June 26, 2012

Gary Jensen Cares for Jean Peters

My dad Gary Jensen did many amazing things over the years.  There are many stories I could tell you about him.  But my favorite is one that shows his compassion.  In keeping with Father's Day, I want to share it.
A few years ago my parents moved to American Fork, Utah from Colorado.  For my step-mom Sandra Jensen, it was going home as she had grown up there.  Her mother, Jean Peters was still living there.  My parents were in their 60’s and Grandma Peters was in her 80’s.  For the first few years, my parents went on trips as they enjoyed their retirement.  Gary was still consulting in his field, which gave them added opportunities to travel.  Sandra had been a teacher for many years.  She signed up with the school district as a substitute teacher.  She could work when she wanted, allowing them to travel as they pleased.  
Most of the time, my parents took Grandma Peters along for the fun.  The photos they sent us showed my Dad with his two women—his wife and his mother-in-law.  They had a blast together and over the years visited England, Germany, Hawaii, and other far-flung spots. 
In about 2007, Grandma Peters started showing signs of Alzheimer’s.  She couldn’t remember things, couldn’t balance her checkbook and started getting confused.  When the illness was confirmed by a doctor, they took her on her dream vacation, a Disney cruise.  They wanted one last trip with Jean before the foreseen decline in Jean’s abilities would prevent further travel.  Additionally, Gary assumed responsibility for handling Jean’s finances.  Since it was obvious she would not ever return to her home, they cleaned it out and rented it.  
For years, Jean came over to their house in the evening for dinner.  At first she drove herself over, but as time went on, they had to “borrow” her car and never return it.  Instead, Gary went over and brought her over for dinner and then took her home, Jean enjoyed this arrangement very much.  It worked for a few months until it was clear that Jean needed attention at all times.  Gary and Sandra made a room ready for her and moved her into their home.  It was confusing to Jean at first to not go home at night but after a few weeks, she didn’t seem to mind staying there full time.  
My parents were providing housing for two of their grandchildren and a daughter when they moved Jean into their home.  Each one of these family members loved Jean and were willing and able to help care for her.  
Within several months, Jean stayed in bed more and lost the ability to take care of her personal needs.  She became unable to leave her bed.  Her needs escalated from simply aiding her in taking care of herself to actually bathing, feeding, and dressing her, and administering medication to her. 
Sandra managed caring for Jean and counted on help from each family member.  They all pitched in and cared for her needs, as Gary called it, with community effort.  This worked well during the summer and on nights and weekends when everyone was home.  But Sandra’s daughter worked full time and the grandchildren went to school.  Sandra had taken a job at the local High School as a teacher a few years before, and now she was needed daily there in a special needs classroom.  This left Gary to care for Jean during the day, by himself, until the others came home.
Gary had never cared for someone as dependent as Jean became.  He was not a trained nurse; his field was supercomputing.  And he was used to being out and about, now he would need to stay home most of the time for Jean.  The family could have hired someone to do these things instead, or institutionalized Jean in a nursing home.  But Gary loved his mother in law and agreed to take care of her.  Jean would often call to him from her bed when she awoke and ask him to talk to her and rub her back when she didn’t need any other help.  
Gary said, “Everyone in our home helped with Jean and it was a true blessing for all of us.  We all learned to serve and learned to deal with things that were unpleasant at times, and bless Jean for her love for all of us.”
At Grandma Peter’s funeral in February 2009, the Bishop said, “Never have I seen a son-in-law take such good care of his mother-in-law as I have seen Gary care for Jean.  Often, we hear terrible mother-in-law jokes, but they don’t apply here.  Gary has taken Jean into his home and cared for her like a son would.  I didn’t have to worry about her, as I knew her needs were met completely.”  
I think Gary shouldered this responsibility because he loved Jean and Sandra.  Gary stepped forward and accepted the messy and often confining responsibilities for taking care of her during the day out of love.  Gary said, “Jean was always giving of her time and energy when she visited, cleaning and washing clothes.  She and I bonded and became great friends.  That friendship lasted for over 30 years.  She was a wonderful spirit and loved to serve others so it was no wonder that I loved helping Sandra care for Jean.  To this day, we all look into that room where she lay and realize how much we miss her.”
I honor and love my dad for the sacrifices he made to care for this wonderful woman.  We can do hard things that ultimately bring us great joy.

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