Family, Hope, Uncategorized

A Beautiful Woman

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in my dad’s chair next to my mom. I looked over at this woman who I love so much and saw that she was watching me intently.  I didn’t know why and I couldn’t ask her. It was one of her bad days and she was struggling with her speech right then. My mom has dementia and is most affected by this disease in her ability to communicate especially when she has a UTI, which she had again that day.

I looked at her, wasn’t sure what I saw in her eyes beyond pain, and without thinking said, “Mom, you are such a beautiful woman.” And my mom smiled a small smile as she wiped a tear away. And I sat there pondering how truly beautiful she is.

Moms graduation picture

My mom had a tough childhood. Raised by an alcoholic stepfather who could also be abusive, life wasn’t easy. She spent summers at her mom’s parents, helping on their farm. Those summers were the best part of her childhood, according to my dad. She had uncles and aunts not much older than she was and they were her best friends along with cousins near her age.

She has told so many stories about the farm, about her Uncle Charlie and Aunt Dorothy, her cousin, Sonny.  She was able to ride horses, something she loved at the farm.  Her nickname with her family came from a treasured horse, Toots. She helped with all the chores, butchering, haying, whatever needed to be done. She was loved and protected by her grandparents.

She grew up in a loud and boisterous extended family that was also very reserved with affection. My mom didn’t get hugged as a child. No one told her they loved her.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t loved, she was. It was just their way not to express their love in this way. I believe this was part of her nationality.

As I grew up, I witnessed my mom loving her relatives, not through hugs and words, but through actions. She regularly took aunts to their medical appointments and shopping. She talked to them on the phone multiple times a day. She took her own mom to medical appointments. Raising six kids, she still made time to help family. And my dad worked two jobs most of the time I was growing up so that she could stay home and help us and others.

Mom loves flowers and had a beautiful flower garden for many years until it became too hard for her to maintain. Years later, many of those flowers still come up each year and bloom each summer. She also loved to go to thrift sales. She outfitted us throughout our childhood and into our young adult years with finds from these sales. She would search all over to find a particular item we wanted but couldn’t afford brand new.  I remember my excitement when she found me the tennis shoes I had been asking for that were so popular when I was in high school. She has so many talents, sewing, crocheting, decorating, collecting and more. She has crocheted afghans for all of us and made tie blankets for every child, spouse, grandchild, grandchild’s spouse, and great grandchild and even great great grandchildren.

She is a wonderful and caring grandma. To save she loves babies is an understatement. She adores them all. We have watched her love on our kids and our grandkids. When I graduated from college as a single mom, and found a job two hours away but couldn’t find housing right away, she took care of my three kids for several weeks until an apartment opened up for us. The bus dropped the kids off and she had treat bags ready for them to snack on every day. She was always looking for ways to make her grandchildren feel special.

mom and dad aug 2016

Mom and Dad have a special relationship. As kids, we saw them hug and kiss daily. We saw Dad pull her onto his lap quite regularly. They rarely fought in front of us. As kids, though, I think we wanted some of those hugs too. I know I did. Rarely were we hugged. Rarely did we hear we were loved. We were loved and Mom showed it in many ways every single day; just not with hugs or words. But I still wanted the words and the hugs. The first time I remember Mom telling me she loved me; I was seventeen years old, had just been in an accident in a city five hours away and was at the hospital. I marveled for days that she had said those three words to me, “I love you.”

As my siblings and I grew to adulthood, by silent agreement, we started working on Mom. She didn’t hug us and tell us she loved us because she didn’t learn that herself as a child. She repeated the pattern she was taught. We wanted more. We began hugging her even when she pushed us away. We joked and just hugged her more until she was comfortable being hugged. We told her we loved her. I never ended a phone conversation with her without telling her I loved her. Eventually, she said it back.

For decades now, Mom has been the one to reach out and hug us first. She is the one who will say the words, “I love you” first. We have always seen the love for us in her eyes. Now we feel the love in her arms and through her words. She has always been a beautiful woman and nothing will ever change that, not old age nor dementia. Her beauty is heart deep, not just skin deep and the love I have for her isn’t more because she now tells me she loves me and gives great hugs. I do treasure those moments of affection though and they are outstanding memories for me of the great Beauty that God has blessed my life with. I love you Mom.

