Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006
Dear Diary:

She's drifting away.

It was the third round of chemo when the wheels fell off. My mom-in-law got progressively sicker, progressively weaker and ate less and less and less …

She's in the hospital now, unable to hold down food, barely strong enough to open her eyes, her voice a whispered croaking. She falls asleep mid-sentence. It's been over a week since she's been out of bed.

The doctors are trying all sorts of medications to get her nausea and sundry other chemo-related side effects under control. If she can just eat she can come back to us, but it's been over a week since she's been able to hold down food.

Just making it through the bowel cancer surgery and working her way to recovery ate into her reserves big time. I'm not sure how much more she has in the bank to draw upon. Every time I see her it feels as if she has slipped a tiny bit further from the shore.

To protect her from further illness, we have to gown up before coming into her room. We cover our shoes with protective slippers, our clothes with a hospital gown. We wash our hands in sterilizing gel before putting on latex gloves. We cover our mouths with masks.

I feel oddly ghostlike each time I do this.

Layers and barriers.

Anytime she is touched she doesn't feel flesh, she feels latex. The masks muffle our voices and hide our mouths. My mother-in-law is hard of hearing and without being able to read our lips, it's very hard for her to grasp our words.

Layers and barriers.

The doctors told my mom-in-law that chemo is now out of the question for her. When she asked them how long she might have, they said that she could live anything from five to ten years. She told me she wept at the thought that her life might be that short. At eighty-three, she feels that 88 or 93 isn't enough life.

That's what gives me hope in all of this—that my mom-in-law so wants to live that even seeing her 90's doesn't feel like enough time to her.

We continue to live as if she'll be coming home in a month or so because anything else is just unthinkable. I run around doing her paperwork, sweep her floors, water the plants, feed and pet the cat.

Her sons visit her around the clock and try to coax tiny spoonfuls of baby food into her, hoping that that spoonful might be the one she can hold down, the one that begins her recovery.

As of today I can't help with that anymore because I've developed a sore throat and we just can't risk exposing her to any new threats. I am angry and frustrated, but there's nothing I can do about this. I just have to wait this virus out.

There are unexpected moments when I find my eyes welling. A few days ago I divided her fern, a houseplant she's had for the 35 years I've known her. It's been neglected because my mom-in-law's has been ill since the spring, become so root bound it almost pushed itself out of its pot. As I discarded the brown bits and put the youngest, healthiest shoots into a new pot with fresh soil, I caught myself wondering if she'd ever see the rejuvenated plant.

There's no point to thoughts like this, though. So today when I watered it, instead I marvelled at how well it's already doing and how pleased my mom-in-law will be when she sees it restored to past beauty.

Dealing with all the stresses that come with a critical illness has put huge strains on our family. There has been anger, fear, resentment and more than a few nasty exchanges as we vent our frustrations over a situation we can neither control nor change.

There have been times when I thought my mom-in-law and I might come to fisticuffs. Another time I had a complete meltdown and pretty much nuked the spousal unit's middle brother. Yet, somehow we always manage to patch things up and continue to pull together.

My mother-in-law comes from the generation of women who devoted themselves to family. She sees herself first as a mother and wife, and everything else is secondary. As I watch her three sons completely re-arrange their lives around her in this time of crisis, I see what an amazing success she was at what she chose to do. Her three sons aren't perfect, but they're good, compassionate, caring men.

The apples didn't fall far from the tree.

--Marn

P.S.—to all of you who contributed to Beanstock, I haven't forgotten you. I'm extremely grateful for your recipes. They are printed out and when life gets back to normal, I'll go back to trying them.

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