Saturday, November 17, 2012

Linda is the sunshine of his life

Linda is the sunshine of his life
Meet Linda…or as my kids know her, Grammy.
Linda is my mother-in-law.

But please, don’t let that baggage-laden unflattering term fool you. She is also my fun girlfriend and I’ve spent many a phone call or visit with her cracking up laughing, crying, commiserating, listening and talking.
Since I have only sons, and will only ever be the mother-in-law, I look to her as an example of what a likeable mother-in-law should be…because not only do I love her as the one who gave life to my wonderful husband, I like her too.
First and foremost, she loves her grandchildren and will sit on the floor with them, get down in the sand and play Hide and Seek or Ghost in the Graveyard. These are treasured childhood memories that exhausted moms are all too willing to allow grandparents to get in on. Back in the day before I had three teenage boys, when everyone was a baby or a toddler, these very special afternoon long play sessions were a Godsend and it was fun watching my kids have fun without actually having to get up and have the fun with them myself.  If toddlers have ever invaded your life, you understand why this is the holy grail of parenting joy.
Though we lived several wide states away, my kids grew up knowing their Grammy in Massachusetts. They knew her animated expressions of joy, her characteristic middle-of-Massachusetts accent and the homemade cookies she’d send every birthday and Christmas. They knew how it was to watch a movie with Grammy…she’d react loudly, with laughter or awe or disbelief, she’d ask questions loudly, discuss the unfolding events, scold the villains and sometimes we’d need to rewind a missed scene. They knew Grammy was a trooper and would go on a hike or a bike ride, even though it tired her out. They knew she’d be loudly amazed at just about everything they did and my kids eagerly showed off whatever talents they happened to be developing that afternoon.
Yes, my kids knew their Grammy. This familiarity grew over the years through the two or three times a year she would visit us in Ohio for much-needed long weekends. Much needed by Grammy herself; her visits to Cleveland were her only respite from the very difficult life she lead in Massachusetts.
Even though she gives off so much joy and vitality, Linda isn’t the leisurely retired grandma you think she is when you meet her. Her life in Massachusetts is immeasurably difficult and I can’t imagine how she doesn’t snap…though she'll be the first to tell you, sometimes she does.

Detail from…Linda is the sunshine of his life
See, Linda is full time caregiver to her beloved husband Harry.  20 years ago Harry, my husbands’ stepdad, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Since then it has been a sometimes slow and sometimes fast progression into complete dependence on her for everything. Assistance up stairs became help into the wheelchair. Toileting assistance became catheterization. Bedtime ceased to the relief it once was with multiple nighttime turnings to prevent bedsores. Harry’s morning awakening routine became back breaking work as this strong and capable 60 year old woman transfers her husband’s massive 6’5” frame from his bed each morning to his wheelchair and then to the recliner which she sets up as his Command Central for the day.
And as Harry’s body weakened, so did his mind. The plaques that grow on his spine and weaken his body also grow on his brain. He forgets what she has told him moments ago and asks again for ice cream, even as she is scooping it. He perseverates like a toddler about an upcoming treat…a visit from grandchildren, a trip to Ronny’s Clam Shack. Linda loves him with all her heart and she gets no peace.
Harry’s doctors will tell you Linda is the best caretaker in the world. She tends to him like a newborn, cleaning, turning and dressing him to prevent sores and infections. She takes him on outings. She feeds him breakfast, lunch, and dinner with love, sunshine and conversation. She makes his life a really good one.
Linda will tell you she lives this difficult life by the grace of God, with whom she has a special and personal relationship. And I can see that Harry lives his life by the grace of Linda’s love, devotion and generosity of spirit.
She is literally the sunshine in his life.
After she posed for me, this modest woman of an earlier generation told me it was the weirdest thing she’d ever done…but she was honored to be asked and concepted her balls creatively with an eye to symbolism and modesty.
The large one was for extra coverage as well as to represent the giant obstacle in her life; her beloved Harry. The small ball represented her own identity. She saw it as being dwarfed by Harry’s undeniable presence in her life. 

I saw the small ball differently though. To me it was the one tiny white-hot bit of constant sunshine she beams into Harry’s life…and so I asked Linda to hold it proudly and hold it high.  And so that’s where I painted it.

Detail from…Linda is the sunshine of his life