It was over a decade ago that my mother in law's memory began to slip. Her mother had the same thing, only later in life.
Slowly her life began to close in. She could no longer take care of grand kids. She dropped out of the church ladies' circle. She stopped buying birthday presents or Christmas gifts. She gave up her driver's license.
Her husband, my father in law, became her sole care giver. He was fiercely protective of her. He loves her. The problem is, she is not well taken care of.
Eventually she stopped changing her clothes. She no longer took care of her finger nails or toe nails. She forgot to shower.
My husband and I were the first to talk about a change. Many years ago we took them to model homes in our area. We painted the picture of moving out of the mountains and to the grand kids where they could attend ball games and plant a garden. They stubbornly refused.
My father in law dug his heals in, promising to make a change in the future...to move back to his home state. His words were empty. He began lying to his kids and laughing about it to his friends as his wife's memory faded...
In her day she was a teacher and an artist. She was funny and generous. Every one loved her. Yet as she floated into her twilight years her dignity was disappearing faster than her memories.
If my husband were an only child things would have gone much differently, but he is not and it took time to get everyone on the same page. They were coming to our house for Christmas we were told, and as they made their way down the interstate we would get the phone calls:
- "Mom is limping. Her foot is really hurting her. She can't remember what happened."
- "Lois has a really bad foot. I think it is getting worse. She can barely walk."
Her foot was infected because her clothes were dirty and she never showered. Her toe nails needed a doctor's care. And I looked at my heart broken hubby and said, "I would never allow my mother to live like this."
Weeks later my family and my husband's two brothers and sister came from across the country and Canada to end the situation. Resolute, my husband said to his father, "Mom is coming with me. You are welcome to come, too, but if you want to move to Oregon you must go find a place by yourself and then I will bring her to you."
He was so brave.
Grandpa came too and we found them a place at a wonderful Christian retirement home near us. My father in law screamed and jumped up and down. He pounded his fist and pointed his fingers at us.
He made my daughter cry.
And we have worked hard to make this their home, and increased medications for bad moods, and kept family members updated, but as my brother in law left the restaurant heading for a new life several states away, I realized we were the only ones even close.
A brother is now in Texas; another in Maine; and a sister is in Canada.
Every holiday is ours. Every call with an injury or reports of bad behavior come to us to manage. And I realize why the 5th commandment is the one with a promise:
"Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord is giving you." Exodus 20:12
It is not easy, nor is it simple, but it is worth it.