I have had the great privilege of sharing my home with an unexpected guest for the last month, give or take.
My father-in-law, an independent, head-strong man in his late 70's, found himself suffering from a severe gallbladder infection. Unable to undergo surgery to have the offending organ removed, he spent a week in the hospital to get infection under control. He was then transferred to a nursing home with IV antibiotics and a tube inserted into his side that drains his gallbladder into a bag.
Once he had finished the IV antibiotics, they allowed him to leave the nursing home, as long as he was not living alone so someone could monitor the tube and help flush the drain daily. Doctors check on his progress regularly to see if the gallbladder has healed and is functioning or if he can undergo surgery to have it removed.
And so we found ourselves, and our busy home of six-, four- and two-year-old children, welcoming George into our home indefinitely.
We had to make a place,
at our table,
in a bedroom,
in the fridge,
on the counters,
in the pantry,
in our car.
But the place George has taken up residence most prominently is in our hearts.
I really hadn't had the opportunity to get to know my father-in-law very well over the last 9 years. His visits revolved either around a major family event (birthday, holiday, etc.) or a desire to attend one of the various local "Swap Meets" where he could connect with his R/C plane friends and purchase needed parts for his planes at reasonable prices.
To me, he was distant. Ruminating. Obsessed over events long passed and always eager to get back home. Everyone would tell me he was different before Peggy's sudden passing. They all were. Wife, mother, grandmother I never knew, the matriarch, gone.
And in these days, crammed together in our home, we have become family. Long talks over coffee while the kids play away the morning shines light in dark corners and unearths truths that lie beyond the resentment, under the hurt.
The promise of a life spent together, working side by side.
Instead a scraping to get by, and even then, barely. And finally a job to pay the bills and make a life, but he away all week and she at home raising kids.
Not the life they'd dreamed of. Not the life he'd promised her as she prepared to move across the country with her solider.
But their life.
And then she died and missed the best part.
And he's still here, able to enjoy all the things she would have loved most about watching her grand-kids grow up.
And if he had been there at just that moment, maybe, just maybe ...
And why should he enjoy what she cannot?
But God has a funny way of providing, of working all things for good.
A failed gallbladder and forced recuperation. A family being knit together with love and understanding. Children who know life better with their grandfather than without.
As we approach a doctor's visit at the end of the week, I am a little scared. If they say he can go home, will he disappear into the haze of "could have" and "should have"? And how will our lives ever be the same without him? He has made a place here, and it will certainly be empty if he leaves.