My mother-in-law moved in with us.
If you’ve been following for a while now, you may remember that we don’t get along. But circumstances are what they are, and despite our challenging relationship, moving her here was our only option. I’ll spare you the details, but here are the facts you need to follow along: her husband is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s. She broke her hip in December. She is an insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetic. Her dementia has advanced to the point where can no longer be left unattended. Ever.
So here we are.
The decision was a hard one to make. My husband and I both knew what we had to do, but because of our past, I don’t think he felt like he could ask that of me. So I let him off the hook, and I posed the question. The answer was an immediate “yes,” and we set about preparations immediately, before either of us had a chance to really think about what we were doing, and change our mind.
We cleared out a room, converted it to a bedroom for her, and moved her in to our house.
I was angry. For years I watched her deal with her husband’s dementia without an ounce of patience, belittling and demeaning him in front of others (even my children), and now I was rolling out the red carpet for her. She was given beautiful accommodations, home cooked meals delivered to her at the table, and was spoken to with kindness and respect. It didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t fair.
I tried, I really tried, to open my heart and put my feelings aside, but I just couldn’t. When she asked the same questions over and over, I flashed back to the way she treated him, and even though the words I spoke were calm and non-confrontational, they were filled with bitterness. Karma hadn’t gotten it right.
Then one Sunday, the story of Jesus and the lepers was read in Mass, and the homily centered on Jesus loving the Unloveables. “Who are the Unloveables in today’s world?” the priest asked. He talked about loving, in an active way, those who are hard to love. He pointed out the obvious – the homeless, AIDS patients, those who are different from you, those who scare you. Then he challenged us to think about our own world, and who our Unloveables are. And to reach out to them. To love them anyway.
I tried. I tried to be more patient. I tried to speak more gently. But I just wasn’t there yet.
I was still waiting for her to love me back.
As days turned into weeks, I knew I needed an internal reconciliation. Something had to change, and the change had to be within me. I prayed. I sought counsel from friends. I wrote thousands of words, trying to put them in the right order to get me where I needed to be.
I knew I was getting closer, but I still wasn’t there yet. I continued to search the archives of my mind and my heart for some reference to give me what I needed.
Along the way I thought about an old blog post from my friend Mike. (Mike, send me the URL so I can link it here!) He wrote of Sacrificial Love, and his reflections mirrored that homily a few weeks prior, that we as are called to love beyond what’s easy, to love sacrificially.
And then it flashed through my mind. I thought about the Golden Rule, the philosophy so universal it exists in Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
And the Truth I had been searching for hit me. I was still waiting to receive. And that had held me back from giving. Whether or not it was ‘fair’ was not for me to consider. My duty – to God, to my husband, and to myself – was to treat her the way I wanted her to treat me, not the way she actually did treat me.
For twenty-six years I had shown her love, and had been waiting for her to return it. On that day I accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to come. The time for that had passed. In her condition, she was no longer capable of opening up to anything new. It was all about me now, and how I behaved towards her.
It was time for me to give love in its purest form, in sacrifice, expecting nothing in return.
For only then could I turn to God and say that I’d done my best. Only then could I ask Him to do unto me as I had done unto others.
This post was submitted for the Yeah Write #51 link up.
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You. Inspire. Me.
God is smiling…
and so am I.
I loved this ❤ Xx
Thanks for these kind words. They go a long way for me, in continuing to serve.
Simply an amazing post, Lisha. You have done and given so much and your ability to articulate what you have sacrificed and what you have gained has left me humbled.
May you be wrapped in the blessings you have given to so many others, including your MIL.
Thanks, TM. I (heart) you.
Thank you for the wonderful reminder. This post just took my breath away with the simplicity of you words, coupled with the difficulty of the task. Saying a prayer for your family.
Thank you, Stacey. Your prayers are a gift to me. ❤
Setting aside the religious aspect of it (I have conflicted views as I posted) I think what you did was a selfless thing by taking her in. You opened your home to her. You care for her. And you have worked through the conflict and accepted her. Commendable. I love your post. This is a minor point, but the priest said love the “Unloveables.” Isn’t it better to say that AIDS patients and homeless are Unloved? Even the most damaged among us are Lovable in some way. They are Unloved not Unloveable. Small point, but it struck me.
Stephanie, I agree. That word could have been tweaked a bit. But knowing the priest who gave that homily well, I know he didn’t mean “unloveable,” but as you said, “unloved.”
