When my father-in-law came to live with us last summer we had to make many changes to the way we lived. Ours had been an empty nest for almost thirty years except for the year and a half when my mother lived in our home. Her stay was barely disruptive because she settled into our upstairs guest room and we were still working full time back then. Our encounters with her were rather brief given that we shared dinner each day and then she usually retired to her room to listen to the radio or read her Bible. Additionally my brothers took her on outings several times each week and agreed to provide us respite whenever we wanted to travel. All in all it was quite comfortable.
When my father-n-law arrived he was unable to climb stairs or walk without a cane. He needed to sit in the shower and have a special seat for the toilet. We knew we would have to surrender our downstairs master bedroom and bath to accommodate his needs. We hurriedly relocated to the room where my mother had stayed during her sojourn with us. In the meantime we retro-fitted the master bathroom to serve his needs and even created an area to house his computer.
Even the configuration of our kitchen changed as we made space on the countertops for his medications and boosted one of the dining chairs with a cushion. We filled the refrigerator with items that he liked to eat and drink like Silk almond milk, Glucerna, and bottled water. We even altered our schedules which had been rather loose and flexible since retiring a decade ago.
You can almost set a clock by my father-n-law’s habits. Unlike my husband and I he regularly rises early in the morning and goes to bed no later than nine at night, sometimes even earlier. He has lunch at noon and expects a glass of wine with a small snack at five followed by dinner between five thirty and six. Then he enjoys watching a bit of television before retiring for the night.
In truth my husband and I had floated through our days without any great plans since we finished our last days working at full time jobs. There was no telling when we would rise, go to bed or eat. We set out on random trips at the drop of a hat. We were spoiled by at least ten years of being co-captains of our own ship with very little responsibility for others. We had also grown older ourselves and set in our unplanned ways. Changing so quickly was like trying to teach old dogs new tricks, but somehow we have managed to reset our course and settle into a compromise for living.
In many ways having an upstairs area has been our life saver. Our bedroom is tiny compared to the one we once had, but it is quite comfortable and we only use it for sleep and storing our clothes. The bathroom is tiny as well, but no smaller that the ones that we used when we were young. We only need the basics to take care of our needs, so that has not been a problem. We even transformed a little nook upstairs to hold a couch and a small television that we can watch after my father-in-law has gone to bed without disturbing him. It’s quite comfortable.
We have adjusted and my father-in-law has grown quite strong. Now he ascends the stairs each day to walk on our treadmill. He spends time on his computer and enjoys the magnificent view from the window of his room. Of course he still rises early but he eventually insisted on preparing his own breakfast. He now does quite well after a few bad starts that burned food and filled the air with smoke and a bit of concern on my part. He takes care of his own lunch as well. It is only his evening cocktail hour and formal dinner time that forces us into his schedule and I have resigned myself to temporarily abandoning our free floating ways.
We have found a steady routine that works for him and that we are flexible enough to accept. I miss the luxury of spending dreary or cold days lounging in my pajamas while I write my blogs and read the news. I mostly have to get dressed because I have not adapted to the idea of being around my father-in-law in my bed clothes, mostly because he arrives each morning fully dressed with his shirt tucked into his trousers and a belt around his waist. It just does not seem right to be informal around such a formal person.
My sacrifices are rather small and I’m happy that I have been able to make this work. I talk constantly with God asking him to give me patience. I want to be nice and there are some days when everything makes me grouchy. I have a tendency to think too much about my new restrictions that no longer allow me to wander off on an unplanned trip on a sunny day. I know that as well as he is doing, my father-in-law now needs someone to be with him everyday. It is a huge responsibility but I have to remind myself that it is a blessing that we are able to do this for him.
Without those honest conversations with God I suspect that I would not be doing well at all. I have had to be flexible and also learn how to forgive myself when I grow weary. I know that my anxieties and complaints are nothing compared to the problems faced by most of the people in the world. I’ve taught myself how to just take one day at a time and enjoy each moment with my father-n-law while I can. I don’t know when travel will be in my future again, but I sense that somehow we will figure that out as well. For now we’ve all found a way of living together in harmony and it feels nice.