Many of us travel to see family over the holidays, and our family is no exception. We drive several hours to visit my mother-in-law, even though she no longer seems to notice that we are there. She is in one of the later stages of alzheimer’s and has a full time caregiver and also several assistants. Yet still we visit, simply because it seems like the right thing to do.
This year I debated a lot about how long we should stay there. The kids wanted more time at home. One was home from college and the other simply finds home more relaxing. In the end, we shortened our visit by a couple of days and sent my husband off separately for his visit to a friend. Usually we go up to his mom’s, then he goes off for a couple of days to see his friend, leaving the rest of us to our own devices. But somehow the timing was problematic this year and leaving separately gave the guys more time together and the kids and I more time at home. So, it was a full week for my husband, but only 5 days and 4 nights for the rest of us.
Now when the kids were little, their grandparents would take us to Bay area museums, from Coyote Point, where Papa was a docent, to the zoo, the Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, or the Hiller Aircraft museum. But after Papa died in 2006, we haven’t generally managed museums. We walk around the nearby Junior College and do some shopping. Some years we have made a visit to my mom’s cousin, who lives in a nearby convent. But this year, the focus seemed to be on getting the caregiver off on her own family visit, which required a long flight or two to the Philippines.
So, here we were, in a familiar house, that always seems to have some unfamiliar touches in recent years. We arrived late on the first day, the second was New Year’s day. Then suddenly the next day, the house was full with two assistants, one to stay and the other to help with bathing and such. They were chattering away in a foreign language, is it Tagalog that they speak? Anyway, it has quite a different sound than the Spanish we often hear in California. It made me feel, momentarily, as if I did not belong there. It was like visiting a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, only in this case I was not providing tourist dollars to the local economy!
I should say, the unfamiliarity started when I walked into the room where we stay and saw my mother-in-law’s bed with it’s wooden country look headboard, instead of the more modern look of the Murphy’s bed from that room. Then at some point, I went through the master bedroom. It’s equipped with a fancy hospital bed that prevents bedsores so it’s always making humming noises and sometimes hissing ones. Next to it is a lift that enables her caregiver to get her up and into her wheelchair, so she does not stay in bed all day.
At any rate, the caregivers all spoke English perfectly well, so after a while I lost the touristy feeling. Still, I felt like more of a burden than a help. My sister-in-law had hoped we could stay even longer, but due to school schedules, it wasn’t possible. Besides, I felt like we were more of a burden than a help. It seemed like there was a daily routine, and often we were in the way in the kitchen at the wrong time or something. Barbara, who used to seem happy we were there, even if she didn’t really talk anymore, simply seemed focused on whatever the caregivers set in front of her, or else she was dosing off. My main contribution seemed to be going out to find something to use on the spots where the old dog had peed, and it turned out not to work as well as I would have liked.
Oddly enough, while there I started reading a book on my Kindle, called the God of the Mundane. While I could not relate much to the author’s reports of pressure to make converts, having been raised in a mainline environment, I could certainly understand the main point of the book. We all want to be significant and to have an impact on the world. But much of our time is spent on ordinary tasks, that seem unimportant. His point was that God is with us and that can make even the ordinary somehow part of His plan. I think there is much truth to that and of course Jesus often referred to everyday things and actions to teach us about God.