Our stories are intertwined, hers and mine, in life, in love and in grief. We even share an old-lady name: her first name, Audrey, is my middle name. An only child, an Irish son, Gavin lived with her into his forties, and then I stole him, made his home mine, ate his cooking, bore his child. He was all she ever had, more than she wanted or expected, I think, until Short Stack came along, and you know what they say about grandkids.
She is a big part of my story of loss, my mother-in-law, because when Gavin died, we were all she had left. She had no family, he had no siblings, the only cousins a good ten-hour drive away and preoccupied with their own rapid changes.
When he died, this old woman and I were pointed straight at each other: two of the three most important people in his life, three females, two of us fighting in some sense over the third, the little one, the joy in our dark days.
Someone wise pointed this out to me early on in that first year and I didn’t believe it: Audrey wished it had been me who died, and I wished it had been her. To both of us, that would have been natural and just. She was, in secret, dreaming of stealing away with my little girl and making a new life together. That is crazy, I thought. No way. She loves me and I love her! She’s always been so good to me! And surely, she doesn’t think she can take care of a kid in diapers.
As the year wore on, I saw that this interpretation of our lives was not only true but inevitable. We each had the arrow of our entire life pointed at Gavin. When he fell from the picture those missiles hung tense in the air, wobbled for a moment, then found their straight aim. Of course, he had eyes only for our little girl, and responsibility for Audrey, aging rapidly. Despite my sacrifices, my sharing of everything I was and all I loved, I had to be a distant third to him as his light faded. Some stories, some favorites, write themselves.
But Audrey was not simple, though she wished to be, and Gavin, loyal and honest, was not the diligent one in our household.
My mother-in law-had dementia and when Gavin died, I was the only one she could turn to, had she wanted to turn. I was the knob on which her independence fell and bumped its head. I helped her more than she wanted, less than she needed, and I said it more than once -- heck, I probably said it more than once a week -- during the two years she outlived him: my mother-in-law was killing me.
Caregiving Gavin shattered my soul, into a thousand pieces it went down, and then caregiving his mother stomped the bits and left them in mush. Nonetheless I fulfilled the obligations I felt so heavy on me, full of rage at his refusal to deal with her, at their mutual stubborn independence and their calm ignorance, parenting another, one with no hope of progress or cure. There were two people in diapers in my life: one age 3 and on the way up, and one age 90 on the way down, and I’d already lost the one closest to my age, the one I leaned on. I felt acutely the irony of being the most competent in a household of a toddler and a senile elder, as I was grieving and trying to hold down a job and heaven forbid, find the light ahead. But hell, I was the one who could drive.
Alone, desperate, broke, shakily in charge, I would have been happy to kill my husband then, if it would have saved my daughter and I, but, as is the case in every story of dementia, it was too fucking late.
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