52: A Time for Change

52: A Time for Change

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

A Time for Change

Change always comes bearing gifts.

~Price Pritchett

My mother-in-law never called me at work, but one day she asked me to come straight home, and that’s all she would say. Somewhat nervously, I tapped on the door and entered Mom’s apartment, which was attached to our house. Back-to-back on the couch, noses in the air, sat Mom and Mrs. T.

Mrs. T. had been her faithful help—and friend—for 10 years. Not only had she performed household chores, but she had helped take care of my father-in-law after his stroke. When Mom resigned from her RN position, Mrs. T. gave her a few hours of respite with her full-time patient at home. Even after Dad passed, Mom looked forward to Mrs. T’s cleaning days as a chance to catch up on neighborhood gossip. After Mom had a stroke and moved into the apartment in our new house, Mrs. T. agreed to come twice a week.

Mom had been complaining about Mrs. T. “meddling.” This day, she was highly indignant, accusing Mrs. T. of treating her like an infant. Mom was on her high horse and not about to come off! Taking Mrs. T. gently by the arm, I led her to the door. I thanked her and apologized for any wrong she felt, but let her know we obviously had to have a change.

“Mom, it’ll all work out,” I promised. “We’ll have a new ‘normal’ around here before you know it.”

This change called for more family participation. The grandchildren made a point of spending part of their after-school day with her. My husband took time to catch up when he was home. I cleaned the apartment on weekends.

One day, Mom became confused and after she couldn’t remember her way back from her weekly visit to the beauty shop, she tearfully—but voluntarily—handed over her car keys to my husband. Not long after that, I found her in a befuddled state. Much to her chagrin, I hid the half-dozen bottles of medicine in my kitchen, doling out the medication as prescribed. Her care was becoming too much for me to handle.

It was time for help. We hired a down-home grandma with too much energy to enjoy her retirement. From the first handshake, Edith and Mom connected, despite having nothing in common apart from being Southern grandmothers. Not only did Edith keep the apartment spotless, but she also made all of Mom’s favorites—pinto beans with fatback, biscuits from scratch, and fried apple pies.

Finally, we were finding our new “normal” again. Even when I started working full-time, the nights and weekends seemed easier. Edith was happy to stay the occasional weekend so my husband and I could get away. She sometimes just came over on a Sunday to visit. It seemed as though Edith brought sunshine back into all our lives.

It was on one of those Sunday afternoons, absorbed in my preparations for dinner guests, when I heard shouting coming from the apartment. Oh, no, not again! My mind flashed back to Mom and Mrs. T. I dashed through to the apartment. “Go, Dale!” I heard my mother-in-law shout. Edith, a huge Dale Earnhardt fan, had introduced Mom to NASCAR!

Edith became a fixture at our house that summer as we prepared for our twin daughters’ double wedding. The ever-punctual Edith came early on the wedding day and tried to keep Mom calm. At the church, Mom’s periwinkle skirt kept slipping down, so I safety-pinned it discreetly to the jacket before seating Mom and her ever-present oxygen tank in the front pew. She was too exhausted to come to the reception that we held in the picnic area of our property. Instead, Mom and Edith watched the comings and goings from her bedroom window.

My prayer had been answered. Many times that year, I’d gazed skyward and prayed, “Please, may Mom live to see the girls married. I just don’t know what to do if you call her home that day. Oh, please, please, not that day.”

Exactly one month after the wedding, He did call her home. Among the many things we’d discussed over the years were death and her requests. As the days normalized after the wedding, Mom added another request. “Bury me in that wretched periwinkle outfit. It’s the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever owned, and no one should ever have to wear it again!” Yes, Mom.

~Rosemary Francis

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