It was late January of 2011. Christmas had just passed. It was the bleak midwinter, and Chris and I found ourselves emerged in the cold and snow of Wisconsin. We were in a situation we never anticipated and were unprepared for, in over our heads and praying for strength and wisdom.
My grandmother, who I always affectionately called “Grammy”, had suffered a stroke. She was placed in rehab and we expected her to make a full recovery and return to her assisted living apartment. Then my mom received a call from the fancy, new rehabilitation facility. A social worker informed her that Grammy had refused all rehab and had hardly walked since the stroke. Grammy had developed dementia and was deemed unable to make her own decisions. She certainly couldn’t return to her apartment and the very expensive room at the rehab facility was doing her no good at all. Yet she was still paying for both places. We were told that if a relative didn’t come to Wisconsin and become her guardian, she would become a ward of the state.
We all felt that Chris was the best candidate to travel to Wisconsin. He would take care of Grammy’s finances and get her situated in a nursing home. He was so gifted at organization and decision making. His time as an employee of Home Instead Senior Care had well acquainted him with the needs of senior citizens. At the last minute, it worked out for me to go as well. I left my seven children with trusted friends and traveled with Chris into the unknown. I felt a special grace for this time, yet I felt a huge weight of responsibility as well. Grammy had always been able to take care of herself, being very healthy and as sharp as a tack. Now at 96, she was to become our responsibility. I was used to Grammy telling me what to do, not the other way around!
We rented a guest room at Primrose, the assisted living community where Grammy had an apartment. It was new and beautiful and very comfortable. We were only supposed to be there 3-4 days which meant our schedule would be non-stop. We had to see a lawyer and then a judge to be granted guardianship. Then we had to visit nursing homes and chose one. We had to visit Grammy several times, of course, and work things out with rehab and Primrose. We had to think about applying for financial aid. Although the nursing homes were not nearly as nice as her current home, they charged a lot more, and we had no access to Grammy’ financials until the judge said we did. Once the judge granted Chris the guardianship, we had to visit all Grammy’s banks and clear out her apartment. We had to sell her car and forward her mail. The list went on and on without end. I kept a pen and paper with me constantly to write down every new name and number, every new appointment. My mind was so overwhelmed with details that I could hardly think straight.
When visiting Grammy, my heart was torn. She spoke so intelligently. She sounded so much like the Grammy that I had always known. I would think that I was making a horrible mistake by taking control of her life and moving her to a nursing home. Then she would remind us of why we were there. She would think Chris was one of the nurses. She would talk about the “seed soup” that she loved to eat. It turned out that “seed soup” was just tea with thickener added to it so she wouldn’t aspirate. That was about all she would ingest. She had stopped eating most food and had stopped walking. Yet the nurses would mash up a horrible concoction of all her medications and force her to eat it, usually on an empty stomach. Awful!
She would take a phone call from her boyfriend. After a minute, the phone would slip out of her hand and into her lap, yet she would continue talking as if the phone was still up to her mouth.
I knew we had made the right decision, transferring her to a memory care facility. Grammy was still very strong willed and feisty, and I wasn’t sure that she would agree that we had her best interests in mind. I told her gently that she couldn’t return to her beloved apartment but that we would be moving some of her things to a new place. She became so upset that she started feeling sick and displaying all manner of symptoms. Then she promptly fell asleep, sitting up and in the middle of our conversation. I prayed desperately that God would comfort her. She woke up a few minutes later and was in much better spirits.
It was Tuesday morning and like every other morning of the trip, I woke up at 4am and my stomach fluttered with nervousness. I felt so overwhelmed with all we had to do that day, and it seemed like more than we could handle. In addition, I was supposed to be flying home on Wednesday to be with the children. There was a historic winter storm with blizzard conditions and freezing rain from the Rockies to New England. The airports were being shut down, and I wouldn’t be able to fly home. My heart ached for my children. I hated to ask our baby sitters to stay with them for a whole week, but we had no choice.
I felt sad that I hadn’t visited Grammy in the past 12 years. We didn’t have the money to travel to see her, and it was hard to coordinate to take the whole family all the way to Wisconsin. Yet, here I was now, when I had to be. I was grateful to be able to help Grammy in any way that I could. Yet we still didn’t have the money to travel, and we weren’t sure how we were going to purchase plane tickets home (whenever the snow cleared) and how we were going to pay our babysitters.
I thought about how we had to go through all of Grammy’s belongings and decide which things she would like to keep with her at Harbor House and which we had to get rid of. I thought of going through all her personal papers and financial documents, all of her private memories and treasured trinkets, and I felt wretched, as though I was betraying her trust!
I felt awful about putting her in a nursing home. I wanted to bring her back to Pennsylvania to live with us, but I just couldn’t see how that would work. Could she even travel? Would she be devastated to leave the town that she had spent most of her life in?
All these thoughts wouldn’t allow me to get anymore sleep. I slipped out of bed as quietly as I could and got into the shower. The spiral of thoughts and emotions continued until I just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry.
“I just want to go home and be with my children, but there is no way that I can!” I said to God.
Then sweetly and softly I heard God singing over me! It was a song by Mercy Me that I had heard on the Christian station, and God sang it to me something like this:
“You’re Beautiful! You’re Beautiful! You are treasured, you are sacred, and you are mine. You’re beautiful.”
I felt wretched. I felt homesick.
God was calling me beautiful!
I felt overwhelmed. I felt inadequate. I felt like I was doing everything wrong.
God was calling me beautiful!
And I experienced his deep, deep love for me when He sang it. It was like the love of a husband watching his wife have a stressed induced meltdown over some silly thing. He understands her thoughts and knows the depths of her heart. He is used to her swirling emotions. He knows that all the details that she is so concerned about will simply fall into place. He knows that she doesn’t need to worry at all, and her freaking out will accomplish nothing. Yet he looks at her and he can’t help but love her, despite her failings…because she is his beloved bride. Even though her face is red and blotchy with tears, her husband can’t help but see her overwhelming beauty. He is totally and completely in love with her at all times, no matter what.
That is how God made me feel that day in the shower. Isn’t He an amazing God! That He loves us so completely! His love was all I needed to take courage again and keep pressing forward, through the rest of the week, through moving Grammy’s stuff and moving Grammy and preparing everything that needed to be done before we returned to Pennsylvania.
Now, years later I look back on that frozen week in Wisconsin with awe and wonder. It was a blessed miracle. I saw God give us favor with the right people and witnessed Him work out all of the details. I got to spend precious time with Grammy. And the blizzard? God worked it out for my good. Instead of traveling home early, I was able to see Grammy comfy and cozy in her new little room. I got to see her happy in her new home (even though she did call it a “nut house”). I got to see her enjoy food and walk again! I got to kiss her and say goodbye before she took an afternoon nap. It turned out to be the last afternoon nap she would ever take on this earth. She finally felt at peace enough to let her spirit fly…and I got to be there…while God sang.
“He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph 3:17