Monday, December 7, 2009

Where we are

WARNING!!! Long and not very funny post ahead.

I fell in love with this boy. And he fell in love with me. He would make me sad, longing filled mix tapes full of EmmyLou, Natalie Merchant and the Boss. I would make him happy, strange mix tapes full of Arjona, Enigma and Presidents of the United States. I know! Perfect for each other, right?

So this boy became a man and I still loved him. He graduated college and went to live in Chicago where I lived. He chose harder things than I did. I chose to work in flowers, I love them and they make me happy. He chose to live in a community and work with the homeless and the aged. He chose hard work and not much reward. But I loved this man, so I did my best to do it with him.

So this man, Mike, started working at St. Thomas in Chicago. He volunteered first at the soup kitchen and eventually became in charge of the church food pantry. Back to the beginning though. He started volunteering at soup. He enjoyed it so much he asked me to do it with him. I gamely followed along... and hated every minute of my first night there.

Yes, the other volunteers were nice. But the guests! Oh, they smelled so bad. They smelled so, so bad. They were rude and demanding and smelly. It was hard work and did I mention it was kind of gross? And smelly? And rude?

But I loved this man and I kept going to soup. And something strange happened. One day I went to soup I realized that I didn't notice the smell (except for on the really hot and humid days). I noticed the rudeness, but I also saw the hurt eyes, the mental instability behind that rudeness. I found that I not only enjoyed soup kitchen, but I loved the people we served.

I followed this man to his other job as an activities coordinator for an intergenerational living house called Laboure House. It was a bunch of old people and a few college students all living under one roof run by some nuns. The elderly in that house had nowhere else to go. The college students got free room and board in exchange for chores and hang time with the old folks. I followed Mike there, too.

Some of those old people smelled strange. Some of them had mental problems that made me a bit uncomfortable. Some of them were demanding and rude and grumpy. But Mike loved them so I kept showing up. We all know where this is going, don't we?

Fast forward a bit - we got married, we had an Elia, we kept going to soup, we kept working at the food pantry, we kept visiting the old folks at Laboure. I found that these people we loved embraced our little family whole heartedly. At soup kitchen, guests who would not look me in the eye, guests who had nothing nice to say, were suddenly tripping all over themselves to catch a peek at the baby strapped to my chest. They would bring small gifts of tattered stuffed animals, packs of gum, dirty baby clothes. These people I loved loved us back. Cindy, sweet and skittish, would not allow any of the adult volunteers to get within a foot of her; but would swoop in with kisses and love and Chicago library books as gifts for Elia. Crazy Diane would be at the take out window harassing me for another bowl of whatever when suddenly her sunglasses would be placed on my infant's head, much to the delight of those around. Crazy Sean - who under no circumstances-what-so- ever was allowed to touch Elia - would stand at the window and coo at her. He would tell off color jokes and laugh manically. My sweet beginnings of a family touched so many hurting people in such a wonderful way.

We continued to have kids, we continued to drag them with us to all these smelly, strange places. And it was hard, but it was fun. And it was a wonderful thing for all of us.

Eventually we moved to Indiana, Mike lost the job at St. Thomas and we had to scramble for something else to do. First this man I love had to scramble for a job to support his wife and three (soon to be four!) kids. He found a job. But it was just that. A job. It pays the bills. It keeps us clothed and fed, but it's not Soup or Laboure.

Until Mike had an idea. Why not combine our family with what we love? Why not serve a marginalized, kind of smelly, old, population? So we signed up the the Indiana Adult Foster Care program. I have to admit to having quite a few fears and doubts. What if we couldn't do this? What if the old person we got was too grumpy/picky/smelly/what have you? What if the kids were too much? What if? What if?

But then I remembered visiting the folks at Laboure, where Mike worked in Chicago. Sister Clarice, so sweet and kind and camphorated. Margaret, completely out of her head but always ready with a smile and a hug. Sweet Josephine, who would spend the whole day crocheting in her room so "the voices in my head will be quiet". One of her afghans is on our bed right now. Mary M., 94 and willing to ingest ONLY milk and candy. Mary C., bawdy and loud and a lover of Bugles. Tom, witty, fun, and a whole lot smelly. Why not? It seemed the benefits far outweighed the risks.

We got certified, we got the house in order, and we waited. We waited for quite a while. Mike continued to work his job, but he sent out newsletters, went to meetings, networked and finally, finally, we had our first placement!

So here we are::

In September Lois (not her real name) came to live with us. Many of you all ready know this, and most of you know her real name, but I am unsure as to whether we're allowed to share this info on the web, so for now her name is Lois.

Lois is 74, has Dementia and cannot live on her own. When bored or unattended she tends to wander.
She is incredibly social. She loves, loves, loves the kids.

Our first few weeks were rough. She was confused. At night, not knowing where she was she would wander around the house, frightened. She had some physical problems requiring antibiotics and doctors visits. It was hard. It was smelly. It would be safe to say I did not like it. But we kept doing this, and suddenly here we are, three months later and we love Lois.

The kids love her. Elia takes pride in reminding Lois to take her morning pills. Josie and Lois kick off their shoes and dance together. Mikey keeps her entertained with fantastical stories and shenanigans. Del rushes to be the first one to kiss her before she gets in bed and insists on being the person to say night-night and close her door for the evening.

It's not easy. She's grumpy sometimes. I'm grumpy sometimes. The kids are kids.
There is quite a bit of smelliness and a whole lot of work and tiredness.
But we have found a balance and we are happy.
And most importantly we are using our little family to love someone who otherwise might be pushed aside.

And here we are::

I guess all this to say, we have added another Enano to the Livos. You'll be seeing her more and more. I'm sure we will have plenty of craziness to share. In fact, I already have a year's worth of stories. And it's only been three months!

Pray for us, will you?
Today, especially, this has been a hard job. And we are just human and we fail in so many ways. We are not good. We are not saintly. We are just doing the job we feel called to do.

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suwheat! said...

Absolutely beautiful, Kris. The post -- and YOU! You brought tears to my eyes as I think of how much we HAVEN'T done to help those in need. We are trying, but we have so far to go. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Well, this made me super teary. I was very humbled by this post, Kris. It's not supposed to be easy, or convenient, or comfortable, is it? I am glad to know you.

Alan & Beth McManus said...

Wow! You should write a book! Knowing more of the details made it all the better to read! Love you!

Beth Hanna said...

I agree with Alan - you should write a book! This definitely brought back some memories of my life with the man I loved!! So many stories, so many people, so much sorrow, so much happiness, so much joy! Trust me, it´s worth it!!

K & E said...

Beautiful. It is beautiful when the Lord puts someone in our life who loves the Lord and desires to give it all to you guys

Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

Kris. How lovely you and your family are. Thank you for this post. You are Christ amongst us, and you will be in our prayers. Love, Beth

Anonymous said...

I worked for a bit in a nursing home with a wing for those with dementia. There's no one in more need of being someplace that's a home instead of an institution, but the obstacles are so high. If you can make this work for even a little while, I doubt it will matter how grumpy you are. Shoot, grumpy is the norm in my home, I wouldn't feel comfortable without it!

BettyDuffy said...

A wonderful story!