But you will still have a wonderful life. Your kids visit often. You play with your grandkids. You love to paint. You love to swim. You will be okay.” She agreed and did something I will forever cherish.
She walked over to his bed, bent over him and said, “Good bye. Good bye. I love you. I love you. I love you.” Then she blew him kisses and we walked out of the room.
It was dinner time, so she got settled at the table in the dining room, I checked on Ryan and went back to see Grandpa.
It had only been 3 or 4 minutes.
He was gone.
There was no heavy breathing. There was no movement. There was only silence.
For several years, neither one of them had any control over any thought. No ability of recall. No memory.
Yet God, in His infinite grace, let the very last sounds he ever heard be precious words from the love of his life.
There are times when the beauty in the cracks of my world simply takes my breath away.