His parish is an urban parish in New Orleans, and runs a tuition-free school for at-risk kids, a homeless shelter, and a St. Vincent de Paul Society which provides utility and rent assistance for low-income individuals. He lives those words every day. He shares his love every day.
Every person deserves to be loved. Every person is loveable. Thank you for your comment.
thank you for the honest, beautiful look into a hard situation, and finding the courage to learn from it.
Thank you, Tara, for those words. It is hard. But I’m really, really trying.
Truly a wonderful and touching post. I can completely relate to this as I don’t get along so well with my MIL either. I love your honesty and the Golden Rule is something I strive for every day.
The Golden Rule can occasionally be tough to employ. I’m grateful I had the realization when I did. Thanks for stopping by Runnermom-jen!
How honest and beautiful. And so thought-provoking. This caused me to search inside myself and to look for those unloveables in my life.
Opening yourself up to change and love, even in exchange for nothing (at least nothing tangible), is so very generous of you. I cannot fathom the situation you are in (I am lucky, my mother in law is amazing), so I’m in awe of you and your honesty.
Thank you for the kind words. I have to be honest, it was less about me being magnanimous, and more about giving to my husband, whom I love very much.
This was incredible. Very thoughtful and honest. I appreciate so much of what you’ve shared here.
Thank you, Michelle. I’ve become quite honest these days.
What a thoughtful post. You did a very selfless thing but are totally honest about your ambivalence and struggle with it. It really does take a saint sometimes to love and care for some despite, despite, despite so many things. Really beautiful post.
The decision wasn’t about me, or about her. It was about my husband. With his father already in a nursing home, I don’t think he could’ve handled putting her in one too.
Thank you for th ekind words, and for stopping by. Hope to see you around more often!
very, very thoughtful post. i am especially caught on the idea of loving the unloveables, and the priest pointing out that they’re often (among others) those who scare us – i find that’s so true in daily life. i’m so happy for you that you’ve found some internal reconciliation on this and i hope that going forward things are easier for you and your family.
That night it felt as though those words, written thousands of years ago, were meant for me at that moment. They could not have been more relevant to any other person.
The paradigm shift I’ve experienced in the last few weeks have made a huge difference in how I’ve cared for her, for my husband and kids, and myself. I’m glad I worked through it.
Thanks for the kind words, Suzy. 🙂
You must have the patience of a saint. I admire your drive to love the unloveable.
I don’t know about the patience of a saint, but I do love my husband very much. And I can think of no better way to live my faith.
Thanks for the kind words. I think I’ll hop over to your place now and check it out. 🙂
This is some pretty heady stuff nicely rendered. Following your story, I was touched by your courage and generosity—it’s hard to invite someone to live with you when you DO like them. But you are right. We can only control ourselves—our reactions, our feelings, our choices—and that’s where grace lives. Nice post, Erin
The whole “you’re in charge of your reactions” philosophy is one I preach often. Applying it to myself, though, is a bit harder than recommending it to others.
Thank you for the kind words.
Oooof. Good for you. i very much doubt I would have handled that situation the same way..
I’m kind of surprised that I handled it this way, to be honest. I had sworn a solemn oath after she stayed with us during Tropical Storm Lee last year that she would never spend another night under my roof. I tempted the fates, didn’t I?
how difficult that must have been to watch her degrade and humiliate others and then turn around and treat her with kindness. It sounds to me like she it the lucky one.
Robbie, that was the hardest part. Because I struggled with “she doesn’t deserve to be treated so well after the way she treated him.” I’m so glad I realized that I had to move past it.
Otherwise, HER karma would become MY karma.
You are so courageous and such an example to me of what it means to really take a hard look at yourself and your own behaviors and figure out what your part in the situation is. Wow – I am really inspired.
Thank you. I felt more afraid than courageous, but we’re moving forward and doing OK. That “One Day at a Time” philosophy has never been more important.
Beautiful post – and I’m glad you can have some peace with your decision. Who knows what will come of this time you have with her? Maybe more than you could expect.
That’s kind of what I’m hoping for, librajenn. 🙂
I can very much relate to this post, as my own mom is the full-time caregiver to her mother (yes, my grandma, hee, hee) who just turned 101 in February. She gives 110 percent, and has for over 22 years, and doesn’t receive much in the form of gratitude in return. It’s a lot to take on, a lot to sacrifice, but she does it day in and day out. I give you kudos right here and now, LM, for taking on the responsibility and being of service with love under a higher purpose! Really, unless you experience it first-hand (and mine, is more second-hand), you can’t know how truly difficult it is. Blessings, 🙂 XOXO-SWM
Wow, 22 years. What an amazing commitment. I’m sure her blessings are abundant.
