We cooked, cleaned, and cared for my father-in-law after my mother-in-law passed away in 2003. I say “we” because my husband and his family were a huge part of this caring process. He had the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and declined quickly after her death. He cut my towels to make wash cloths, he glued his granddaughter’s dollhouse pieces and McDonald Land toys on his dresser and shelves (and wouldn’t give them back), he tore out pictures from my children’s picture books then taped them to his wall, and he used Elmer’s glue on his dentures.
He became a shadow of himself. He wouldn’t have wanted to live those years any more than we wanted to see him live them.
The year we lived and cared for him was the hardest year of our marriage. I have never tried to sugar-gloss it or make it anything it wasn’t. My husband was working all day every day and our youngest of five was only sixteen months old and I was homeschooling the others. My oldest daughter broke her ankle and was on crutches that summer which ended the only plans we had of a sneak-getaway before school began anew.
She sat outside on the front porch and watched the rain fall. I stood at the kitchen window and watched the rain pour.
At a homeschool conference that fall another mother spoke all bubbly and happily about the blessing her elderly mother-in-law was within her homeschool, large-family home. She meant well. She was lifting me up to the ideal of a grandparent living within the home. She was pointing out the blessings and real life lessons found if only I looked for them. I understood the message; I didn’t appreciate the bubbliness.
These were desperate times that called for desperate measures on my part. It was often not pretty.
Her mother-in-law was sane; my father-in-law wasn’t. Her mother-in-law unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher for her. Her youngest was ten-years-old. My youngest was not even two and she was pouring kool-aid and apple juice all over the floor and table. My father-in-law was slamming doors and chasing the family dog down the hallway with a can of air freshner.
I look back now. My father-in-law has been at peace and with my mother-in-law for the past four years. And, yes, I learned a lot and was pulled and stretched more than I would have wanted, but I will not be poetic and say I wish to repeat those years. But, with my parents on aging’s doorstep, I might be called upon to do just that. Do I dread it? Yes? Do I fear it? No.
The one thing I learned the most during those younger years is how many things I did so wrong. Those were days of just getting through the day into the next day. Nothing was poetic. If it was something beautiful for God, it didn’t look that way to me. It was messy and nasty and hard and mechanical. Nothing heavenly about it.
It wasn’t until it was over that I could see God’s hand in it. I often think of how I should have done things differently. Often I wish I had. I still don’t see the beauty in those years but I know the manure and rotting leaves were there. It wasn’t pretty, but they were part of the soil God scattered for my growth.
My oldest daughter’s first job in nursing clinicals was to enter the room of a cancer victim who had died not 30 minutes prior. Kayleigh was assigned with another student to clean and prepare the body. One of the Corporal Works of Mercy in action. My daughter tells me that the worse part of being a nurse is handling the smells. Some nurses put Vicks rub in their nostrils to mask the smells. Smells of life. Smells of impending death.
It is often not pretty.
During a year’s time my grandmother fell 3 times. She had surgery. She had dementia. We had to lock-up her meds because she couldn’t remember taking them so would take them twice, or more. She didn’t want anyone to stay with her but would call my mother and uncle every hour on the hour to come and check on her and the house. She refused to leave her house to stay with anyone else. At night the anxiety was high and we were worried due to her wandering mind. At night she didn’t recognize her house or her surroundings. Between my mother, uncle, aunt, daughter, and myself; we clocked shifts to stay with her. You didn’t sleep. You stayed up…walking her to the bathroom, getting her water, listening to her ramble, answering the same questions over and over and over again and again.
If any of you question your own sanity, become a caretaker of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. It isn’t pretty.
I’m not writing this to mock or make light of anyone suffering. I’m establishing my credibility. Been there, done that.
If I were not committed 100% to faith and family, I could turn quite cynical. I see the beautiful, glossy images shared on Facebook and I know the beautiful message behind the image, I know the graphic artist means well but I’ve seen the reality. It isn’t pretty.
Pro-life work is not always about cute, cuddly babies. It’s about so much more. Pro-life work, in 21st century reality, is closely interwoven with the work of preparing for death. It is so closely woven that it makes hypocritics of all of us. Yet, when we inspect it more closely, the work of preparing others for death is actually preparing them for their second life so it isn’t really about being pro-dying, but about being pro-living.
It’s about dying to self. It’s about dying to our own selfishness and our own needs. It’s about preparing a mother to give birth to a baby who might die anyway. It’s about showing respect for a deceased body because it harbored a living soul. It’s dying to our sleep so that another can have peace of mind. It’s dying to our comfort so that someone else can be comfortable. It’s showing through our own life how we are called to live…and die. It’s about respect and dignity for what God has made. It’s about living in less than perfect condition, through less than perfect situations because we have been asked.
Because life is not glossy or perfect. It certainly doesn’t always smell good. That is the most common compliant of going to a nursing home. The smells. The sounds.
A pro-death society has taken God out of this cycle. A pro-death society has removed God from the Paschal Mystery so there is no place for respect and dignity much less for corporal works.
Without God, we have no hope. No hope at all. That’s why, in dying, we practice how to live. We are all journeying to death each day of our life, but we journey towards it with the reality of witnesses that there is life beyond death. That is why it is called the Good News. It is up to the pro-life witnesses to shout the good news of the Ressurrection that there is life after death. In the Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II, we are told that the body is part of that Good News. We were created in the image and likeness of God! That includes these bodies of ours. We were not created as angels. We were created as human beings who are not complete without our bodies. We are not mere souls, shapeless entities. We are body and soul. God knew that because He created us and that is part of the hidden message of Himself which He left us in the Eurcharist….His own body and blood, soul and divinity. All these things complete us.
As one pastor told a group of us when teaching the Theology of the Body, Grandma may be dancing around in heaven but she will not be complete until her body and soul are joined at the last coming of Christ when we will all be resurrected again with our bodies. Our bodies are a part of who we are. Our bodies mean something. Our bodies are as precious as our souls. Our bodies were created in love and for love.
Without the physical, walking, breathing body of Christ appearing to his followers and over 500 witnesses it would surely be a myth and many people would have since disproven it. The tomb would have remained closed and the bloody sacrifice would have been for naught. But people who saw the risen Lord were willing to die while teaching others the message of life in a risen God-man. You don’t die for something you don’t believe in, neither do you live. Neither do you serve.
Life, in the way it is taught in the pro-life movement, isn’t always cute and cuddly and baby lotion scents. It’s more. It’s a cross with power, a dead man who breathed His living spirit upon His apostles, and a God who loved His creation enough to live and die for us so that we too may live again after our death.
Copyright 2012 Cay Gibson