Even our children love her. They have no jealousy about the love that we pour into this little lady. In fact, they contribute generously in pouring their love out to her. When we are not there, they hold her hand to help her take a few halting steps. They warm her water, her milk and her soup with great joy. For the most part, she looks at them with a wide, toothless smile and returns their love.
She is a little different. She's about 4 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs about 62 pounds. She has some very sneaky tricks up her sleeve. She loves to make everyone think that she doesn't understand English. She also loves to make everyone think that she is very hard of hearing. None of this is really true, but we all go along with the joke because that is one of her favorite games. She can't fake us out with her eyesight though, we all know that it is sharp beyond expectations, especially when it is focused on the neighbors' houses. We have to admit that we enjoy the stories that she creates from her observations from the sitting room windows. We enjoyed her fabrications about the rocky relationship between the two young people from across the court. It is always humorous to hear the quasi-fiction that she weaves. It is also interesting to listen to the semi-fiction that she spins about some of the souls who spend a lot of time caring for her. The rolling of eyes among the family members is rather comical in itself.
People come and go and she relentlessly asks them if they have eaten if they are arriving; the question is the same as they prepare to leave and it is repeated several times during the day to any and all who pass in front of her. It is her way of reaching out to those she loves. She is careful not to insert herself too deeply into the kitchen, being especially careful about not playing with the electric stove. She has found out that it is quite mysterious to have a stove that doesn't have a flame. She has learned how to warm her drinking water by using the microwave oven. She has also come around to cooking rice in the automatic rice cookers that rest on the kitchen counter.
One of the more humorous, although dangerous portions of her antics, is her constant effort to escape from inside the house and head for the garden. We keep telling her that it is dangerous for her to try to negotiate the stairs without help, but our counsel just goes in one ear and out the other. We have found her crumpled up on the driveway, at the foot of the steps, struggling to get back on her feet. It's always a laugh to see her frightened looks. We know that she is not afraid of the fall, but of the fact that she has been caught off base. She accepts our help to return to the sitting room where she sits with hanging head and listens to our admonitions. No matter how much we tell her that she could fall and nearly kill herself or handicap herself physically, she just laughs because so far, every time she has fallen, she has come out smelling like a rose. The one thing that does happen though, is that her asthma and enphysema attack her, and that is always a sobering experience.
This cute little girl is my dear mother-in-law, 88 year old Florfina. I have featured her here before. She has not always been as hale and hardy as she is at this moment. She provides the family with happiness and joy. She is herself enjoying a return to her childhood, true enough, but it is not always a happy trip. I am often reminded of the words that Jesus told Peter after asking him for a third time, "Do you love me?" and Peter
said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you. "
"Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. " (John 21:15-19)Florfina is in the unenviable position of many older human beings who have to live their lives out under very restrictive conditions. They have sharp, dynamic minds, good eyesight, good hearing, good appetite for food and so many other things struggling for expression in bodies so debilitated that they are prisoners of their longevity. They have good families who surround them with love, psychological, spiritual and emotional stimulation as well as physical care in comfortable circumstances. I, like the rest of us who participate in her ongoing care are enjoying ourselves. We like being around her because she is a good example of how to struggle with being gracious while being under siege to old age. Through her, God is telling us the same thing that He told Peter 2,000 years ago. It is like living the Gospel every day, right before our very eyes.
The point of all this is that there is a huge human and spiritual upside to giving loving care to our aging parents. This is more than obeying the 4th commandement, this is Love in action. This is the answer to the Mission given to us by Jesus to care for the sick, sustain the widows, etc. It is a two way street. Happy care givers in the person of children and extended family members provide truly pure consolations to all the members of the household, young and old, strong and weak, loud and quiet as well as close and distant. Don't look for a "HOME", create one. By doing so, you will bring God into the space that exists under your roof. That, in short, means that you will already be living in a small corner of heaven.
Try it, you'll like it. Then you will know that there is absolutely no reason to cry at my funeral.