Friday, October 5, 2007
An unexpected gift
When I was a preschooler my parents converted their garage into an apartment for my father's parents, Marvin and Lois. It had a bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom custom designed to meet the needs of my grandma's disability. I loved it that everything in her house was scaled down. I always felt like a big girl at the kitchen sink or stove.
She contracted polio during the epidemic of the 50's. I'd often ask her how it happened. "I went swimming in a creek. Went out to hang out the laundry. I felt weak and never walked again." My understanding is that she (in typical mother fashion) got her children immunized but failed to do so herself.
Polio landed her in an iron lung and in and out of hospitals for the majority of my father's childhood. She did overcome, however, and spent the remainder of her life in a wheelchair. She became a master with her hands at all variety of crafts- cross stitch, embroidery, quilting, knitting, crocheting, beading- and she taught Sunday School and VBS faithfully. In my mind she was a wonderful friend who always had time for me. She never told me I was too young to try and I never felt too old to ask for help.
My parents brought Grandma and Grandpa into our home with no strings attached. They lived independently for the most part. I think that my Dad probably enjoyed a relationship with them then that he had missed during the years of illness and recovery.
When Grandpa died it was a blow to the family to say the least. It was an unexpected death and mourned by all of us deeply and in different ways. Grandma suffered a few strokes in the following years which eventually left her paralyzed on the right side and in bed most of the time. She remained in our home for 7 more years.
These were years of sacrifice, especially for my mom. Grandma required complete care physically, but also needed social and spiritual interaction as well. Knowing what I know now about all the energy that it takes to manage a home and family, I am amazed at the gift of time and love that was given. I don't know of many women that would willingly do this for their invalid mother-in-law. Nursing home care was not even a question.
My mom was in her 30s at the time. When her friends were going on vacation or out of town for the weekend, my mom just did not go. When all the children were off to school, she stayed home. Her days were not filled with socializing or "time to herself". Yet, I have never heard her voice a regret.
Grandma eventually decided, surprisingly, on her own that she wanted to live in a nursing home where she could have more social interaction with peers. She lived there healthy and happy for 12 years before she passed away.
God has used the sacrifice of my parents and the service of my mother, in particular, to teach me what it means to be a family- patience, pain, nurturing, giving, disabilities, responsibility, integrity, sacrifice, love. These things don't happen on great family vacations or reunions. They happen over time and in every day service to one another.
My parents probably never had all of this in mind when they built on that garage apartment, but to me it is a precious gift that I will forever cherish.
I often think about how I am going to instill into my five daughters what it means to nurture and care for others. How am I going to teach value of giving to a person who can not give back equally or at all? These things just are not seen in today's world.
The answer I know lies in this question: "How am I modeling sacrifice and service to those God has placed in our family and life?"
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