Saturday, Nov. 25, 2006
Dear Diary:

Sometimes it's just a matter of speaking the right language.

One of the things that's surprised me most about my mom-in-law's illness is how much anger I've felt towards her. Sadness I expected. Anger? Not so much.

I've been very angry that she hasn't made more of an effort with her recovery, hasn't pushed herself as she needs to if she hopes to regain any of the physical ground she's lost.

It feels to me as if the time she has left could be short. I can't fathom why the woman who used to be so outgoing would sit around the house all day in her housecoat and slippers, doing little beyond talking on the phone. She has not once bothered to get dressed since she came home. I don't get it.

I plead with her to walk a minute, just a minute, on her treadmill, and she makes up a million excuses why she can't. Each and every doctor who's crossed her path has stressed that she won't recover if she doesn't walk.

But even you know what? This isn't my life, it's hers. These aren't my decisions to make, they're hers.

DUH, eh?

It's embarrassing to admit how long it's taken me to come to this realization. I may want the woman I've known for 35 years to come back, but maybe that woman is gone forever.

Not. My. Choices. To. Make.

I've also been very angry that it seems no matter what we do for her, it's never enough. The family has made big efforts to make sure that when she was in the hospital or convalescent home that at least two of us stopped by each day to visit with her. Many days it was four of us.

We've been keeping her five bedroom home going, taking care of all her financial matters, and her pets. We run interference for her, dealing with whatever hospital or government bureaucracies have to be dealt with so that she gets everything she's entitled to in the way of medical care, home care workers, assistance with the cost of her prescriptions. We drive her to all her medical appointments.

We stock her fridge and cupboards. Cooking too much of an effort? We bought her wonderful frozen meals prepared by the chef at the convalescent home where she'd been staying because she raved about the food.

The spousal unit's oldest brother even moved in at her home so she won't be alone at night.

Not. Enough. She somehow feels lonely, abandoned by her ingrate children. She's been winding herself up so much that she chugs Maalox after every meal.

The spousal unit's oldest brother took today off and went back to his own home to do yard work and house maintenance. My mom-in-law grumbled about how she would be alone all day. I promised I would spend some time with her.

Leeks were on special this week, so I bought six huge beauties and spent the morning making a triple batch of potato leek soup, some for now, some to freeze. After I finished buzzing the last bit through the blender, it was noon so I put some in a jar and took it down to her.

There she was, in her housecoat and her slippers. It was clear she hadn't done anything beyond talking on the phone, hadn't even made the effort to get dressed. I wanted � for a moment I wanted to yell and wave my arms, tell her it was time to get dressed and start thinking like a well person instead of thinking like a sick person.

But I shook myself, let that go. Instead I just handed her the soup, told her that I'd dropped the pepper I normally put in because I knew she felt pepper upset her stomach.

As I lit the fire in her wood stove and got it regulated, we chatted a bit. Then I had to go home and help the spousal unit put our new window in. I told her I'd be back after lunch and we'd make soup out of the mushrooms we'd bought last week, the ones she hadn't bothered to use.

When I came back she told me that for the first time since she'd come home her stomach hadn't bothered her after she ate. She praised the miraculous powers of my soup but I realized that wasn't it. It was the fact that I finally had my DUH moment, realized I can't choose for her. Even when I tried to keep a lid on my anger over her inertia, she probably picked up on my seething.

Yep, I was making her physically ill through my own stupidity. Man, does it pain me to say that out loud.

My mom-in-law is a fabulous cook. For her food and love are synonyms. She has always showered her kids and grandkids with things from her kitchen. Me, I'm a terrible cook. I cook because I have to. I follow recipes to the letter because unlike her, I can't take a handful of this, a pinch of that, and whip up wonderful.

When I came back down to the home farm to spend time with her, I came down with my Moosewood cookbook, a package of barley, some garlic, half a bottle of red wine and some tamari. I rummaged through her cupboards for everything else I needed, painstakingly chopped, measured and stirred exactly as the recipe told me to and made her mushroom barley soup.

My mom-in-law has always been very particular about her appearance. The last time we rushed her to the hospital because she was halfways to dying, she refused to go out the door without first having her hair combed and lipstick applied. So today I set her hair in rollers while her soup simmered. A very small thing to do, when you think about it.

As I was leaving to head back home, my mom-in-law remarked that she was feeling especially well today and couldn't understand why. I could. I finally spoke the right language to her, her language.

If food is love, then as inadequate as I feel in the kitchen, I will make her food. If pretty matters, then forget the doctors' orders about walking and treadmills. Pretty. We'll work on pretty.

Yep, here I am, 55, and I'm still learning to speak the language of someone I've known for 35 years. The words "arrested development" don't begin to cover it, eh?


P.S.--Editted to add the recipe for the potato leek soup I made.

Mileage on the Marnometer: 718.93 miles. 10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck
Oh, man, but I am having a hard time building back stamina. Ouch.

Goal for 2006: 1,250 miles - 2000 kilometers

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