My writing took an abrupt halt over the last week and a half. My father-in-law had been fighting several little infections over the last few months. After the last one, the hospital wanted him to stay in a rehab unit but he absolutely refused. He insisted he would come home. Home to his wife. He had to take care of her.
His wife, my mother-in-law, has mid-stage Alzheimers. She gets very agitated without him. They have been married for 63 years. He is her safety blanket. She knows he will take care of her and relaxes when he is here. The problem was that he was so sick, he needed someone to take care of him so he couldn’t go to his home.
So they moved in with us: my husband and me and our three littler kids and our two revolving door adult kids, two dogs and a cat. They brought their [mean] cat, too. We scrambled to vacate the master bedroom and relocate to the basement of our home. We moved their recliners to our living room. We added a leaf to the kitchen table. We did all this in a matter of hours because the hospital said if he wouldn’t go to the rehab/convalescent wing, they were discharging him immediately.
We spent a week as a big multi-generational family. Their bedtimes and mealtimes were different than ours and we adjusted. The kids loved having them here. The plan was for all of us to move to a bigger home in two weeks. We were just going to camp in our snug home. Their home is tiny. There is no way we would all fit there.
It was all going smoothly until Saturday, five days after he was discharged. He woke up too weak to walk. Other than that, he was his normal self. Fussing with his wife when she would get mad at him when she couldn’t hear what he said. She is hard of hearing so you have to yell practically. The day went along as we watched him for any other signs of a problem. Home Health came and looked him over. They thought he might be starting a new infection and the doctor would let us know Monday.
By the middle of the night, early Sunday morning, he was talking crazy talk. We had to call an ambulance to help us get him into the car. They said he didn’t need emergency transport but he was so weak, they helped get him safely in his car so my husband could drive him.
Long, gut-wrenching, sad story short, he passed away three days later at the ripe age of 88. His kidneys were worn out and his body was just too tired to live any more. Like lying down after a hard day’s work, he quietly passed into the next life as gently as he lived. I’m glad he came home that week. He spent the last days of his normal life at home with his wife and son and grandkids around him. We talked about baseball and made plans for our new home. He argued over silly things and threatened to stomp his wife’s toes with his walker when she fussed at him. His grandkids hugged his neck and showed him their school work and school pictures. Life. Vibrant life.
That was a week ago. Life turned upside down for the ones left. Besides the vacuum left in this world where his jokster self used to be, now his widow is adrift. Her mind is a house of mirrors with no way out. She can’t remember anything, but she knows he died. Despite sitting in front of his casket for two hours, she can’t remember anything of the funeral. The memories are just gone, just like him.
Since he was part of the home buying package, the new house evaporated. My children are grieving the loss of a new home as well as the loss of a granddad. We are struggling to make our slightly cramped house work. My mother-in-law wants me or my husband to move in with her at her house. She is too far removed from real life to understand why this would be a problem. She is terrified we will put her in a nursing home and just wants to go to her home. At the same time she doesn’t like being at her old home when we go there to get things.
Our love could not keep him here. Heaven knows, if we could have healed him with our hearts, he’d be back home with us. My husband was with him when he passed and he said it was so moving, he didn’t feel sadness. He knew his dad had gone on to be with Jesus. Love did win, but not in human ways. We humans would have kept him with us, but God’s love is so much better than ours. My father-in-law now lives in a place we can only begin to imagine. I firmly believe if you could ask him if he wanted to come back to this “vibrant” life, he would say no. I’m certain he cannot wait for us to join him there. In that place, his wife’s mind will be clear. She will remember every detail of her life with him. In fact, she will remember words God whispered to her while she was still in her mother’s womb. There is no Alzheimers or tired kidneys in heaven. Just love. Love wins.
Those of us left here have it harder. Our hearts ache with grief. Our bodies ache from emotional exhaustion. We sleep, but get no rest. My mother-in-law asks, “Did he suffer?” at least twice a minute. For a mental diversion, I tried to count how many times I’ve answered this question over the last seven days. It has to be in the thousands. We trudge along now, trying to find that “vibrant” life again. Our daughter’s birthday is today, Thanksgiving is tomorrow, Christmas is coming. Faith that God will meet us at the end of our weary days is the only power strong enough to make this life worthwhile.
Without faith that my father-law is renewed in the spiritual realm with God, our existence is so pointless. The vapor of our time is so short. The mark so many of us leave is merely on the hearts of those who loved us. Without faith that God has a bigger plan than our meager rushing about, the only truth would be that even the ones we leave our mark on will vanish in their time. Nothingness. All the good deeds, all the construction of great cities, all the eloquent words written, its all nothingness without God’s greater plan. A plan, I believe, we cannot begin to understand with our minds made of flesh and chemistry.
So take heart, faith is power. With faith we can hug and comfort. We can create and build. We can celebrate a child’s birthday and give thanks at our turkey dinner. And most importantly, we can celebrate with joy the birth of our savior Jesus at Christmas. Faith is power to live vibrantly.