I am part of what is called the sandwich generation, tucked between nurturing and growing my children and caring for aging parents. Because I am
naturally soft in the middle, it makes sense to me that if I have to be a sandwich, I should be a cookie one.
So I have decided to be an Oreo.
Just over a year ago my father in law passed away from Alzheimer’s. The last few years of his life were a roller coaster. There were hospital stays and care facilities; anger and emptiness. The journey of Alzheimer’s is learning to grieve the living.
Although my father in law died first of Alzheimer’s, many years before he began to show signs my mother in law’s memory was disappearing.
My husband and I will celebrate our twentieth anniversary this fall, and for over 15 years of that my mother in law has been fading. Her mother had dementia, and she resigned herself to the same fate. She has never been responsible for caring for my kids. My girls have never gone to grandma’s for the weekend.
She is still one of my favorite people in the world.
I call my mother in law Winnie the Pooh. She has a heart of gold but a head full of fluff. She is never cranky, always happy. (I called my Father in Law Eyeore, because he was quite the opposite.)
While some in our family have understandably struggled with the reality of both Grandma and Grandpa radically mentally impaired, my youngest–our precious little peanut–knows no different and loves her world. She loved her grandpa.
She loves her grandma.
This week was Grandparents Day at my daughter’s school and I knew Ryan would love to have Grandma there. Her school is 20 minutes away, and the memory care facility where my mother in law lives is 40 minutes past that. That meant quite a bit of driving.
As Grandma and I were walking out the door of her home to pile in the car I asked her, “Do you know who I am?”
No. She did not.
By the time we reached the first stoplight two blocks away, she asked me half a dozen times who I was. The conversation usually goes like this…
Me: I am a married to one of your sons. Who are your sons?
MIL: Let’s see. (Starting to count on her fingers…) Bernie, Carl, Everett.
On occasion she’ll add someone else to the list, her husband or son in law.
Me: Now which one would have been smart enough to marry me?
She laughs at that every. single. time.
Me: I am married to your son Carl. Usually if you say it together, you can remember my name. Carl and _______________…
It is an interesting conversation. Or not. But it is my life.
For the whole drive we chat about the scenery and philosophy; family and the past. It is often the same conversation on repeat. I believe the fact that she is my mother in law and not my mom makes it easier for me to enjoy her as she is. There is not as much loss to bear.
We get the walker out and toddle to the group meeting.
I get Grandma a snack she can eat with her hands. She lost the ability to effectively use silverware a while ago, but she loves a sweet treat.
Then we headed to the classroom.
Ryan was so happy. Daddy had to come along for the fun.
San Luis Classical Academy, my daughter’s school, is a beautiful part of this season of life. Ryan is on campus two days a week and homeschooled three days a week. I am hauntingly optimistic we will make tremendous progress this year.
Ryan did her “recitation” of Wynken, Blynken and Nod.
When your child can’t talk, you must improvise and prioritize. I decided that for this recitation, being comfortable in front of the class was the goal.
Look at that face. Today was a winner.
After recitations were art projects and show and tell times with Grandma.
Keep in mind that at the very moment my these pictures were taken my Mother In Law had absolutely no idea where she was or who she was talking to. None.
THIS IS GRACE.
THIS IS LOVE.
THIS IS BEAUTIFUL.
My daughter who can’t talk and my Mother in Law who can’t remember have a relationship that looks like this. And they both mean it with all their hearts.
I love this part of the Message version of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes:
A right time to cry and another to laugh, A right time to lament and another to cheer.
This is my life right now…a crazy, mixed up jumble of lamenting and crying while also laughing and cheering.
It is my demented Oreo of a life, and while I may not have chosen it, I do–in fact–love it.