I lost my mother-in-law in today’s wee-wee hours. The news arrived at 3am. Like a thief, death is more comfortable working nights.
It was expected. She hung on longer than anybody thought she could. But she finally had enough and willed herself away. She did not die alone.
Her last week was spent in hospice care….a bi-polar existence of numbing ghastly amounts of pain….and a trained staff’s saintly reverence for injecting as much dignity as possible into an undignified process.
All those born so too must die…..a slightly more high-brow way of echoing Jim Morrison’s “no one here gets out alive” mantra. You’d think that would allow some type of rationalization…..some time of preparedness. And maybe it does….but when the news that you’ve been expecting for days does come through, you’re gutted nonetheless. Because love doesn’t do rationalizations. Love only knows I want you here with me…with us…forever. Love is indeed timeless, and that’s the part that brings the tears.
She accepted this awkward, quiet, Dunmore Irish kid into her family’s life from day one. Hers was a family that was nowhere near awkward or quiet….and figured if a Dunmore kid traveled all the way to Jessup (gotta remember…I chose a college because I could walk there…) to see a girl, he must really love her. And so they made an extra place setting at the table….marveled at the Irish appetite (“doesn’t he eat?”…..I used to love when they’d talk about me while I was at the table….”what’s the matter with him?”), and eventually just told me I no longer needed to knock to come in. I was a member of two families now.
Over the years I remained the awkward, quiet, Dunmore Irish kid…….but I never went away. We were constants in each other’s lives. I certainly got major brownie points for helping out in the grandchild department…..having a role in presenting Alyssa and Kiera to their grandmother. Two gorgeous and fascinating girls who made her eyes twinkle and helped keep her forever young.
(So guys….if you buy the mother-in-law-as-shrew cliche jokes….you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. And when you have a child, present the baby to her and say “look what I brought you, Grandma”. All you gotta do after that is step back and be warmed by the smiles.)
The tears come easy now. Too easy. For me they’re mostly triggered by the tears of others. When my kids said goodbye for the last time….holding her hand and whispering their private messages into her ear. Her leg twitched. She knew her girls were there. Being a witness to a scene like this made my knees buckle…..and at the same time made me stronger. I can’t explain the paradox so I won’t try. But I saw some of her strength pass into my own girls….and I saw some of their strength pass into her. It was the meaning of blood…..the meaning of family. It’s why during dark nights of the soul…..blood is all you have left.
As for me…..I’d always announce myself as “your favorite son-in-law”. The fact that I was her only son-in-law didn’t faze me in the least. The last time I saw her was Saturday. She looked so peaceful. Like a doll. Clutching a stuffed animal. Pictures of her grandchildren spread across the top of the pillow. I sensed no pain. She was sleeping. All but the body had already moved on. When I left I knew it was the last time.
On my way out I stopped in the family room. I plucked a few notes out of the piano they have there. Searching for a melody that might make it easier. There wasn’t one.
The last room on the way out was a community kitchen. Sometimes patients will sit in there…in front of a TV. I saw a man reaching in vain for the coffee on the table next to him. He couldn’t get to it. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to. He could burn himself with it. But he wanted it. I stopped…..went in….and pushed the table closer to him so he could get it himself. He smiled. “Thank you” he said…..and then he gave me a thumbs-up. I returned it.
I made my way to the elevator with a big smile on my face.
Life finds a way.
Thank you Marion. For everything. I love you….and miss you.