Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MILling About...

I will be the first to admit that the past month has been lacking in creativity, homeschool progress, and yes, even cleaning. But it has been full of comfort, stretching our boundaries, lots of problem solving, family, and a growing love for my mother-in-law.

Jan was taken to the ER early in February for what we now know was apraxia/anoxia, a pulmonary embolism, congestive heart failure, eventual pneumonia, and a few other problems that might seem minor but added to the overall picture of her health. She spent 10 days there and was moved to a nursing home where she stayed until we moved her last week to a wonderful Assisted Living facility just a few minutes from our home that embodies the philosophy of 'aging in place'. She's currently doing very well there and under Dr. Stone's care she is just about back to the Mom we all know. There are challenges yet to overcome, but she's on her way and improving every day. But that's not the journey I wanted to share today. There are more important journeys that have begun, and in these lie the future of our family.

When my slightly larger family merged with Don's rather small one almost seven years ago now, we added just four new members to our family but they added 12. And if you count all of those extended family members, they had to deal with much more than that. And in typical fashion, we embraced their small family and just added them in to the fold. They were a part of all of our family celebrations, invited to every activity, and rejoiced with us when Laura was born. They were family. But I'm not sure that they fully understood what that meant to all of us, not even Don.

Having been on his own for so long it was hard for him to realize that my Dad meant it when he said he'd help with something. And that my parents really expected a call when large family projects were under way. Or that the word "we" really meant "we", as in all of us. I think Diane first truly began to understand just how much we loved her when she joined us for our week at the beach. We trusted her enough to let her see the good and the bad in all of us, to be squished in the car that seats 10 with the other 9 of us, traveling 10 hours through countryside and city traffic with my Dad at the wheel. If ever there was a time that she could choose to bail on us, that would have been it. But she hung in there. And she was even game for planning next year.

After our week at the beach I think Diane began to understand just how much we did love and accept her as a part or our family, but she still held the primary responsibility for Mom and couldn't spend as much time with us as we'd like. Often my Mom and I plan impromptu meals, gatherings and such just because we haven't seen each other since last weekend, we need a project completed together, or we have caramel corn to make by the gallon. While we'd like for Diane to be more a part of these times, it isn't feasible since she's so far away and the demands of life, taking care of Mom's needs, and puppy motherhood keep her schedule pretty full. We miss her, but we continued to pray for the Lord to open up a way for us to be together more.

When Don and Diane realized in February that Jan really shouldn't be living alone any longer, I realized big changes were coming to all of us. As we gathered to start planning what we needed to do, I naturally included my parents. After all, Mom and Dad would be a part of whatever plans we needed to make, even if it only meant keeping Laura occupied while the rest of us sorted, cleaned, prepped and painted. With our usual division of labor in full force, Mom and Dad gently helped us problem solve, and Don, Diane and I decided it was time to relieve Diane from the full responsibility of her Mom. We all decided it would be best if we moved her from the hospital down here to a nursing home. Oh, don't get me wrong. It wasn't an easy decision. Visiting nursing home after nursing home, defining just what assisted living vs. independent living meant, and who could best meet Mom's needs along with ours was more difficult than I ever imagined. But finding places down here that met our needs helped make the decision easier.

Moving Mom here has brought four major changes to our lives so far. First, it meant that Don, and/or the kids and I needed to check in on her daily. Meals don't happen on a regular schedule and figuring out when Mom was awake enough to have a visit was a challenge that we eventually have worked out. Well, sort of. :) Now that she's settled in and is comfortable, sometimes a phone call will do. But I still stop in whenever I'm out running errands during the day and I'm sure Don will continue to stop in regularly as well.

Second, it means that we get to see Diane every weekend. This is one of the best parts of the whole thing. She generally arrives here some time Saturday and stays through dinner, visiting Mom and with us until she feels compelled to head home again. Then she returns most Sundays to have at least a quick visit with Mom. We love her expanded presence in our lives and it is my prayer that through this, she'll come to realize just how much we do love her and enjoy her just because. And it certainly isn't lost on me that the Lord could use this as the final step in getting her to move down our way. :)

The third change certainly effects Don more than it does the rest of us. It seems to have worked out best that Don, being of sound financial mind, take over keeping track of Mom's finances, paying her bills and such. He's good at that sort of thing. But he's good at it because he takes the time to do things like balance checkbooks weekly and file bills after they are paid. Yeah. It was a concept to me, too. :) I'm sure this change will continue to evolve along with the rest, and I know we'll get better at it as he gets all of the accounts settled and her bills added in to his system.

The fourth change is something I didn't expect. And it really has to do with my own definition of family, and who that includes. As you know, I grew up with very loving parents who have spent their lives growing along with my brother and I (they started young!), and raising us with strong moral values and a great picture of what a true family is. I really didn't 'need' another mother in my life and Jan really didn't need me, either. She had Diane. While we were certainly cordial and I respected her as my wonderful husband's mom, I loved her from a distance. As it became more obvious that she would be coming down here for much of the rest of her life I began to ask the Lord to work in me. To make me the DIL he wanted me to be for her. That even though I loved her because she was my husband's Mom, that he would give me a growing love for her so that as I ministered to her needs it would be from the bottom of my heart and not out of duty.

I am not sure what I expected the Lord to really do, but he did what I asked and more. The first time I really realized it was the day Mom moved from the hospital to the nursing home. I was the 'greeter'. After all, every one else works and I had the time. I did the paperwork and waited. Mom was late. It seems a traffic jam was delaying the transport. And I had time to pray some more. By the time Mom arrived, Don was there as well. We settled her in and assessed her immediate needs, helped the staff do what they needed to do and prepared her for bed. Cradling her head in my hands as I said goodbye for the night was such a tender moment - for me anyway. I realized I would do what needed done and what was best for Mom because I loved her. Just because she was Jan. Not because I had to. Not because she was Don's Mom. Just because she is.

And that love has grown in the past few weeks. As we prepared to move her to what may be her last home in this world, I made decisions just as I do for my children. Because I've been given the opportunity to make the world better for her. Just because I love her. I have forced issues that needed to be tended to, and loved her patiently through others. Oh, I've had my moments. But the genuine joy I feel at knowing we've done what we can to make her comfortable, and the tears shed because she's improved so much in the past week are totally genuine. And it makes me very happy to know that we all truly are a family. Lock, stock and barrel.

And I don't think I'm the only one who has a growing love for 'Grandma Jan'. Yesterday morning while talking with Matthew he asked me if I thought the Lord might have moved Grandma Jan down here to be with us so that we could share the Lord more with her and help her develop a true relationship with the Lord before she dies. My son said that. And I didn't hesitate to agree. Of course I didn't let him see my tears. A Mom has to keep something hidden now and then. :)

When we began this new phase of life about six weeks ago, we had no idea what would eventually transpire. Looking back I can see that it has been a long time coming. And I know we will all be better for having gone through it.