Mr. Bill and Miz Mona

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reading the fine print...

Miss Mona sez:

Did you ever find that you had signed up for something that turned out to be significantly more than you anticipated?  Bill keeps bugging me about blogging more and today he said I should write about taking care of Mom. At first my attitude was "yeah, right", but on reflection, I think I want to try it. I shall endeavor not to sound whiny.

To begin with, I believe in the family and I do not think that God designed us to live alone. Yes, sometimes circumstances develop where we are alone and there are those who choose to be alone, but I do not think we are at our best that way.

When I say family, I do not mean Mom, Dad, 2.5 children and occasional visits from grandparents. Perhaps "tribe" is a better word? For me, a family is a group of people of various ages and developmental states bound together by blood, marriage, choice or life circumstance.

I grew up the youngest of 9 with innumerable nieces, nephews, cousins and whatnot, so I guess I am somewhat predisposed to that viewpoint by my upbringing. Go figure.

My grandparents were not in the picture as they had all died long before I came on the scene. Further along, my own parents died, Daddy when I was 17 and pregnant with Elizabeth and Momma when I was 24, right after James' birth. Bill's folks were long-divorced, both remarried and lived in the Lower 48 while we lived in Alaska. There were visits and whatnot, but distance and finances made them necessarily infrequent and not terribly lengthy.

So, along comes 1990 and a visit from Bill's Mom. We were living in Fairbanks and Bill Welch had died a couple of years prior to this(The final of Mom's four husbands). Mom was thinking about moving to Alaska to be near us and we talked her into spending a winter here before she made the leap of moving. As a life-long California girl, she had never experienced snow, not to mention a Fairbanks winter! Anyway, she closed up her house and came toodling up to Fairbanks, her Persian, Pierre, in tow.

Bill was a State Investigator, working a steady day shift for the first time in our marriage (10 yrs and counting), the kids were Micah Sue-4, Joshua-6, James-8 and Elizabeth-14. We homeschooled, were the Youth Group leaders at church, Bill played percussion for the Worship Team and this had been the summer he and Gary did umpty-jillion overtime hours together chasing down bad guys (see Bill's FBX tales for more on that). Pierre hid under the spread on Mom's bed and the kids called him The Lump. We already had two cats, Hawkeye and Margaret, and a Newfoundland named Radar

Long story short, we had 12 ft of snow that winter, Mom bought a parka and Sorels (she hated them both) , broke her clavicle falling down the stairs while Bill and I were gone for the evening (Elizabeth did a bang-up job handling the emergency) and she headed south in the spring to sell her house, pack her stuff and move back up in spite of all that.

Her original plan was to move into a senior apartment in town as she had always been a solo person, not the cookie-baking, spend-the-night Grandma type. While she was in California, her Mom died, releasing her from the only responsibility she had left (Pierre was portable, much to his chagrin). I probably should have noticed that Granny was nearly 92 and had been in a nursing home 15 years before this, somehow it didn't register... Oh, well.

A week into her time in California she called to say that even the cat was lonely and to go ahead and look for a house big enough for her, too-"This house is just too damned quiet!"
So we did.

I forgot to say that Bill's father, Frank, passed away suddenly during the time Mom spent the winter. She stayed with the kids while Bill and I flew to Arizona for his services. This was among the things that influenced my willingness, heck- eagerness!-to have Mom come live with us. In my experience, parents tended not to live too long (mine were both 67 when they died, Frank was 58) and Mom was already 71. I wanted (Bill did, too, but this is my story) my kids to know at least one grandparent before she died.

So we found a house.

With customary generosity, God not only blessed us with Mom that June- we also got custody of John, age 15. First significant contact in 10 years was a letter from Nancy that the kid was aimed at jail and we needed to "take responsibility for him." Probably shoulda thought of that 10 years ago when you lied like a rug and got full custody/no visitation...But I digress.How unusual.

So, along we go...

 And now, here I sit more than 21 years later, tapping on a computer and waiting for this amazing woman to die.

All through the years, I would get these sympathetic looks and comments- "Your mother-in-law lives with you?!" Mostly women, but the occasional man would pat my shoulder and smile. "You must be an amazing woman!" or"I could never do that!" Then I'd tell them she did the laundry for us and they would try to kidnap her.

A lot of amazing things have happened along the way. She taught the kids how to play poker. The kids taught her how to hug. We learned to respect each other. We disagreed, argued, fought and made up. She went to church with us, got baptized when she was 72. Pastor asked her why she wanted to do it and she said because the last time she did it was into the Mormon church. He complied. She learned how to forgive, she learned how to pray. My kids learned to honor and respect their grandmother. She went to countless conferences and trips to villages with us. She got involved in Prison Ministry because it was something she understood. Bill's brother, Larry, was an outlaw biker who did a lot of time and she visited him there.
She obsessed about the bathroom and running out of toilet paper. The first time I flushed a toilet with a bucket of water (the power was out 5 days that time) she thought I hung the moon.
She always had a pocket full of kleenex, a puzzle book and packets of crackers in her purse and thought that microwave dinners were the answer to her prayers.

Went to bed with a thermos of coffee, a pack of cigarettes and cookies or a pastry on her nightstand. Always had chocolate in her drawer.

The kids wandered in and out of her room, watched endless episodes of crime dramas with her, sat on her lap and got read to. So did the grandkids (her greats). Their teenage friends were terrified of her, Micah kept threatening to dye her pure white hair purple, and she has a thing for bright colors and sparkly shoes.

She learned to wear sweatpants and polar fleece vests, how to layer for warmth and never did get to where she would wear Sorels. The parka, however, still hangs downstairs and served her faithfully for many winters. We took her camping and took away her driver's license when she was 78 (she didn't speak to Bill for three days and still complained about it 10 yrs later when her vision was so poor she couldn't walk down the hall and didn't walk at all without her cane).

She was terrified of nursing homes and consumed with guilt that she could not stand to care for her own mother. I had trained as a care provider, worked in homes mostly but a short stint in a nursing home. Nursing homes are like hospitals- sometimes you have to be there, but it is not the best thing to have to stay there.
Bill and I promised she would never have to be in one, I have the skills and we have a large and supportive family and a good church family to call on.

We are by no means the first or only family to do this. We may get points for longevity, but that is about it. To me, this is a fact of life. At the beginning and at the end, people need to be cared for and I have never felt the job should be turned over to strangers, no matter how skilled or well-meaning. She is a part of my family, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.....

And she is my friend.

With love-


  1. This about made me cry.You could write a book.I love grandma also and of course you and the family.You all Helped my mom out. Thank you so much.I sure do miss her.Love to you all.

  2. Hi, Brace yourself Effie???? ok Loved reading all of this. It is a good chronology of the facts...held together with your personality.
    Love this and you. Sister Sally

  3. Thanks you, love Bill, love Mom... leslie

  4. We laughed at some of the stories,
    Priscilla loved reading it over my shoulders
    we shed a few tears also while reading ..
    what a book you could write.
    short stories of life..

  5. oh i love this, Mona. wiping the tears from my eyes.