Our home teacher threw a dinner party Saturday night for the families he home teaches. George and I enjoyed getting together with ward members with whom we are not well-acquainted—thanks to our sporadic church attendance. It was an especially good night for Gerald and Joanne who live several blocks away. He suffers dementia, but enjoyed being with people willing to overlook his confusion and talk to him about events he can remember. Joanne seemed to enjoy this rare evening out. As Gerald’s caregiver, her life is totally restricted. She cannot leave him alone and has given up her book group and Daughters of Utah Pioneers meetings.
Gerald and Joanne’s situation is hardly unusual in this age of life-prolonging medication. Gerald really needs to be in a care center, but nursing home costs are prohibitive for families who failed to purchase long-term care insurance when they were young and healthy. Medicare pays for only 90 days of nursing home care. Medicaid eligibility occurs only after a couple has exhausted their own resources—leaving the healthy spouse with only the house, Social Security, and possibly pension income.
It looks like Joanne’s only options are: a) to continue care giving at home until she exhausts herself and possibly dies first, b) to impoverish herself by paying for Gerald’s residence in a care center until their savings are exhausted, or c) to divorce him and let him go on Medicaid.
These are scary old-age prospects for couples. Since dementia runs on my side of the family and not George’s, I have told George and the kids (quite nobly, I think) that it’s all right for him to divorce me when I need nursing home care. “No problem,” our daughter Lolly said. “You won’t know it anyway.”
George hates home teaching. When we moved to a new ward, he flat-out told the High Priest leaders that he would not take an assignment. Undeterred, they asked him to at least take the responsibility of calling a list of high priests at the end of the month to collect their home teaching statistics. Calling other men in the ward to nag them about their home teaching when he refused to do it himself appealed to George’s warped sense of humor, so he accepted the responsibility. Three years later, the HP leadership changed and George asked to be released from this duty. No dice. They’re bringing his new list tomorrow.
“Why can’t I get out of a home teaching assignment,” he asked. “You got fired as a visiting teacher.”
It’s true I was dropped as a visiting teacher last winter, but I could not help George. I didn’t ask to be released. I was surprised to learn when I called to set up February appointments that someone else had been assigned in my place.
George attends church even less frequently than I do. The only insight I could give him was, “Obviously, the Relief Society has higher standards that the High Priest Group.
Our new home teacher decided to give us a lesson last month.
He dutifully opened his Ensign and
told us President Eyring’s message gave him some new thoughts about tithing. He
read a few quotes from the text and told us of the blessings he’s received from
paying tithing. George and I were uncomfortable. Even when I was a believing
member, I objected to the self-serving notion of paying tithing in anticipation
of reaping blessings.
When Brother deVowt paused for our comments, George said
that he and I have so many blessings we don’t ask for more; we just give
thanks. I agreed with our HT that generosity is a great virtue. I didn’t
elaborate on why I now choose to bestow my offerings elsewhere. We don’t care
to undermine our home teachers’ faith, but neither do we want to be proselytized.
At least our home teacher did not read the entire message
verbatim, then offer tearful testimony of its truthfulness as my Relief Society
visiting teachers did until I asked them to skip the message during their
visits. That request probably got me dropped from my own visiting teaching
I know George and I could have our names removed from the
rolls of the church and avoid contact with the faithful entirely, but we had
hoped to maintain a casual relationship with the church of our heritage. George
feels an attachment to the institution which has provided him with spiritual
experiences in the past. Neither of us wants to divorce ourselves from our
neighbors or place a possible barrier between ourselves and believing family
Maybe we’re in the
position of a divorced spouse—grateful to be out of a relationship that wasn’t
working—but still bound by years of shared experience. Being good friends after
a split is a status few divorced couples achieve. It generally takes more than
a few years—and forgetting the past seems to come more easily to those who
leave than to those they abandon.
Our home teacher, Brother Bleever, called for the first time in six months to make an appointment for a visit this week. I don’t fault our home teachers for their sporadic visits. Both have demanding jobs and large families. I know their limited spare time can be better spent with families needing assistance or at least with families more likely to attend meetings. But these home teachers have been fun and we’ve enjoyed their visits. Unfortunately, Brother Bleever’s fun-loving partner, Brother Lightheart, has been re-assigned and Brother Bleever’s new partner is his 16-year-old son, Earnest.
