At the start of this year, I said, “In 2012, we were hit by a meteor. In 2013, we regained consciousness. This year, we crawl out of the crater and discover we have super-human strength.” In fact, I said this more than once. I may have said it to anyone who would listen, and yes, of course, I was likening my mother-in-law’s fall and my father-in-law’s death to being hit by a meteor. A meteor may have killed the last dinosaurs. We aren’t dinosaurs. We are more like cockroaches or super-heros.
Because I prefer super-heros over roaches, I began imagining my husband, my children, and myself wearing capes and red and blue leotards and lifting cars. A family of super-heros! Maybe I can sell that to Disney…oh, wait…I’m a little late on that idea.
So, here we are in March and I’m asking myself, “Are we recovering? If so, what are the signs? What proof do I have that our family is crawling out of the crater?” and I’m finding some answer in unexpected, ordinary places.
It was on March 19, 2012 that my mother-in-law fell—so, almost two years ago. I remember exactly what I was doing when the phone rang. I was sitting on the dining room floor pulling china and crystal from a chest because I had decided that we would use our wedding china, and not theirs, for our slightly-belated St. Patrick’s Day supper. I had corned beef and cabbage in the Crock-pot and Guinness in the refrigerator—nothing fancy, but that’s me. I am the girl who liked to break out the fancy-schmancy dishes for a very ordinary meal.
Besides, I had received the wedding china as a gift from my in-law’s just two months earlier. You see, for the first five years of my marriage, my mother-in-law would ask me what I wanted for Christmas, my birthday, Mother’s Day, and our wedding anniversary, and I never had an answer. Finally, it occurred to me that she would enjoy buying china for me. She loved nice dishes. So, I told her, “We received only four settings of our wedding china as gifts. You could give me a setting or a bowl or a platter.” I figured that one place setting or one serving piece per holiday, and basically, that would take care of gifts for the next several years, but that is not how my mother-in-law worked. No, she ordered eight place settings and four serving pieces and had them delivered to my home for my birthday in January.
And now, it was March and we were going to use the new china for our St. Patrick’s Day feast. I’m not Irish. My mother-in-law is not Irish, but my father-in-law was, and he was a man who appreciated hearty, uncomplicated comfort-foods. The corned beef and cabbage was for him and in honor of his heritage.
Earlier that day, I had moved boxes of children’s clothing out of my dining room. I had been prepping for Wee-Sale, a local children’s consignment event in which parents—mostly moms—sell their children’s outgrown clothing, toys, and baby equipment to other parents looking for a bargain. It’s a big deal. I consigned, shopped, and volunteered at Wee-Sale. As a middle-class, stay-at-home-mother of two, it was a part of my life.
To prepare for Wee-Sale, I had been taking a break from my contract work editing event listings. I needed to iron the clothes, secure them onto hangars, enter inventory into a data base, and print tags.
So, that’s a snap-shot of my life when the phone rang: St. Patrick’s Day meal, sorting china, prepping for Wee-Sale, and doing contract work—when I wasn’t running children to playdates and doctor’s appointments, coloring, cleaning, disciplining, and doing all those other things that all parents do.
Then, the phone rang. I expected to hear my father-in-law’s voice telling me that they were running late. When were they ever on time? Instead, he told me that my mother-in-law had fallen and he had called the EMS, and they were en route to the hospital. I ran into the front yard and flagged down my husband who was mowing the lawn—that’s how I know we had a very mild winter in 2012. Lawns don’t usually need mowing in March—not here. I told him the news. He changed clothes quickly and headed to the hospital.
At the time, I didn’t understand how injured she was. It wasn’t her first fall. So, I put the china away with the belief that I would be cooking corned beef and cabbage again next week and that is when we would have our very belated St. Patrick’s Day meal.
What happened, however, was that she went from ICU to a head trauma unit to a rehabilitation center and to the rehab wing of a nursing home before it was determined that she wasn’t making progress. She was no longer in need of medical attention, but long-term care. Weeks went by before she was returned to her own home, and by then, my father-in-law’s health began failing. We lost him in July.
As deep as our grief has been for my father-in-law, the event that radically altered our day-to-day existance is my mother-in-law falling and sustaining a catastrophic brain injury. From that point on, every aspect of our day-to-day lives has been about her and her care. “All-consuming” is the word that comes to mind because we haven’t had a day in which her care isn’t a consideration.
As trivial as it may seem to mention, I didn’t seek another contract after the one I was working on expired, I cancelled my Wee-Sale registration, and the wedding china went back into the chest. My children have had far fewer playdates and have attended fewer social functions, like birthday parties. We stopped having people over. How we spend our time was radically changed. Yes, on the surface level, you might think I am whining about missing the most mundane and routine parts of my life, and that all that has changed for me seems insignificant when you compare it to what my mother-in-law has been through—her husband died, she’s in a wheelchair, she’s never returning to her former life of independence. I get that, and I am very empathetic to her ordeal, but the fact remains, my husband, my children, and I were hit by a meteor, too.
I’ve often heard it said that “God is in the details” and “the Devil is in the details.” I suspect that depending upon the circumstances, both statements are true. For me, quality of life is in the details—like having enough time to myself to tag items for Wee-Sale or enough freedom to volunteer at my daughter’s school. So, being able to do these things really is a sign of recovery for me, proof that we are crawling out of the crater–at last. We are settling back into normalcy with the fragments of freedom that allow us the opportunity to do the most usual, mundane, and routine activities. It makes me feel hopeful—like this summer might include swimming lessons, vacation Bible school, and day camp for my children– the activities that their friends enjoyed last year, but they were denied due to the lack of reliable granny-care.
I’ve also come to understand that my mother-in-law’s condition and her care altered our lifestyle in some pretty fundamental ways, but my life—all the really big and important things about me—hasn’t changed. I still believe in and give thanks to the same God. I still love all the same people. I am still me. That’s where the super-human strength lies. We all go through hardships in life, but you don’t let the hardships steal your faith or your ability to love. It’s who you are that carries you, and it’s who you are that gives you the ability to find God in the details of an ordinary life.
I participated in Wee-Sale over the weekend. I consigned 87 items and sold all but 20. I shopped—I spent a little over $80 and bought three pairs of shoes, two dresses, and multiple casual shirts. I volunteered and spent Saturday morning assisting other shoppers and straightening the racks. I believe doing this, having the freedom to just participate in a children’s consignment event, is definitely a sign of recovery.
And it makes me feel even more hopeful. I may have to cook a big St. Patrick’s Day meal and invite friends to join us. Or what about a St. Patrick’s Day campfire? The New Year’s Eve Campfire was a success, and it, too, was a sign that our lives are returning to normal because we have the ability to entertain.
Yeah, I know it sounds funny, but I’m ready to don a cape and lift a car, but instead, I think I will just plan stuff, like picnics for sunny days ahead.
Editorial Note: If you are curious about children’s consignment events, check out Wee-Sale and Treasure Hunting Mommies. Here’s the disclaimer: If you shop Wee-Sale, yes, it may benefit me because you may buy one of the items I am consigning, but probably not since it features thousands and thousands of items. And while I have yet to participate in Treasure Hunting Mommies, I really want to see them succeed because my college roommate/friend extraordinaire is one of the founders!