“A Nourisher of Thine Old Age”

By Joy Saunders Lundberg

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    1991 Life-Style Article Contest WinnerCaring for my elderly mother challenged our family physically and emotionally. It also brought us some surprising blessings.

    “Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without kinsman … and a nourisher of thine old age.” (Ruth 4:14–15.)

    “It won’t be easy, but it will be one of the choicest experiences you will ever share as a family, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the blessings that will come.”

    My aunt knew what she was talking about, having just gone through a similar experience. But I didn’t think I could do it. Life was already moving in on me and my husband like a bulldozer at a construction site.

    Within the past year, our four older children had been married, and our youngest child had left on a mission. A greater responsibility came with helping our mentally handicapped daughter prepare for and function in her own longed-for marriage. I was drained, emotionally exhausted.

    It was during this time that my 84-year-old widowed mother began to need my help even more than my handicapped daughter. My mother lived by herself in an apartment a few miles away. Due to the onset of senility, she needed more and more attention. I prayed mightily for the strength and wisdom to do all I needed to do.

    It soon became apparent that Mother was unable to live alone any longer. We had to make a decision regarding her care. Since the cold months were approaching, my brother in California suggested she spend the winter with him and his wife. Another brother and his wife, who live close enough to them to see her often, encouraged the arrangement.

    Mother loved the idea of a winter visit, but she was not ready to give up her apartment and make permanent arrangements elsewhere. We tried in every way to honor her requests. However, as the months passed, my brothers realized that she could not possibly return to her previous life-style. Eventually, she too became aware of her frailty and even began to fear returning to her apartment.

    At that point we, her children, suggested that she live with me during the spring and summer and with my brother in California during the fall and winter. Years ago she had said, “I don’t ever want to live with my children and be a nuisance. When I get old, just put me in a nice rest home and visit me.” But now that the time had arrived for her to leave her own home permanently, she could not hold back the tears.

    “Thank you,” she said in response to our invitation that she live with us. “That’s what I want more than anything in the world.” Over and over she expressed her love for us and told us how much she wanted to be near us.

    With her permission, while she was still in California, we closed her apartment in Utah. Many possessions were given to family members, exactly as she instructed, with the remainder being moved into my home in the room that would now be known as “Grandma’s room.” The family pictures of all nine of her children made the transition from her living room wall to a spot in her new room. Knickknacks she had treasured for years adorned the dresser and walls. She would feel at home here.

    Mother came to live with us in the spring. As the daffodils announced a new beginning, we too greeted our own new season.

    At times now, I feel a wave of sorrow wash over me as I watch her become less and less able to function on her own. Sometimes I long to pour out my heart to her and receive comfort and encouragement with my own problems as I had so many times in the past, but those days seem to be gone. Her mind is deteriorating dramatically in spite of our efforts to keep it stimulated. It seems she is now more like my child than like my mother.

    I expressed this sentiment to a friend of mine one day, and she said, “I have been through this experience with my own mother. It does feel like that—but remember, there is an adult, loving, caring mother inside that feeble little body. Never treat her like a child.”

    Many times since then I have had cause to appreciate that counsel. One particular experience came when we received word that our son was too ill to continue his mission and would have to come home. I knew how much his mission meant to him. It was heartbreaking news. As I tried to explain the situation to Mother, I broke down and cried.

    She put her arms around me and patted my back, saying, “There, there, dear. He’s a good boy. Everything will work out for the best.”

    Somehow the mother inside had emerged, and I was the comforted child for one precious moment.

    Our son did come home, and in spite of his own physical needs, he has been a loving influence and a great help in caring for his grandmother. At times I’ve wondered what I would have done without him.

    Having Mother need her children so much has brought all of us closer than we’ve ever been. Four of my brothers live within an hour’s drive of my house, so in order for Mother to have regular outings and to give my husband and me a rest, my brothers take turns having her in their homes for the weekend. They pick her up on Friday afternoon and bring her home on Sunday evening. She looks forward to these visits with great anticipation. They and their wives treat her like a queen while she’s there, and she loves it.

    Mother and I have fun sharing the funny little moments that happen sometimes as a result of her infirmities. One day after putting new batteries in her hearing aids and placing the aids back into her ears, I asked, “How’s that, Mother? Do they work okay now?”

    She said, “Can you hear me?” I said, “Yes, I can.”

    She said, “Well, then, I guess that means they’re working.”

    Another time she asked me when my brother Keith was coming to pick her up—a question she had already asked many times that day. I answered, “He’ll be here at four o’clock on Friday, and I know you’re looking forward to it.”

    She said, “Looking forward to what?”

    I said, “To Keith’s coming.”

    And she said, “Oh, when is he coming?”

    That type of conversation in its many varieties takes place over and over every day. As a family we decided that no matter how frustrated we get with this type of dialogue, we will not lose patience with Mother. She is too dear to us for us ever to hurt her feelings. Instead, we try to see the humor in the situation and share it with one another.

    Through the years, Mother has loved crocheting afghans, but now she cannot seem to remember or relearn how to crochet. And yet she wanted to make “one last afghan.” Crocheting has never been my forte. However, Mother’s visiting teacher is an expert. She has patiently worked with Mother, doing much of the crocheting herself but allowing Mother to do enough to feel the joy of accomplishment. How grateful I am for people like her who help make the burden lighter!

    My sister in Idaho, whose visits, calls, and letters have been a ray of sunlight in our lives, has now joined my brother and me in offering Mother a place in her home. My sister’s son left on a mission, leaving an extra room in her home, so now Mother will stay with each of the three of us four months out of the year. We have another brother who lives near my sister in Idaho who will also give loving assistance.

    I think we are most fortunate as a family to have married such caring spouses who are willing to do their part in serving Mother at this time of her life. My husband has blessed Mother with his teasing, which she loves, and with his tender care, which she deserves. He has opened our home to her without reservation. Our children, too, have been patient and helpful. They have drawn closer to her than before. They become the “grandma-sitters” when parents need a night out, and they seem to love it. Certainly Grandma loves it.

    One evening as I waited alone for Mother to come into her room to get undressed for bed, I stood looking at the many family pictures on her wall. The photo of Daddy and her is in the middle, surrounded by all nine family portraits of her children. As I looked at her with Daddy and remembered the beautiful love they always had for each other, and as I thought of her here without him now, growing old and losing her memory and facilities, I thought again, It’s so sad.

    But then, to my surprise, a feeling—almost the words—flowed into my mind: It’s not sad. It’s happy. She has lived a wonderful life and is now surrounded by her children, who love her and take care of her. That’s not sad, that’s happy. It was a comforting, fortifying moment for me.

    Other family problems have not disappeared, but I have somehow been given the strength and even, at times, a greater wisdom to deal with them. Our handicapped daughter and her husband still need help, but because I have been so involved with Mother, they have become more independent and able to solve their own problems. As for our little grandchildren, they find double comfort when they come—they’ve got Grandma and Great-grandma to love them.

    Though it has not been easy, my aunt was right: we have been pleasantly surprised at the blessings that have come.

    Illustrated by Keith Larson