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Lessons in Grace with “Great Aunt” (part 4)

9 May

Stolen Lip Stick and Undergarments

Stopping in at one’s home for a visit, merely gives a window into a life.  I don’t think we were prepared for what all was truly going on in Great Aunt’s mind.  Looking back, we could see hints during those visits that we just hadn’t picked up on.

Often our day would begin in a normal manner.  I would wake Great Aunt and encourage her to get up and dressed before breakfast. Sometimes I would find her already up, dressed, and ready to go.  What took me off guard was the day she began accusing my daughters of stealing her lipstick and undergarments.  Shocked that she would even think such a thing, my “protective mother instincts” rapidly came to life! I quickly corrected her and defended my daughters.  Not only were the children not to wander in Great Aunt’s space without invitation, I knew their young hearts and was confident they would not steal and especially not lip stick and undergarments!.  Yet, her mind was made up, there was no reasoning. They were guilty. I was horrified she would think such a thing.

I had prepared myself for extra work and challenges, but not for an attack on my children.  Why could she not see?  She simply would not listen to reason or logic. I was offended.  I was upset.

Getting another person’s view is usually a good call.  Wanting to gain council and understanding, I relayed the heated conversation to my dear hubby.  It was not long before his  “protective father instinct” had come to life, maybe even stronger than mine!

What Mark and I had not realized, was that Great Aunt was not in her right mind.  Sometimes she was, while other times – not. We never had warning.  Often engaged in a seemingly rational conversation it would suddenly turn on a dime. I found myself becoming easily frustrated, not only with Great Aunt, but with myself.  Rather than patiently understanding, I would be caught off guard and become undone.  So many things I had learned through working at a health care facility (as a teenager), years of marriage, raising children… why was it so hard to apply in this situation?

It may have been during this time the phrase – “Be a duck…” became well used in our home.  As a duck repels water droplets off its back, I learned to let Great Aunt’s hurtful comments roll.  Regretfully I confess, it took time. It took years. To my advantage, Great Aunt seldom remembered the harsh words she spoke nor my reply, whether good or bad. Yet, I knew. I daily sought God for His ultimate grace to flow through me.

The lipstick and undergarments turned up later. Sometimes our searches took days, while others were short, but without fail, the “stolen” items were found.  She had no memory of stashing her things away and continued to feel the need to blame someone else for what she had lost. That never changed. What did change was my ability to let her make her accusations and receive them with understanding.  Rather than blaming the children, the thief  was given a ficticious name  and remained in the house until Great Aunt’s final days.


My Lessons in Grace With “Great Aunt” (part 3)

3 May

Arriving home yesterday after being gone for several days, I had a bit of laundry to catch up on. (Let me clarify, this was not the children’s laundry! They had, of course, done theirs. ) I am speaking of Mark’s and my own.  After greeting the family with many hugs and kisses, I  began the washing process.  I am not sure at what point in life my love for laundry began, but I truly enjoy it! Years ago, I hung the cloth diapers out on the line and was impressed  at how the sun seemed to whiten them up.  As I was pinning up the clothes yesterday, my mind was drawn to fond memories with Great Aunt.

At the time she moved in with us, Great Aunt was able to get around pretty well.  Although she used a crutch, we weren’t sure if its purpose was to steady herself or a weapon of aggression! On  several occasions she would threateningly shake it at the children, while giving them a piece of her mind.  Sometimes it was well deserved and sometimes not.

Sharing the love of being outside, we were able to find enjoyable things to do together.  It was essential for her to be able to contribute in whatever way she could, so as I began to hang the laundry, Great Aunt naturally joined in.  Slowly, quietly hanging piece by piece, one clothes pin at a time.  All around us were the sweet sounds of children playing, birds chirping, and the wind softly blowing.  We chatted about life. She shared memories of her past. We dreamed of the future. They were precious times.

Although Great Aunt required much time and patience, she slowed me down in many positive ways.  Simple tasks that may have gone quickly on my own, were made more meaningful by methodically working together.  Being a person that loves lists, I can mistakingly take more joy in crossing out each item than fully embracing each task. Life isn’t about how much we’ve done or a long list of accomplishments.  It’s about relationships. Its about loving and serving. It’s about faith.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I still love hanging laundry today.  It forces me to take time, breathe, think,  chat, and remember Great Aunt.

My Lessons in Grace With “Great Aunt” part 2

25 Apr

One of the first things I learned about Great Aunt was that we had very different taste.  She was known as being an excellent cook and had many favorite recipes.  Yet, after her husband died, her eating habits were not what they once were.  Living alone can have a way of changing things.  What was once important no longer was.  Never-the-Less,  I think we were both taken by surprise, at least I was.

