One widow’s mother-in-law story, part 5
How was I liberated from caring for Audrey? Gavin’s cousin from Ohio – Audrey’s niece, her sister-in-law’s daughter – was the only other person alive with any interest in her well-being. I spoke to her every few weeks on the phone, and updated her on how badly the old lady was doing. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t take over. I was doing so badly, and so was Audrey.
Finally one day the cousin planned a trip East to take over managing some of the care and stated, “it was getting pretty depressing hearing you talk about how badly you all were doing.” Thank you, I thought. And also? Duh! That’s what I was aiming at all this time. What the hell took you so long?
Her trip coincided with Audrey’s second fall. Since it was showtime – really the opening we needed to move her into assisted living -- I arranged a third three-month leave of absence from my job.
(Wouldn’t this make a good sidebar? “My three 3-month leaves in 3 years: a picture of family in crisis. 1. Maternity leave, daughter. 2. Bereavement leave, husband. 3. Arranging move into senior living, mother-in-law.”)
And I packed up her apartment for the old lady’s third move in five years. I Freecycled much of the furniture including the bookshelves Gavin had made for the home they used to share. I thrifted scores of books about Ireland, hardcover mysteries and memoirs, Thomas Merton, and a few strange volumes about what it’s like to live as an ordinary, unimportant person, alone and undistinguished. (I’m not even kidding about those.) I packed up dozens of tchotchkes: kachina dolls, Hummel figures, Nippon statues on fake boxwood bases, and pottery from the years they spent “on the run” in Albuquerque. Each object was a story that I still hoped to someday hear. I photographed how they were arranged so that if she ever wanted to, she could set them up again.
It was so easy for me to slip back into that warm jacket of denial. “In case” she ever comes home, “in case” she remembers and wants that candlestick to be on that same end table.
It’s not that the story ends there, far from it. Things settled down. I was still the only local family, but all the financial and medical responsibility was being sent to the cousin.
My whining was over. I found out that my grief group, like the cousin, was tired of my gripes about eldercare. Getting to know me in my most intense time of life, they thought I was boring.
Now I was just a visitor to Audrey’s room and the parent of her little sunshine. Her dementia continued to progress, which, in a way, made my life easier: I had optimistically planned to visit two or three times a week. Since she couldn’t remember anything, I could pretend to pull that off while I was visiting just once a week, if that much.
In some small way, I knew that her life would run linear and downward from this point, but my fate and hers were disentangled and the relief was overpowering. Just in time, too: she moved in to the first of two assisted living facilities the day of her car accident one year before, the day before the first “sadiversary” of Gavin’s death and I was expecting an avalanche from that.
(to be continued)
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