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Love Story

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Posted 07-26-2011 at 09:02 AM by Jeff Westover

Someone once asked me why my wife Sandy isn't on My Merry Christmas. There are several reasons for it though she would tell you frankly that she just doesn't have time for the computer.

But it is much more than that.

I've taken great pleasure this week watching her get up early each day to run over to my Mom's house.

Mom, as you may remember, had two devastating strokes a little more than a year ago. In fact, last summer at this time we endured an endless string of nights and days at the hospital as Mom fought to recover. Those are sad and painful memories for me that I hold to myself these days because Mom doesn't remember them.

That is part of what made the stroke experience so hard. Her stroke was not of the variety that stole a lot of her physical abilities. Her stroke affected the parts of her brain that control memory and personality. For quite a while Mom was just not Mom. She was "living dead" because she wasn't "in there" for a long, long time.

To see her now you'd never know it, though. The miracle of modern medicine and a lot of hard work on the part of doctors and therapists have brought Mom's personality back completely, though her memory sometimes still falters a little.

But despite this great news of progress it has been a tough year over all because such a life changing event has permanent repercussions. Mom has a number of health issues and it has been stunning to witness the overall decline. Though only 68 Mom's world has become smaller and smaller.

She doesn't walk well and her arthritis has robbed her of much of her creativity. Mom was a gifted artist, able to create entire worlds with her hands in almost anything she touched -- in drawings, in clay, in paint, in just about any kind of craft.

All that is gone.

I recently helped my Mom out to the car one day to go to the doctor. Using a walker and moving rather slowly -- it was a bit hard to be behind her trying to support, not push, or say or do anything to make Mom feel any worse about her condition. But truth of the matter is that she has become a bent, frail old woman -- a shell of her former physical self.

My little sister lives with my folks and is Mom's primary caregiver. When she planned to go to California for this week she asked my dear wife to come on over and help Mom with her daily routine.

Now, to understand this story completely you have to understand that my wife and my Mom are in-laws.

That's not a bad thing and there has never been a bad moment between them. My mom has always been very accepting of my wife and Sandy has always been respectful of my mother. But as is typical of these types of relationships there has been worry over disappointment of each other or living up to how great each other is in my eyes. I used to think that was just a woman thing but really, to be honest, I think it is an in-law thing -- you just want to show your in-laws that you love and honor your spouse and them and that you were the best possible choice for their children.

You also need to understand that my wife has a very real talent with people that goes down to a very intimate and personal level. When I fell out of work a year ago, just before Mom's stroke, Sandy went to school to start her nurse's training, which has been her lifelong career dream, one she thought she would pursue after the kids were grown.

Sandy was right there last year when Mom was in the hospital for about three months. Though she was deeply involved in schooling and internships she would go straight from there to the hospital to help, often still in uniform and there so much other patients thought she was one of the staff. She was very hands on with my Mom during that time.

But Mom doesn't remember that period.

So when Sandy went over there this week to tend to business there was some nervousness on both parts.

For me, well, I had a strange feeling about this week. I wanted to be there and could be, to be honest, but I felt a compelling sense of caution -- to step back and let things happen without trying to "help".

I'm glad I've listened to that prompting.

Because inside of seven days my mother and my wife have become like sisters.

Sandy does things in her own way and is fastidious about personal hygiene and overall health. But in the past week she has made Mom sparkle in more than body. She has helped Mom find her make-up bag and together they figured out how to help Mom "put her face on" and do her hair the way she likes. Sandy went out and bought her some lotion in the fragrance Mom likes and she did her nails. And while all these simple things -- which seem so unimportant in the urgent fight for health -- they visited, laughed, cried and shared as only such intimate time provides.

What I see unfolding here is a love story that is very real -- the two women most important in my life bonding together on their terms and building a relationship beyond what they hold in common (me).

The society of women is very much a needful thing in the heart of a girl, I've decided, no matter how old that girl may be. I've seen it in my daughters and I've seen it in my wife.

For Sandy this period has been healing because for the past several years she has mourned the fact that she cannot be close on a daily basis with her Mom, who has suffered through breast cancer and a hip replacement over the past five years. Oh, she hopped on a plane and spent a few weeks out in California as each major event unfolded but it's not the same as being there.

By spending this time with my Mom this is filling a need within Sandy, to give and to serve and to connect.

Last night we went over to Mom's to give her and Dad a chance to see the kids. We didn't do much but eat hot dogs and visit. But as each of my kids sat down with Nana and talked they couldn't believe the spring in her step, the smile in her voice or the twinkle in her eye.

That's the power of love, folks.

My youngest, Emma, who is only 9 and not yet fully schooled on the art of tact, asked: "Nana, what happened? You seem so normal!"

Mom just laughed. "Oh," she said, "It's been Christmas this week for me." And then she started to weep. So too did my dear wife.

I'm not too sure the kids fully understand what is happening here.

But I do.

And I'm profoundly grateful on so many levels.
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