 

Family, Hope, Uncategorized

My Grandpa

I never met my dad’s father. He died the year before I was born. I have seen pictures of him with all his children and my grandma, with just my grandma, with my dad and my older brother, and alone as a young person. In all the pictures of him, I don’t recall seeing any joy. In fact, in some, there seems to be a deep sadness in his eyes.

I wish so much that I had had an opportunity to meet him. I wish I had grown up loving him like I did my other grandparents. Cousins who are older than I am may have had experiences with Grandpa that would result in a completely different story than mine. I can only write about what I know and feel.

My grandpa suffered great sorrow in his life. I was not the first generation in our family to go through the pain of divorce. His divorce was very hard on him and his family from what I’ve been told. But I wonder if harder still was what we learned after my Grandma died and we found a letter he wrote to her.

My grandpa was married three times. His first wife died in childbirth when he was only 18 years old. She delivered a son before she died, a son he didn’t know how to raise alone. Back then, somewhere around 1900, he made the hard decision to leave his son with his wife’s family in South Dakota and he returned to Wisconsin. He never saw his son again. I’m thinking there are many in my family who don’t know about this wife or son because it wasn’t talked about.

He married again and had four daughters and lost an infant son. He and his second wife eventually divorced with him retaining custody of his daughters. Years later he married my grandma who was fifteen years younger than he was. They had eight daughters and five sons. Three sons died in infancy. The fourth, Jerry, died when he was six years old. My dad was the only son from both marriages to survive to adulthood. Oddly enough, only males died. All female babies survived.

I didn’t know about Grandpa’s first wife until after my grandma died. Grandma had lived in an apartment in our house and when we cleaned it out, we found a letter that Grandpa had written to her when she and Jerry were staying in the hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, where Jerry died. The letter was found probably 45 years or more after it was written.

What I knew of Grandpa to that point was what my dad had shared through the years. Dad was special to his dad, being the only surviving son he knew. Grandpa called him his little prince and Dad sat next to him at meals. Grandpa was a tough man. He worked as a carpenter both in Wisconsin and in South Dakota. He also traveled the country buying fur. Dad’s large family grew up poor.

I’ve been told that Grandpa had a temper and sometimes it got out of control. He also sometimes drank more than he should have. My Grandma’s mom told my Dad that Grandpa was a hard worker and a good provider. Opinions vary within my relation on his strengths and weaknesses. What I’ve written so far is the extent of what I remember knowing about Grandpa until the letter was found.

I only read the letter once and I have no idea where it is today or if it even still exists. But I can clearly remember the pain in the words on that piece of paper. Grandma had taken Jerry to the hospital on Madison, hours away from family to be treated for an incurable brain tumor. (From a picture I have seen of Jerry, he was a beautiful towheaded little boy.)

In the tearstained letter Grandpa wrote to Grandma, Grandpa poured out his grief at losing yet another son. The torment of his guilt that Jerry was dying and it was his fault was in every word. He confessed that if he hadn’t deserted his first son, God wouldn’t be punishing him by taking the rest of his sons. What a burden to carry! He was only a child himself when his first son was born. What did he know? So sad.

He could have gone back and found him later, but I suspect he was too ravaged with guilt to do so. Instead it ate at him. And each son he lost was further ravaging of his aching heart. No wonder he turned to alcohol to numb the pain sometimes. No wonder his pain came out in anger sometimes. I’m not excusing his behavior at all but a burden of guilt like he carried can cause things to happen that shouldn’t.

I grew up wishing I had known Grandpa. There was always someone missing in my life as a child. I loved my other grandparents and I wanted to love him as well. It’s hard to love a face in a picture when that’s all you have. When I read that letter, love was born for the grandpa I met through his words. I hurt for his hurt. I cried reading the letter of the man who fathered my father.

I wish I could tell him that God didn’t take his boys. God wasn’t punishing him. Life happens. We make mistakes. There are consequences to our behavior and choices, but God would not punish anyone in such a devastating way. I wish Grandpa had known the God I know; my God is merciful and extends grace to anyone who confesses their sins, comforts anyone who lays down their pain to Him.

