Head Coach: It's all about the stories
My mother-in-law moved into an assisted living facility a few months ago. It wasn't her idea, but she didn't have much choice in the matter.
She is a new widow whose husband had become such an integral part of her life that she had no idea what to do next. She had learned to rely on him for a significant portion of her care. I don't think that was absolutely necessary, but it was just such an easy thing to let happen.
It didn't help that his departure was just two and a half months shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. So she was sad, disappointed, scared and downright ticked off. She went on strike. Her health began to slip even further away. She lost what little mobility remained.
There was little to no desire or motivation to fight her circumstances. She hit that no-man's land in which she was too unhealthy to live or care for herself but just healthy enough to get booted out of hospitals after three days.
We found an assisted living facility that was willing to provide her a place.
But, she was on probation. If she didn't rebound and become more self-sufficient within 30 days she would have to leave. Normally, having only 30 days to prove worthiness to belong somewhere would feel horribly insecure and scare the hope out of me.
I've learned, however, when it comes to aging and end-of-life issues in which the options can be frightfully limited, you are grateful for just another day to think it through some more. Thirty days seemed like a lifetime. I was hoping it wasn't.
While the options were few, the obstacles many and my mother-in-law's health was fading, there was one asset we underestimated. When it comes to mothers-in-law, mine is a pretty cool lady. Somewhere in those 30 days, she figured out that the choice was entirely hers.
She could feel sorry for herself and let her own quality of life slip away, or she could embrace her reality, like it or not, and make the most of it. It was a choice she pondered quietly without any of our knowledge. I suspect she crawled inside and engaged in several personal town hall meetings.
I'll never know what went on in there, and I will never ask. She is a proud and respectable woman. It's not my business unless she chooses otherwise. Apparently, though, a decision was made and things began to change.
The change was rapid. That's my mother-in-law. Once a decision is made, there is no sense tip-toeing around. Get on with it. She never announced this change or talked about it. She just changed.
Since she lives in another town, the bulk of our visits are by telephone. The phone calls switched from long, mournful word-tears to very brief announcements that she had things to do.
My wife started hearing, "Can't talk right now. I'm going bowling with the girls."
Or she would say, "Gotta go. I'm late for my tai chi class, bye."
Now, when we go visit, we have difficulty finding her. She's never home She is either out on the patio crocheting with her group, in the library reading a good book or roaming the halls looking for someone to share stories.
That is why I'm telling you about her. The other day, she told my wife that the only real problem she is having is that no one seems to have any stories to tell. My mother-in-law loves a good story. She is puzzled why no one is telling any.
I hope we aren't getting away from talking about life through stories. Stories are how history is told. Stories are what families pass down from one generation to another. They are important because we remember best when information is couched in a good story. I hope we are not losing that, especially from our senior citizens. They have all the really good stories.
I suggested if my mother-in-law can't find anyone willing to tell stories then maybe she should tell hers. Something happened that first 30 days. Her struggle was not unique. How many are facing that same battle. But, her story is life-changing. It is one of the most courageous stories I have ever watched unfold. I haven't even heard it yet, and already I'm inspired.
I respect my mother-in-law too much to ask about those internal town hall meetings, but I'm dying to hear the story. She's making me wait. Isn't that just like a mother-in-law?
Lane Johnson, M.Div., LPC, is a licensed counselor. He welcomes your comments. You can contact him by email at lane@StrategicConnectionGroup.com.