Today, as I was about to leave, Deborah, my mother-in-law’s caregiver rolled her into the dining room for breakfast. As I said good-bye, my mother-in-law pursed her lips and pulled her eyebrows together. She raised her hand and gave me a gesture that I have come to understand as the Ecuadorean equivalent of flipping the bird. “YOU!” she said in a stern, low voice.
Clearly, she was pissed—at me. At me? Really? Me? Of all the people on the planet, me?
“Yes, ME! You want to talk about ME? Let’s!” I snapped. “In the past week, I have brushed your teeth, combed your hair, washed your hands and wiped your butt—countless times. I have taken your vitals and administered your meds, including giving you insulin injections while you tried to swipe my hand away. I have made soup and spoon-fed you. I’ve driven across town to pick up your prescription. I have loaded my car with your crap and unloaded it four times in an attempt to empty your house and ready it to lease. I have lifted you from your bed to your chair and from your chair to the toilet—repeatedly. I have swept and mopped the floor around your spot in the dining room daily. I’ve yelled at my husband because he forgot to call in a refill for your insulin. I’ve cancelled play-dates and forgone a pool membership for you. If you are going to be pissed off at anyone on God’s green earth, it should be someone else! Anyone else! As I see it, I am the only person willing to strain her body, bank account, and marriage for you!” Then, I slammed the door and stomped out in a fury, huffing and puffing as I muttered under my breath.
No, that’s not what I did. That’s not what I said.
Instead, I said, “Okay, then. The kids and I will be back by 2:30. You have a good day,” and I left quietly while mouthing “thank you” to Deborah on the way out the door.
Where were we going? Over to my mother-in-law’s house. I had decided that instead of going to the library for the summer reading program, we would go to her house and pick up another load. I’ve only been working on this house since September so you can imagine how eager I am to finish this project and get on with my life. I had even devised a game for the kids. I decided I would give them each a bag to fill with the random pieces of paper, plastic, and other recyclables. It would be a contest, and both would win a Frosty from Wendy’s–mostly because I wanted a Frosty.
As I drove towards the beltway, I thought about her misplaced anger and how her care has completely dominated my life since she moved in with us ten months ago. The only breaks have been the result of her being hospitalized twice in May, and those weren’t vacations. No, either my husband or I were with her the entire time. Instead of flipping me off, she should be thanking me. I have rearranged my entire life for her. So, where is the love?
It was a fleeting thought—my angry response to her ire. I know dementia steals a person’s ability to be gracious, to appreciate what others do. I can’t really hold that against her. And I do imagine that most people in her position would be angry. She’s lost her husband, her home, her friends, and her ability to do for herself. She isn’t angry at me. She’s angry at a situation that just engulfs us both.
I don’t have dementia—yet. I have the ability to appreciate, to praise, to thank, to be gracious—but do I do any of those things enough? Have I told people I value them and all they do for me? I mean, I thanked my children for their hard work and good behavior today by buying them a Frosty, but do they know how much I appreciate them not making a difficult situation even harder?
What about my neighbor who listens to me and offers genuinely useful advice? What about all the friends who offer their prayers and kind words of support when I’ve commandeered our book club meeting with my sandwich tales? What about my sister and my brother-in-law and my cousin who helped move furniture? Really, really heavy furniture? Are pizza and beer ever enough when thanking people who help you move heavy furniture? I feel like I owe them a kidney.
I’m going to make a point to be more gracious and more generous while I still can. No one ever knows when she will be robbed of the chance or the ability to simply say, “Thank you.”
So, if you have been reading my blog, thank you! Please know that I get a rush of humility and gratitude thinking that people are interested, informed, or entertained by anything I have to say. And if you are praying for me, GOD BLESS YOU! I live on prayer. Thanks!