The following are random notes I made on my phone during the week when my mother- and father-in-law moved in with us just before he passed. They provide witness to a love that is seasoned, tender, tolerant, and for as long as they both shall live. We should all strive for such strong connectedness. He is 88 and very thin and tired. She is 85 and has mid-stage Alzheimers. She never worked outside the home. She has been a homemaker all her life, while he, the breadwinner, retired from the Railroad.
Raymond is home from the hospital. He really should have gone to the rehab but he refused. We talked him into moving in with us a few weeks early. We are going to move into a bigger house together in a few weeks. She seems calmer, but fusses over him and gets mad when he does something that has the look of being sick, like tired or weak. For some reason any off behavior from him sets her off. It’s like she thinks he is ten years younger than he is. There is no tolerance for his elderliness.
A conversation from the living room that I overheard while I did the dishes:
“Dad, I want to go home.”
“You are home. This is your home now.”
“We aren’t going home anymore. In a few weeks, we are moving with Jeff and his family in a new house.”
“What? Did you tell me this? Did you ask me?”
“It wouldn’t make any difference”
“Well I’m not going.”
“Fine. Live by yourself,” he says flippantly knowing she would never do that.
She makes a face, but says nothing.
The three of us sat down to do their bills. It had always been her job to write out the bills and keep the checkbook. She couldn’t figure out what to do. She kept picking them up and looking at them confused.
“What are these, Raymond?”
“It’s the bills, mom. Just give them to Carolyn.” He hands them to me. I start making out the check and making notes on the statement about how much is paid and the date. I hand the check to her to sign.
“Where’s the money, Raymond?”
“At the bank.”
“You don’t have any money to put in with the bill. Where is the money?”
“Its at the bank, mom! You put a check in.”
“Raymond! What are you doing?” He takes the check from her and signs it and hands it back to me. I put it in the envelope and seal it. “We are doing the bills, mom.”
“Are you going to let Carolyn do that? I’m sorry, Carolyn, but that is none of your business.”
“I told her to help, mom.”
“Well that’s just fine, Raymond!” She threw the bills at us. “Carolyn, you can just do it all the time now! How would you like it if someone came in and just rummaged through all your business?” Raymond and I had betrayed her, despite her not being able to do it anymore. Afterward, Raymond and I decided we just wouldn’t tell her when we did the bills anymore.
He was shaking. It affected him greatly. There was no reasoning with her. When we were done he asked her to help him up and she told him, no, that he could get himself to his chair.
After the kids got home from school, my daughter heard her ask him, “What are we doing here?”
He said, “I can’t take care of us. I can’t even get up.”
“Well, will you get better?”
“I hope so.”
Home health came out today and spent two hours teaching me how to take care of him. Physical therapy came out and taught us how to get up with a walker and get in and out of bed.
So tonight Jeff had to work a little late and pandemonium broke loose. Daughter had to be at church, a son had to see his teachers at a McDonalds fundraiser. Another son had to go to the gym. Dinner needed to be cooked for hungry elders. By the way, I never got a shower today. Maybe there will be time for me after bedtime.
This afternoon Dorothy was watching TV and saw a news story that Donald Trump is the new president. She asked Raymond, “President of what?”
“America, Dorothy! America.”
We are settling into a routine, but it is still tiring. So, for the last half hour before the school bus got here, the three of us were crashed out in the living room while the Price is Right blared on TV.
Tonight I hit a wall. I just got so tired and my legs ached terribly. I had no patience and was super irritable. Jeff got me in bed and I wept. I sobbed. Hot tears poured from my eyes. He went and got me some Motrin. We lay there and just talked for a while. It’s so hard. It’s scary because I feel so responsible for them. It’s tiring. I am ever cheerful so they don’t think I resent them. There are times its shocking to my senses and seeing their agedness slams into my immature mind, but there is beauty. I am finding familial intimacy. I am combining my world with a couple who didn’t choose me. I did not choose them. We are bound by the common love for their son/my husband. We accept each other with graciousness. We need each other. I am privileged to be a part of their home life. To care for them in personal ways. I am exhausted to the point of coming unglued but I am being blessed in ways I never expected.
A new day. He was supposed to have two doctor appointments and an occupational therapist home visit. Raymond woke up hurting with sick looking urine. I rescheduled appointments and called home health to come out. I put together a shower bench. It was slightly easier than constructing a Barbie Dream House. The occupational therapist said the sliding shower doors had to come out and we needed a handheld sprayer. So I took the doors down (Go me!) and I’ll head out to get a shower sprayer soon.
I look a wreck and I’m wearing yesterday’s clothes, but I’m not drowning. Still fighting. Still forging ahead.
I managed to change a shower head by myself. I feel totally good about myself now. I told Raymond I had made changes to the bathroom that would make it easier for him to bathe. I told him about the shower head. He asked who put that up. I swear somewhere orchestra music blared something like “Ta Da!” I told him I did.
It was a week for which I am grateful. It was hard, but I got back more than I gave. I got a chance to care for them and build trust. Even more, I got sneak peaks into their relationship. Conversations that usually no one hears went on within earshot. Raymond tenderly tolerated her forgetfulness, her endless repetitive questions, her prodding when he was tired. He held her hand and calmed her nerves. He made sure she ate and took her medicine. He even made sure she was in a safe place, moved in with us, so that she would be cared for. She didn’t want to leave their home but she would go wherever he did. She followed him here.
I’m not sure if he knew the end was near. If you read my previous post, you know that a few days later, he quietly passed. After 63 years together, they still loved each other. Even more than that, they were connected in a way that so few couples ever know. I am blessed beyond measure to have been a witness to their love for each other in such private and human ways.
Oh Carolyn that was so beautiful that it almost made me cry. My heart bleeds for all of us. Thank you for doing what had to be done.
Thank you, Odella.