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.
I truly enjoyed this day for many reasons. First of all, I just finished several commitments that were taking much of my energy and all my focus in the last month. Second of all, I have family visiting from out of town and it was refreshing to be able to take a day to enjoy their company, catch up on life and rest. As I was laying by the pool, I reflected on all the great things that happened over the last few weeks and remembering the answers my group of 30 pre-schoolers gave me when I asked “Who made you beautiful?”, brought many smiles and warm memories.
I remember the day I asked them, it was 2 days before the program was ending and I had won the right to ask pretty much anything I wanted. We had created a fun environment where they felt loved and cared for. They would come into class with the expectation that it was going to be a fun time! Some them would run to me and hug me while saying “I love you”. They were all lined up and ready to start our session when I asked each “who made you this beautiful?”, nearly everyone answered the same thing “my mom”. I wish I had taken a picture of each one of them while they said it one by one. They had a big smile and the certainty that, if this was a contest, they would win! Moms have that effect on little ones.
I remember “knowing” my mom made me, helped me, loved me, protected me…there wasn’t anything I didn’t think my mom would be able to handle or do for me. She was my hero and I could tell these little ones felt the same way about their mom. To be fair, a couple of kids answered “my dad made me beautiful” and one actually said “my brother made me beautiful”.
When it was my turn, I shared with them the fact that when I was young like them, I didn’t think I was beautiful. My mom always told me I was and I never believed her. As you know I always blamed my insecurities on my dad…but the day I realized God loved me unconditionally and I accepted this love, I felt the most beautiful and loved woman on earth! I had finally felt I belonged and someone cared about me and ever since then, I believed I was a person with a purpose and that made me feel beautiful. The next day was our last day together and when I asked “Do you remember who made me beautiful?” some quickly raised their hands and said “God did and He made me beautiful too!”. Deep down inside, in their innocence, they believe their moms did and I agreed with them because God gave me the privilege to be one of the daughters of the most amazing moms ever.
I wish I was much younger when I learned this truth. Sometimes, even in casual conversations, we are influencing those we encounter, work with, counsel or simply talk to. Let’s be intentional to influence everyone we meet in a positive way no matter how old or young they are. Always aiming to live a life of significance!
When I read “pass on the baton”, the theme of my devotional this morning, it made me realized I AM passing on the baton!
Being a “Humanitarian Entrepreneur” as my friend, Gilda, would say, doesn’t leave much time for anything! We’re always managing a business or helping someone so I had to be creative to stay connected to my sisters. I invited them (Okay, I challenged them!) to read the bible with me in one year. Some of us are more active writing our own thoughts every day than others, but we’re still connected, which was the ultimate goal!
In today’s devo the suggestion was to find a “Paul” and a “Timothy”. A Paul to learn from and a Timothy to pass on the baton. It’s much more profound than this basic statement but you’ll get the point.
This week we celebrated my daughter’s birthday and we spent it at home. The best memory of it was to watch her take her daughter, Elena, who just turned one, into the swimming pool. The very same swimming pool I took Sasha into (also for the first time) when she was Elena’s age.
I remember being so scared that something would happen to my daughter and that I wouldn’t be able to save her. I didn’t know how to swim and I didn’t want my insecurities to stop my daughter from continuing to enjoy the visits to Nana and Abuelo and get into the swimming pool every opportunity she had. As scared as I was of swimming, I decided to take some lessons in case “I needed to save her in an emergency”. I learned to float -that’s about it…I was still scare! However, it gave me the confidence I needed in case of an emergency.
As I was reading my devotional I realized I’m always learning and I’m always teaching. I did what I saw my mom doing for me so many times. I took courage and did something afraid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done something afraid in an effort to help, to improve, to find a solution. Even now, I stretch myself thin in an effort to help even though I’m afraid to fail and guess what? I do! I fail but I’ll continue to learn and I’ll continue to teach. We all do…we’re all passing on the baton. Do it afraid!