When I first met Luz 33 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I never thought I’d be so nervous to meet my “potential future mother-in-law”.
I’d been dating Wally for a few weeks and really liked him. So when he said “we’re going to visit my parents this weekend” I hoped and prayed to make a good first-impression. When we entered their home it smelled delicious and after a bit of getting to know each other, she served us dinner.
Sometime during our conversation she said “Norma, make yourself at home” so after dinner, I stood up and started washing dishes, she suddenly screamed “No, you don’t have to do that!”. I looked at her confused about she wanting to stop me and said “I thought you wanted me to feel at home, this is something I’d do to help my mom after a meal”. She couldn’t refuse my help with that statement and from that point on, our daughter and mother-in-law relationship became uncommonly close.
You may remember how much I identify with the law of curiosity, I asked Wally a lot of questions and found out Luz was a lady full of life who enjoyed looking fashionably youthful (after I married Wally, I’d go in her closet and she’d go into mine). She would make sure her purse, belt and shoes matched and her hair was always nicely done. She loved music and dancing was in her blood. She exercised often and was a successful entrepreneurial woman. She had a huge collection of awards by the company she represented for her sales achievements. In short, she earned my admiration very quickly.
I’m so grateful for the support she’s always provided us with, especially after Sasha was born. I was an inexperienced young mom at 21 and Wally worked long hours and traveled outside the country with the National Guard from time to time. In fact, he had a trip scheduled to Germany when Sasha was just a few weeks old. Luz offered helped and Sasha and I stayed with her and Don Hector while Wally was serving in the military in Germany. This experience, even though it was just a few weeks long, got us closer to each other. I’m grateful she’s always treated me like her own daughter but especially for loving my children in such a profound way.
Throughout the years we’ve talked, cried, danced, sang, and mostly laugh together. She especially loves it when I do her hair and a full makeover. “We always have a good time, right?” was something she consistently said after my visits! You see, I was committed to ensure my children knew their Nana and Abuelo so I’d drive almost every weekend or whenever possible from Chicago to their home in the suburbs. I’m so glad I took the time to know her the way I do.
We suspected Alzheimer’s was a threat for her because of family history and realized during the summer of 2014 that it was time for us to get more involved and help her manage, well, life.
Luz has always been a strong woman and seldom showed her emotions unless it was joy. I remember seeing her cry for the first time during visits to find a place for Don Hector to centers that Wally was researching to care for people with mental conditions such as dementia and alzheimer’s, It broke my heart to see her that sad and I promised myself to help delay the moment to take her (them) to a home as long as possible. She stayed with us a couple of years after Don Hector passed away and we helped her get through the mourning period of losing him.
She enjoyed living with us AS LONG AS she was out in the garden or helping out somehow 🙂 However, the Chicago winters became a challenge and I couldn’t keep her happy anymore. In December 2006, she became sad and didn’t want to go out. She just wanted to stay inside the house and spent hours and hours looking out the window. She refused to do anything, started showing signs of aggressiveness and acted like someone completely opposite to Luz’s character. It broke my heart but I accepted the fact that she needed the type of care I could no longer provide and we decided to take her to a center Wally had found back in 2014 called “I Love You Lord Home Center” in Puerto Rico. The transition was made in January 2017. It was one of the toughest decisions our family had to do, but I truly believe it was the best thing for her and that’s what mattered. She stopped wearing black as soon as we arrived. She asked that we visit often and I promised to be back soon. We actually came back a few weeks later on January 21 for the Christmas party. The center realizes families cannot always travel for the traditional dates in December and celebrate later in January. She looked (and acted) like her old self.
I fulfilled my promise and came back a few weeks after and spent Valentine’s Day with her. She was again, the lady I first met, full of life! Loving the music and enjoying herself to the fullest.
We have been able to visit and stay closely connected via facetime. She’s always out in the garden enjoying what she loves most. The staff has become part of our extended family and Luz seems to be very happy there.
I felt a strong urge to be with her now even though Joshua just visited a couple of weeks ago. I just knew I needed to come! After hugging, walking, reading, singing, dancing, doing her hair and makeup like old times and mostly laughing for a few days she said “we always have a good time, right?”.
I agreed, we alway have a good time. All of the sudden she asked “Can you remind me of your name?”. I couldn’t believe it! It made the rest of my day very emotional to think that the progression of the inevitable was starting. The nurses and doctors tell me that there will be a time she will not recognize me at all. I reached out for encouragement. One of my friends told me: “What a blessing that GOD PUT YOU HERE TO LOVE HER. Tell her ‘I am Norma. I’m Wally’s wife and someone who loves you very much’. Her memory will continue to deteriorate but she can still feel your love”. I pray she does.
Luz and Don Hector are one of the reasons why I became an advocate for Mental Health. People are quick to give opinions and make suggestions how to handle these situations, I’m guilty of that. Therefore, I’m learning how to cope with the effects of Dementia and Alzheimer’s and hope to help other families in the future through my own experience. For now, I’ll continue to love my mom-in-law in the ways I know will bring her joy and help her to continue to live a life of significance.
This month has brought lots of reasons for me to anxiously write about. Did I say anxiously? We’re all exposed to stress and anxiety every day. However, in the last few weeks I’ve seen some extreme cases of stress, anxiety and yes, depression. It actually moved me to write about it again. I believe I’ve touched about this in some of the past posts. It seems to be all around me! Thus, my decision to bring out awareness about mental health!
You may recall I helped produced a very important event on July 12 and saw the level of stress of the people involved increasing dramatically as the event got near. I also was part of a 5K to help end homelessness during the same weekend AND attended the funeral of a friend that committed suicide. I saw first hand the effects of Mental Wellness.
Whether you’re an event coordinator, a project manager, an entrepreneur or work for a corporation…whether you’re old, young, single, married, with kids, with older parents that need help…whether you own a house, rent, or live with family, own a car or take public transportation…no matter what your circumstances may be, you’re going to encounter situations that increase your stress level.
I just met with a wonderful group of people that serve on the board of A Safe Haven Foundation. The purpose was to kick off the planning of the 25 year anniversary of this organization that has been helping the homeless and veterans of Chicago transform their lives by becoming self-sustainable and be productive citizens again. Somehow the prevalent theme was Mental Health. After discussing several ideas among all of us and how to bring awareness of the effects these conditions cause to homelessness, at one point, we all agreed that mental health was only one of the issues why some people become homeless. Regardless of this clarification, it impacted me because like I said, I’ve seen the effects of mental conditions all around me.
This morning I got on a leadership training call and guess what the theme was? You got it! Mental Wellness! Did all of the sudden I became more aware of these circumstances? Just like when you plan to buy a car and you start seeing the model you want everywhere or you want to buy a house and notice all the “for sale” signs. Was it all around me before and I just started noticing it more?
This is too important to stop it! So, I’m committed to embrace mental wellness, learn more about it, help more people that suffer from it and become a voice that reaches out to others for help. Let’s do it together!