One widow’s mother-in-law story, part 6
This mother-in-law thing is turning into a very long story. But in many ways, the story of my mother-in-law is most of what happened during that first tough year after my husband died. What else did was going on? A job, a child, lots of laundry. I wasn’t bored, but I was numb and my responsibilities overpowered me. When I let go of caring for Audrey, I had to start looking ahead.
It wasn’t that the grief hit me all of a sudden – it had been there all year, gnawing at me every free minute and punching me down occasionally. Like Audrey, the grief was something to work on; unlike her, thinking and feeling did make a difference. And while most of it seemed to hurt, as people in grief all know, we’re not ill and we don’t need to be fixed. The only way out is through.
Life during the first year wasn’t all gray. There were many laughs with my new, young widow friends in group. My daughter was adjusting to day care, reveling in playing with kids her age all day and growing, growing, growing. We had high points, delights, and many, many tantrums, and we still visited my mother-in-law in her new “home.”
In brief: Audrey had seven good months in this facility, which she never got used to. She’d call me frequently asking when we were leaving “the hotel,” and occasionally she seemed upset to be there, but she was receiving the smallest amount of care possible for her abilities and it wasn’t too expensive. We visited and did craft projects. I fantasized that it was a good place for her to get used to and live well for a while.
I suppose in retrospect I should have been sharper about detecting changes in her. One memorable morning she called me thirty times before 9:15 promising to break out of the home. Each message told me her plan: eat breakfast, pack things, and then run away from this awful place. Each call was a new experience for her, and some of the calls were adjusted for the fact that she’d already eaten breakfast. I thought it was humorous and a sign of her insanity and inability to carry anything out, but not necessarily a mark of how far her dementia had progressed. Obviously, grief was making a lunkhead out of me, too.
I told my daughter, over and over, that Grandma was sick. Audrey, I said, had a problem in her head which sometimes made her think that I was in charge of everything in the world, and also, she had to be in a special place so they could make sure she ate and drank enough healthy water. My girl was fine with it and guided me through my duty to keep visiting though I would have loved to abandon the old woman altogether. I was so thankful to not be in charge and remembering that weight kept me doing the least (really the least) I could. After all, the woman I’d come to know and value as family – the self-sufficient and generous mother of my husband – wasn’t there any more.
She was no longer maternal, I had become the parent of everyone around me. One anchor was gone, replaced by a giant weight as I tried to lead my little girl through each day’s fog. It was never a problem; she danced ahead of me.
One Saturday afternoon in October, when Shortie and I were on a church camping trip, Audrey broke her hip. This event --- the stress, the hospital visit, the surgery – precipitated my first Match.com relationship in all its exhilaration and hilarity. All four days of it.
Some statistics you always keep in the back of your head, vaguely: how many seniors die within a year of breaking a hip. How many people, after widowhood, die within a year of their spouse. After the broken hip, I knew Audrey’s clock was ticking. When she at last died, six months after the last move, her mind was nearly gone. Her final home was the dementia ward of a real nursing home (the previous facility had been transitional and only offered very limited care).
Audrey died holding secrets that I was hoping to untangle from her: I think this was part of why I saved her tchotches, especially the New Mexico ones (I still have them). After she died I found out that even her best friends, the sisters of her generation while she was raising Gavin alone, were as much in the dark as I was.
She had lasted nearly two years after Gavin died. Some of Gavin’s friends thought, like I did, that she’d only be around a year beyond him, and that was when we thought her abilities were greater than they were. Fortunately, finally, I’d outlived her. I knew that my daughter and I would make it.
(to be continued... but not much longer, promise!)
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