Earnest is the kind of Mormon boy who marks the days on his calendar until he can turn in his mission papers. He sat in our living room, not with the suffering face of a kid roped into going home teaching with dad, but with the resolute face of a missionary-in-training. Brother Bleever set it up for Earnest by asking why we didn’t attend church. I tried to pass it off with a flippant remark about having other things to do on Sundays. “Like what?” Earnest demanded. “I like staying home. I also attend the Zen Center quite often and sometimes the Unitarian Church.” They stared at me. “I’m ecumenical,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Why do you attend other churches? What are you looking for?” Brother Bleever asked. “I’ve pretty well mined the teachings of Mormonism,” I said. “I find new thoughts in other places.” George chimed in, “I’ve always been taught that the Mormon Church accepts all truth.” That let us in for an Earnest lecture and testimony on the LDS Church as the source of all truth. Then Earnest waved his Ensign preparatory to reading the lesson. “Do you take the Ensign?” he asked. “No.” “Why not?” “Since I wouldn’t read it, I like to save the trees.” “Heavenly Father gave us the trees for a purpose.”
Had Earnest been an adult, I might have given him explicit reasons why I’m no longer into Mormon theology, but I am not willing to undermine even an obnoxious young person’s testimony. The lesson finally ended. We shut the door on our departing guests and looked at each other. What do we do if they want to come back next month?
When we moved into this ward two years ago, I thought we could be “social” Mormons—attending social events, helping with service projects, visiting teaching—and be accepted as friends and neighbors. But Mormons make substantial sacrifices of time and money for their faith. Naturally, they can’t accept the notion that people who don’t make the same sacrifices can lead good and happy lives. I’m afraid that for us, attending three hours of tedious meetings each Sunday is too great a price to pay for acceptance in our neighborhood.
Mormon authorities heralded home teaching as an inspired replacement for ward teaching almost 50 years ago. At first, home teachers were a husband-wife team. George and I developed a good friendship with the young couple who visited us with their babies and invited us to their home. We kept in touch with the McLeans for several years after moving from that ward.
Within a year or two after the home teaching program was implemented, wives were no longer assigned as home teaching companions. The new program began to resemble the old ward teaching program. As an adolescent, I had hated ward teachers. My grandmother stayed with my brothers and me in the evenings while our dad worked, and we would beg her to say we weren’t home when the doorbell rang the last night of the month. She agreed to once, but was mortified by our not-very-muffled laughter from the bathroom where we’d locked ourselves. From then on I had to sit and endure Brother Watchful’s questions about whether or not I was being a good girl. Couldn’t he see that I was too homely a junior high kid to have any choice about the matter?
Since reaching adulthood, I have never locked myself in the bathroom nor crawled out of the living room to avoid our home teachers. Mostly I have enjoyed their visits. I’ll always be grateful to Brother Donne who was YM president as well as our home teacher. Brother Donne stopped by one afternoon bringing a church publication about depressed youth. He was concerned about suicidal comments our son, Techie, had made. George and I pooh-poohed the comments Brother Donne repeated. Techie was just kidding. But when I read the pamphlet, I recognized the symptoms of suicidal depression and we got help for Techie.
A memorable home-teaching experience occurred when my dad was living with us. Dad loved our home teachers, especially Brother Seenyle who was his age, and we enjoyed Brother Gabby who was our age. Usually they visited us first and stayed an hour. One day, we were last on their round. As Brother Gabby chatted away, Brother Seenyle appeared restless, and finally asked Dad where our rest room was. Dad took our home teacher to the bathroom and I noticed a large puddle on our leather sofa. I didn’t want to embarrass Brother Seenyle, so when he returned from the bathroom, I jumped to my feet, thanked a puzzled Brother Gabby for coming, and walked to the door. Maybe I shouldn’t have hid the accident from Brother Gabby. It might have been a blessing for more visitees than ourselves if the incident had been reported and Brother Seenyle released from his home teacher calling with a vote of gratitude.
Our current home teachers only visit once every few months. I understand. Both have demanding jobs and heavy family and church responsibilities. And they realize their visits aren’t likely to improve our attendance. But I’m glad to see them doing yard work and driving an elderly neighbor they are not assigned to visit. That is probably the effect church leaders hoped to accomplish when they announced the concept of home teaching.