If you’ve been reading my memoir, you know that my mother-in-law had Parkinson’s disease. In the beginning of our marriage, my father-in-law took care of his wife during the week, and on the weekends we were expected to take over. We’d go Friday night, right after work. No time to decompress, no time to ourselves. Some nights I just cried from frustration. After a while, my FIL finally agreed to bring someone in to help on Saturdays.
My mother-in-law had many helpers over the years. The first was Wanda, randomly selected by my brother-in-law. The wife of the guy who mowed their lawn, she had no nursing experience and barely spoke English. She was also a slob. In addition to looking after my MIL, she was supposed to do some light housekeeping, but never did. In fact, whatever crumbs she saw on the kitchen table or countertop, she brushed onto the floor.
She also had an attitude. Once when my sister-in-law Olivia was visiting from Texas, my mother-in-law suggested a pizza from a place nearby for lunch. (It was a weekday, and Joe and his brother were at work.) Wanda didn’t move a muscle. I called in the order and announced, “It’ll be ready in 20 minutes.” Wanda still didn’t move. She sat at the table with us, drinking coffee.
“Wanda, can you please go pick up the pizza?” I asked.
She looked insulted. Olivia, sensing conflict, said, “I’ll go.”
“No,” I said. “Wanda should go.” I was tired of hearing about how Wanda wasn’t doing her job. Also, as the “first wife” in the house, I had to have some power.
My mother-in-law agreed. “Wanda should go.”
Wanda was not pleased. When she returned, she basically shoved the pizza box at me.
Maybe I was snotty to ask her to get the pizza. But my in-laws weren’t paying her to sit there while Olivia or I ran out to get food. If she had been doing actual other work – like much-needed physical therapy for my mother-in-law, or cleaning up – I wouldn’t have thought twice about getting the pie myself. I told my father-in-law what happened, and soon after he let her go.
Other helpers included Mrs. Yu, who was very religious and for some reason didn’t bathe till my brother-in-law, a doctor who couldn’t stand bad smells, requested that she take a shower. There was Uegyn, an intelligent mom from Bhurma, who introduced me to milk tea. Neither lasted long, Mrs. Yu too weak to lug around my increasingly immobile mother-in-law, Uegyn, unable to take the stress. I didn’t blame her. I could barely take one day, let alone weeks.
The best was Zeta. In her 50s and from Jamaica, she didn’t live with my in-laws but came during the week and every Saturday. A former nurse, she was kind and incredibly patient. Not only did she know the right way to help my MIL to and from the bathroom, up and down the stairs, she did so without ever once losing her temper (unlike me). Plus I loved to chat with her. She was easy to talk to and I told her about lots of things – my trip to Paris, the news, even complaints about my sister-in-law.
“Oh, Bad Luck Girl,” she’d chuckle, shaking her head.
But she couldn’t stay forever. My in-laws just didn’t pay her enough.
My mom and her siblings are going through the same thing now with my grandmother, except they’re willing to pay for a helper 24/7. I guess my in-laws couldn’t afford to do that, though as I’ve written, they had plenty of antiques that were supposedly worth a lot. And I think my sister-in-law, whose family was very wealthy, offered to pay for one, but Joe’s parents, too proud, refused.
My mom and east coast aunt go out to L.A. regularly to help with their mother when my uncle and his family go away. I like that my mother feels she can talk to me about how hard it is, though not angrily nor to make me feel guilty. She just talks about her experiences. She can even laugh about the time my grandmother was so constipated, she had to go the hospital, and how when she was finally, um, “relieved,” the smell was so bad, it drove the person sharing her room insane.
Plus my mother is a in a different situation because my uncle is willing to house my grandmother, and she and my aunt take turns helping out. Both my parents and aunt will be going out next month, hence the upcoming big fat Chinese Thanksgiving. My in-laws’ siblings, however, did squat to help.
The only person who doesn’t help enough is my other aunt. Although she’s here on the west coast, she never stays with my grandmother on her own and only goes when my mom or other aunt are there, mostly, I think, because she doesn’t want to be left out. Then she lasts only a couple of days before declaring, “I can’t stand it,” and returning home.
I want to tell her how lucky she actually is. She isn’t there by herself every week. She has brothers and sisters helping; her mother has a 24/7 helper. I’m not sure how she feels she has a right to complain.