Please give her a big hug from me. XOXO
Wow, Lisha, you are inspiring. I was just emailing with my cousin about her incredibly difficult SIL that is being horrible to her (and my cousin is a darling, loving, saintly person). I am going to send her a link to your post – I think she’ll love it.
Thinking of you…
I hope it can give her a new perspective, and help her cope with that challenge.
And BTW, I’m so jealous that you’re going to BlogHer! You must tell me all about it!
Oh, lessons lessons lessons….they can kick you in the butt sometimes, can’t they?
What you’re doing here, explaining this journey, is good stuff.
That you’ve taken in your MIL? You’re a good woman.
Came from the WOE linkup.
Indeed they can.
Thanks for the support. I’m working hard to make every day the best it can be. Which is, I think, what we all try to do each day, with the hand we’re dealt.
Lisha, amazing post. Your journey with your mother-in-law is a tough one, but I think your acceptance and following the golden rule is the best.
You are a true blessing in her life.
I know it will be a daily challenge, but you are strong and amazing.
Good luck my friend!
Thanks, Louise. Each day is a new day, filled with both challenges and rewards. We’re taking them one at a time. 🙂
That is just beautiful Lee! My favorite one yet. You have such a gift. I was secretly hoping for a moment of healing between you two. But better yet, you have found a way to heal yourself and find peace with the tough situation you have right now. The golden rule rules! Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you. The healing is within me, and that is what’s important.
I think your love and kindness towards your mother in law speaks volumes about you. If you are ever ill or in need of help when you grow old your children will look back to this time and remember how you treated their grandmother and they will likely treat you well too. I think that will be the real Karma you seek and the fruition of practicing “do onto others as you would have others do on to you.” This was a beautiful post and I admire your honesty.
It was tough honesty to birth, but I’m glad I did it. And putting it out here means I can’t take it back, so I’m going to have to walk my talk.
Thanks for stopping by, Lily.
On a daily basis I see families make the decision to be primary caregivers out of love, obligation, and/or because of a lack of alternatives. So often those motivated by obligation and necessity give care with resentment and anger. Sometimes it’s a struggle for me not to judge these bitter caregivers. I remind myself that I don’t know who this patient used to be. I don’t know the type of mother this now vulnerable, fragile woman was to her children. I don’t know what kind of a husband this man was to his wife. And so I try not to judge those providing care. Some of these caregivers are also wounded children. Some are even possibly victims of abuse now caring for their abuser.
You, however, are you exception. You’ve done something that I rarely see – you’ve turned obligation and duty into love. You’ve created a love that’s more powerful than a feeling. It’s stronger than the meanness your mother-in-law showed you. I hope that if I’m ever in your mother-in-law’s position that someone like you will treat me the same way you treat her. You’re amazing.
As you know, what works today may not work tomorrow. You’re giving her the best life she can have today. At some point, for her or for you or for your family – different decisions may need to be made and, even in making those decisions, you are loving her and caring for her. I agree with Renee. Be gentle on yourself. And know that in the future, if you can no longer care for her in your home – you’re still amazing. She’s still blessed to have you in her life. I believe that someday, maybe when looking back from a different place, she will know this.
Thank you so much for the kind words. They lift me up more than you know.
Sometimes, when her eyes speak instead of her words, I think she knows already. And that is enough for now. My mission is to serve my family and my God.
We know that every day is a new day. We’re taking them one at a time.
I love this so much. When I was deep in the trenches caring for my own parents, a friend told me, “God will reward you for these sacrifices. Be strong.” Ditto. 🙂
Thanks for the kind advice. I know the rewards will be great. ❤
I admire your strength and wisdom. I doubt I could do what you’re doing in those circumstances. You are truly an inspiration! Love you!
For the first time in my life, I’m not sure I can do something I need to do. I’ll rely on God’s grace and the support of my friends to get me there. Thanks. ❤
Once again you have brought me to tears. That is so brave of you – way to step out and truly sacrifice. I will be using your words of wisdom, and the strength of your example to remind myself to step up when I feel like whining about being treated unfairly instead. Blessings on you and your family as you love your mother-in-law. My prayers are with you!