I love lettuce salad with a variety of fresh veggies tossed in the mix.  She much preferred a good Jello salad with some canned fruit added.  We made all of our own freshly ground whole wheat bread, while she was much happier with a white wonder bread.  I tried to go easy on the sweets,  she gladly consumed them.

Most of the time, especially in the early years, Great Aunt ate with us, which I think she enjoyed.  Although since she was used to being in her own space,  I made a point to occasionally bring meals in to her dining room.  Sometimes a room full of voices is too much for anyone!

Wanting to find ways to please her and make sure she had good nutrition, I enthusiastically cooked up big batch of mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and steamed broccoli.  Bringing a warm plate of food into her room, I was sure she would be delighted.  I knew she liked meat and potatoes! To my surprise and disappointment, when I came back to pick up her plate, she had hardly touched it! She really couldn’t pinpoint what she didn’t like. It just did not suit her taste.

As Mark and I talked, we were concerned about her lack of eating.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have a good appetite, she could put away a fair amount of Jello salad and instant pudding.  We decided to experiment by serving her the same meal,  pre-made in the form of a “TV Dinner”.  We found one that had meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and broccoli – perfect!

I carefully arranged the microwaved instant “food” on to a plate so as to look as nice as possible. Sheepishly, I brought dinner in to Great Aunt.  I truly wanted to hide in the corner  watching, to see what she would do. To my amazement, when I came back to pick up her plate, not only had she eaten every last bite, she gave me the sweetest complement and asked for more! A bit stunned, I honestly didn’t know if I should be hurt or pleased!

Two things happened after that discovery.  One, cooking for Great Aunt became much easier.  The second was much more difficult for me – I began to deal with a pride issue I  had been unaware of. I have to admit, being brought up in  a home that made everything from scratch, it hurt my pride a bit to be in the grocery store buying a “TV Dinner”.  I self-consciously hoped I wouldn’t see anyone I knew!

How funny! I never would of guessed buying TV Dinner’s would be so hard!  It probably seems silly that it would bother me at all, but living in a small town at the time, we were known as the big family with lots of kids. It would be one thing if I only had to buy one or two boxed dinners, easily hiding them under some more nutritious groceries. Maybe no one would notice.  No, I was buying one to two weeks worth of instant dinners at one time.  Can you imagine how that fills a shopping cart? Especially since, just one meal often did not satisfy her growing appetite!   What went through people’s mind when they saw me coming? In my mind there was no doubt – “Look what she feeds her children!”

Looking back its easy to wonder why I even cared. But I did care.  Over time it mattered less. Let people think what they would. In truth, they probably didn’t even notice.

The biggest blow to my pride was the cold hard fact: Great Aunt much preferred TV Dinners to my cooking. Her meals became much easier, she gained a healthy amount of weight, and she was happy.

My Lessons in Grace With “Great Aunt”

18 Apr

This story covers a six year period in our family’s life.   For some time, I have intended to record it in written form.  Already being stretched in writing for Not Without Aim, I decided to reserve the first day of the week for this topic.  A little unsure of how many Mondays it may take… I will begin.

It had been an eventful spring. Three weeks before the birth of our eighth child, we closed on the sale of one home and on the purchase of another.  The same week this son was welcomed into the world, my much loved grandmother’s life ended. (She is worthy of another story on another day!)  It did not take us long to settle in to life on our hobby farm.  Enjoying our little chunk of land to the fullest, the garden was planted, ducks and chickens were wandering the yard, and fencing was put in place for goats and pigs.  We put every square inch of those few acres into use!

By mid summer one of our “Great Aunt’s” health began to decline.  She could no longer live alone and entered a health care facility.  She very much wanted to move in with us as soon as possible.  There was no question in our minds. Yes, of course, we would be honored to care for her.  In an attempt to make a wise decision, we tried to take all things into consideration. We weighed out the pros and cons.  Although the cons were apparent, our foremost desire was to care for her.  With the family’s support, we began to reorder our lives, again.

Our growing family of ten had already pushed the limits of our small house.  Either we would have to build an addition, or purchase a larger home.  Revisiting a place I had kept my eyes on over the last year, we found it not only for sale, but also vacant.  By Thanksgiving we had sold the “little” and we (and Great Aunt)  moved in to the “big.”

While we spent the morning moving in our own boxes, Mark picked up Great Aunt and all of her belongings.  By mid-afternoon, they had arrived.  As I considered her position, 8o some years old, never having had children of her own, twice uprooted in the last few months, and suddenly planted into an active large household, I knew it was essential to make her transition as easy as possible. More important than settling my own family, was to first get her settled. Working together, Great Aunt’s living room and bedroom began to take shape, filled with her own belongings.  She could not have been more thankful. We were pleased.

That day marked the beginning of “My Lessons in Grace With Great Aunt.”