Romans 8:1 tells us there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That means we stand guiltless once we accept Christ as our Savior, no matter what we have done in our past. We don’t need to carry that burden of guilt because He has removed it. We can let it go. How I wish Grandpa had known that. Maybe sometime between writing that letter and his death twenty some years later, Grandpa learned about the grace of our loving God. I sure hope so. I hope he had a time of peace on earth and eternity in heaven.

Thinking about Grandpa carrying that guilt for so long; well, that’s a lesson to me, to let go of guilt I have carried for years for different mistakes I have made in my life. Those mistakes, sins, were covered by Jesus on the cross. That’s all I need to know. If you are still carrying guilt for something you have done in the past that you have asked forgiveness for, please let it go. Don’t let it steal your joy.

Grandpa, I didn’t get to tell you in life that I loved you so I’m telling you now. I love you.

Family

Sandwiched

Mom and Dad

Sandwich Generation.

What is the sandwich generation? I have heard it explained like this: someone helping both their parents and their children/grandchildren. I am in the sandwich generation. On Monday and Tuesday mornings this week, I helped care for my twin infant grandsons and their three-year old sister. Wednesday evening, I took care of another granddaughter and made sure her siblings got to church. I worked my job. Then on Saturday, I headed two hours away to spend five days helping my parents who are 84 and 83 years old.

On the one hand, deep joy taking care of babies and toddlers in their new life phase. On the other hand, deep sadness going with my parents to the funeral home and Elder Law attorney to help plan their funerals and find ways to protect enough assets that both aren’t stripped of all assets they will need for miscellaneous things like hearing aids and dentures by a system set in place to help care for them should they need it.

I am so thankful I could spend those days helping my parents figure out some things for their future care. But it came with an emotional price tag. Watching my dad’s lower lip quiver in the discussion with the attorney, watching my mom try to decide whether to be cremated or buried, so painful for me. I haven’t slept well in days thinking over all we discussed and all these two people had to say and decisions they have to make.

To hear my mom say she wants to die in her home when we know that if my dad goes first, she is not safe alone in her home, breaks my heart. To know my dad wants to die in the home he was raised in but is willing to leave it so Mom is better able to move about, again, heart breaking. Knowing they can’t afford to hire full time care long-term in the future and we all have jobs we need right now so can’t give the care they need. So hard. My dad worked two to three jobs at a time much of the time I was growing up and until his retirement. Life sucks up that saved money so fast even when you are careful as he is.

At the funeral home, I looked at these two people I love so much, and I remembered them as young people having children, raising us all, and now looking at the end of their lives. How does that happen? One minute, you are raising children, the next, you are looking death in the face as a senior citizen while your senior citizen children are trying to help you navigate a painful path with as much dignity as possible.

My parents have done so well in their senior years. They don’t complain. They don’t moan about their lost youth. They live the life they have in the moment. They give us joy, we give them joy.

I think about my own life. Our children are raised. We have 12 grandchildren. Someday, not that far down the road, we are going to have to downsize, sell our home where every access point has stairs and not all doorways will allow a walker through comfortably, and move to a more accessible apartment. Helping my parents, I am learning about decisions I can make now that will make our lives somewhat easier then. I asked my mom what she would have done differently at my age to help her at her age. She said she would have moved more. She meant taken more walks, making sure her body was strong, that kind of thing. She struggles to walk at all now. I can see her point. I am exercising more, heeding her advice. My daughter has asked me several times if I am writing all this stuff down. I need to do that so I remember there is a reason for each change; making lives easier being number one.

In the meantime, I will enjoy those babies and grandchildren. I will help our children where I can. And I will help my parents where I can. I will take each day I have with all of them as the gift it is, treasuring the moments we have together, whether joyful or painful. I will plan for the future but live in the present. I will give love to the fullest degree I can. That’s all I can do. It will be enough. And someday, when I enter the presence of my Savior, I will embrace Him and family who arrived before me. Life will have been worth it, all of it.