Five days before Christmas in 1993 my father, who had been diagnosed with cancer, and my mother, who had Alzheimer's disease, moved in with my husband and me.
My husband was also dying with congestion heart failure.
At the same time, my daughter and my two granddaughters were living in the apartment upstairs. This made four generations of family living in one house.
At times, people would ask me how I could stand all the stress, the illnesses, and the sadness. I tried to explain we were also experiencing great joy.
My husband and I always agreed that if and when my parents got old or sick and couldn't take care of their daily needs, we would bring them in to live with us. Well, talk is cheap.
When the time arrived, I honestly did not know how I was going to manage my household with three dying patients depending on me.
My dear father also had reservations and spoke to me about his concerns. He was afraid there would be contentions and quarreling. He had good reason to be concerned because he raised me, and I was truly a brat in my teen years. He remembered that he also was concerned that my husband would be upset with them living with us.
I explained that my bratty ways left me more than 50 years ago, and I was a changed individual. I was no longer the brat that I was when I was living in my parents' home. I had learned to live a different kind of life — a life of compassion for others, especially ill or helpless individuals.
Whatever came our way I was sure we could and would deal with it.
I had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1976, and I learned how to live a good productive life full of joy, service and love. I had made promises to live the best I could and be an example of the kind of woman my Heavenly Father desires of me.
I promised my earthly father that all would be well, and it worked better than I could have ever dreamed. I cried in private many times because I was losing three people who I loved most in the world, and I prayed often that I would be strong.
There we were that Christmas. My dear mother, who was a hospice patient, kept wandering back and forth through the living room, dining room, kitchen, and porch not knowing who she was or where she was. She didn't even know me. She knew "Polly" but every aide and every nurse, and every woman visitor was Polly.
My dad was in his hospice bed in the dining room on controlled pain from the cancer, which had spread throughout his body.
My husband was in his hospice bed in the living room also on control pain and heart medicine to help keep his days somewhat comfortable. My dear husband, who had been in the habit of finding fault with me, had promised that he would not complain after my parents moved in. That dear man kept his promise despite the organized turmoil that filled our days and sometimes interrupted our nights.
All through that wonderful Christmas season the hospice nurses and aides came in and out to check their patients and let me know that any time day or night help was just a phone call away; the missionaries who came in to give an individual blessing to a needy person; the Relief Society sisters who brought by their soups, breads, cookies and cakes; my daughter and her children filling in when I needed some rest or errands run; and finally our dear bishop who stopped by to see if we needed anything.
The things I truly remember with such gratitude are the hugs my visitors gave, and they always helped me to feel I was not alone. They made me feel strong and capable of doing what needed to be done.
I felt the spirit in our home all through the months that illness invaded our home. I only had one short panic attack from the fear that I would fail and could not be strong enough to follow through the crisis we had.
I remember unwrapping our Christmas presents. We had gotten Granny a baby doll because she was always so fond of babies. She unwrapped the doll, tossed it aside and played with the wrapping paper. We gave her plenty of paper to play with and she was content. We were happy because she was happy.
I remember sitting there looking around at the faces I loved most in this world knowing we were to say goodbye for a little while, and I felt at peace and was happy. We laughed, talked, and we were very grateful that we had the time together.
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I look back and know it was a gift from God, showing us how to truly love one another, to give service, to be served and to remember with gratitude that I was chosen to be the one to share my parents and husband's final moments.
My dad died the following June, my husband died the following October, and my dear mother lived another five years.
My life is still good today. It is almost as busy now as it was then except with much less stress. I am serving in the LDS Church in Alaska with some of the most wonderful people in the world.
I am truly blessed.
Mildred P. Miller lives in Chugiak, Alaska.