Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006
She died at half past noon on Christmas Day, her oldest son by her side.
He called the spousal unit and the two of them decided not to tell anyone else of her passing until after the Christmas dinner she'd been so adamant we hold. The family side of Christmas meant everything to her and she insisted we all get together, whether or not she could be there.
Christmas Day the fifteen of us sat around two tables and talked about the miracle of the 23rd, about how she'd had the most amazing day. She sat completely upright in bed for the first time in weeks, her eyes clear. She talked herself almost hoarse catching up with all her grandchildren.
She caught sight of her reflection in the glass of her window. She told me that the next day I had to bring in her curling iron and make-up because she looked 100 years old and that just wasn't acceptable. If you kept your eyes averted from the catheter, from the urine bag that was completely empty despite the fact they were pumping litre after litre of fluid into her, you could almost believe she'd never die.
That night a new, young woman doctor came in to examine her. She waved me out into the hall and told me my mom-in-law's time was short, very short, that her kidneys had failed. Considering the other problems—the pneumonia, the return of the cancer--this was actually good news.
As the toxins rose in her body, she would drift away, the doctor said. They could easily medicate her enough to control the minimal pain involved. Compared to the other illnesses that she was barely beating off, this would be a kind death.
It was hard to meet my mom-in-law's eyes when I came back into the room, but I did. We'd known for weeks, of course, that she was taking her final laps. Only now the finish line loomed uncomfortably close.
She'd spent the day making bequests to her grandchildren, telling them which bits of this and which bits of that she wanted them to have from her home, so I assumed that she knew she didn't have long. I was caught off guard when she locked eyes with me and asked point blank if she had any chance of survival, any chance at all.
Maybe a lie would have been kinder, but I didn't lie. I told her the truth because I knew the hours she had left were limited. She'd straightened out family matters. If she needed time to sort out spiritual matters, I wanted her to be aware, to do that. She took the news calmly, quietly.
A few hours later, the spousal unit came in and spent the night with her. They spoke of many things and then, in the darkness, she told him she was tired, that she needed to sleep. She began to leave shore.
When I came in on Christmas Eve to spend time with her, she was mostly living morphine dreams. I held her hand. They'd unplugged her from all the machines by then, so the only sound in the room was her breathing.
At one point she startled me by blurting she didn't speak French when one of the nurses asked me in that language if my mom-in-law was comfortable. I told my mom-in-law that I'd translate anything she needed to know and she thanked me. It was the last thing I would hear from her.
How do you sum up a life?
Well, here goes.
My mom-in-law went from a crappy childhood to a very early war time marriage to a man she barely knew. It was a long, unhappy marriage but she came from the generation that married for life, so that was that.
The big consolation prize was her three sons and their children. She adored her children. They are men in their 50's and 60's but when she spoke of them, she always spoke of "her boys". Her living room is a shrine to them, to her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren, the walls plastered with their pictures.
She never truly believed in herself, despite all her skills and accomplishments. She poured everything she had into trying to give her children the stability she never knew herself. Both she and my father-in-law came from families that didn't work, but she refused to let history repeat itself. She was an amazing woman.
She was a challenge as a mom-in-law. Because she'd invested so much into her children, she was loathe to give them up in any sense. She wanted to be the primary woman in their lives.
I realized early on from watching my other sisters-in-law that I could stand toe to toe with her and constantly duke this out, but that there would be no winner, only losers. The woman punched way above her weight. So instead of losing a son, I decided she'd gain a daughter.
You can well imagine her horror.
I loved her. I might not have always liked some of the stuff she said or did, and we certainly had our battles, but the love was always there. When I married the spousal unit she insisted I call her "Maw", just as her sons did. I always did.
You know, I thought the sadness I felt at Christmas would be the worst of it, but I thought wrong.
Because we live across the road from her, we had a small Boxing Day tradition. The spousal unit, I and the daughter marched down to her house for Christmas leftovers every 26th. It was a time for the four of us to chat, decompress from the Christmas rush, rehash the excitement of the day before. We'd put away some of the Christmas stuff that everyone had been too tired to deal with the day before, help her rearrange furniture back to its accustomed places. It was our time with her.
Yesterday, for the very first time since we moved here in 1977, she wasn't down at the home farm waiting for us. Yesterday it was my fridge, not hers, that was loaded with the Christmas leftovers.
I can't begin to tell you how very wrong that felt.
P.S.--Again, thank you all for your kindness and sympathy. I apologize for not responding individually to your comments. I haven't been sleeping properly for weeks now, and I'm just too tired.
Want to delve into my sordid past?
She's mellllllllllllllting - Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 - Back off, Buble - Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 - Dispersed - Monday, Nov. 28, 2011 - Nothing comes for free - Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 - None of her business - Friday, Nov. 04, 2011 -
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