Thanks, Heather. As a woman of faith, I know you understand how I was conflicted. My family is blessed abundantly, and my MIL is one of those blessings. Now that I have my head and heart in the same place, we’ll move forward.
Just beautiful, Lisha. I will pray for you to have the grace you need to get you through each day of this journey.
Thank you, Lisa. His grace is the element I can’t do without.
Oh Lisha. We talked about this on a bench in NOLA. And here we are.
“My duty – to God, to my husband, and to myself – was to treat her the way I wanted her to treat me, not the way she actually did treat me.”
I recently wrote a piece about toxic people. But there is a difference now. Your mother-in-law doesn’t know what she is doing. Before, she was toxic. But your sacrifice is the higher road. That quote represents the highest love. I have to confess, I don’t think I’m capable of that. Of what feels like abuse.
Judaism teaches us it is our obligation to Honor Thy Mother and Father, but that is widely interpreted to mean that we must make sure our parents are taken care of. It is not our obligation to take them into our home and disrupt our own lives.
I think you are teaching a wonderful lesson.
Be gentle with yourself.
In case you have to rethink things.
Because you might. And it won’t mean you have failed.
What a blessing your mother-in-law has in you. And what a shame she doesn’t know it.
Thanks, Renee. When you wrote about that day, you made a reference that had an impact you probably never intended. You said “How many people open their arms that wide?”
As a Christian, there is no greater metaphor that can be used to describe a sacrifice than the image of Christ’s outstretched arms. As I struggled for clarity, those words kept coming back to me. I even wondered if that was what I was really doing.
I had to process it in cycles for it to come around to the place. But your words were my launching point. Thank you.
At this point, if things have to take a different direction, I will know that I tried. That we all tried. If her care becomes too much for us here, we can all be content knowing we took the step and did it as long as possible.
Thanks, my friend. ❤
I put you on my wall. And I keep you in my heart. I love how you lead by example. And humility.
Cindy lives her life in chronic pain and well without elaborating let me say “I feel ya”. Embrace the positive whenever possible.
I think about Cindy so often. She’s so lucky to have you. And you her.
This brought back memories of my own Grandmother caring for her mother-in-law. I was only a child but I remember. My Great-grandmother was in her 90’s and had dementia, but she remembered that she hated my Grandmother. She would say really mean things to my Grandmother. My Grandmother never responded other than to continue caring for her. When people ask the question “Who have you known in your life who truly lived out their faith?” She is one of the first people that come to mind.
Sending prayers your way.
I hope someday my children can say that as well. I’m trying. Thank you for sharing your story with me. That’s what this is all about.
THIS is the essay I knew you could write. And it’s beautiful, as is your spirit. Thank you for inspriring us to look around and remember, “it’s not about ME.”
Thank you, Yoda. 🙂
You’ve taught me well. From the first time I met your beautiful firstborn, you’ve been teaching me in ways that you don’t even know.
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Lisha. I feel honored to know you. And what will you do with all that internal space that no longer has to carry around that anger?!! Big Congrats!
Well, Kasey, I hadn’t yet given that any thought. But now the possibilities are endless! With joy in my step instead of anger and bitterness, there’s no telling!
Do you realize how few people ever understand this concept? You get it, and you, my friend, are indeed the “lucky mom,” although “wise mom” would be equally appropriate. Your life will be richer as you walk in forgiveness for past wrongs and unconditional love. You and your family will be blessed, you will experience the peace that passes all understanding and you will be storing up rewards in Heaven. What could be better than that?
Nothing. And that is why I struggled so hard to transcend that place of anger and bitterness. Thanks, Kay. 🙂
This is the part of being an adult we tried to hide from view when we were in our twenties and thirties. We can’t wait to grow up and be independent and then life begins and we learn independence is a state of mind more than a state of being.
Taking in a family member is overwhelming and requires patience. But mostly it requires your already abundant love.
P.S. Don’t forget to take time for yourself. Take the time without guilt. Let others take time without resentment. 🙂
Time for myself without guilt, I should try that.
Thanks, Kelly, I love that you were so quick to reply with kind words. As usual. Your thoughtfulness lifts me up.
That was beautiful! There are two lucky moms in your household now.
Thank you, Laura. I am Lucky and Blessed.
I’m proud of you. Not an easy journey, but you’ve gotten what you needed. As have your husband and boys.
Thank you, Erin. Through your words, I’ve felt you holding me up a time or two when I needed it. Each bit of support has helped me through that day, and now I can stand firmly where I need to be. ❤