My mother-in-law just died and I couldn’t be more relieved

20 Apr

Arden CourtPart One: The Back Story

My husband was legally adopted when he was nine by his grandparents. They had been the only constant in his life as he was handed off between his biological parents, (not to mention, strangers and steps) passed around over time between eight states spreading across the South East throughout his early childhood.

Although he and I dated as teens, I have only vague memories of his parents from back when. Mostly I remember teenage woes of how strict and insistent that he learn about financial independence early on, which adulthood tells us, are traits of good parenting but at 17 and broke, really suck.

Fast forward thirteen years: While B was ending a ten year marriage and I was sinking in my own troubling sea, somehow he and I found each other. Coming from the same town we had graduated from, we now had two sets of parents to visit together on our trips home. His parents were now in their 70’s and 80’s. I confided to a friend over brunch my self centered worry. “What if one of his parents dies and I have to see her (ex-wife), at the services?” Looking back, I would welcome that scenario not to mention, how insecure was I!?

A couple of years and some sporadic visits later, nervous about how they would take the news of our upcoming marriage, we sat in the kitchen and told them our plans. I had never sat in the kitchen before. It felt strange to me being somewhere other than the living room. His mother, distracted.
His dad was your typical sweet old man. Lousy jokes and a bit flirty, eager to tell a story from his time as a pilot. Sometimes when B could not come to town with me, I would pop in on my own for a visit and dad would share family stories and secrets. Mother’s attention always on CNN, seldom adding to conversations, sitting comfortably in her recliner trying to hear over our chatter. A little forgetful, always freezing, redundant in her concerns for me making the 100 mile drive back home alone.

Holidays come and go. Increasing visits lead to increasing worry. B’s dad was pushing to get legal things in order and was not looking well. We began hearing the same stories more frequently, but this time from him. He was drained. I confided in a coworker that the way we all expected the order of things to go was probably not going to happen. I had my black dress mended. I do not always like being right.


Knowing we would probably not make it back to town before B’s ski trip we made a detour visit on our way to see my side in San Antonio one weekend. We popped in with some pamphlets on med alerts. His father was angry. What would we be able to do living so far away? He had neighbors he could call on. But that was the point. Push a button and the service will send someone and we will get a call immediately. This was met with curses and confusing money rants that we were not following. We sat stunned at the backlash then in silence for a moment when B’s mom chimed in and explained exactly what we were meaning, adding that she sometimes worries when he steps out to run errands. The subject was dropped and very quickly, the visit over.


Part Two: When your Dad dying is the easiest part of what is happening

Two weeks after our awkward visit with B’s parents, while at a stop light I scrolled through Facebook to see our sister-in-law had posted that B’s dad was in the hospital. I called my husband. He had just gotten off the phone. In an hour we were packed, had a friend lined up to look after the house and on the road, I drove as fast as I could as my husband sat quiet. Not sure when we would return, never could I have guessed that it would be four months later.

B’s father had had a heart attack. His mother, Betty, did not call on anyone to come for help even with access to two telephones. Her mind, rocked by a stroke years before was falling apart, being eaten away by dementia. Only able to get around using a walker, unable to stretch over even a small incline, Betty remained trapped in her home, blocked from any exit by her husband’s body. Piled newspapers out front alerted the neighbors that something was not right. After a failed attempt to get into the house, their eldest son that lives 7miles away was called with a key, to find dad, still alive, almost to the front door and Betty, dehydrated and soiled, unable to communicate any details of what had happened. Taken off of machines, her husband passed away two days later, his insides unable to recover from the atrophy of waiting so long to be discovered. We had told him before that we would take care of Betty. Even if that meant moving home.

Those two days B and his brother were in and out of the hospital, I was on the phone trying to figure out what to do, not realizing how grave Betty’s condition was about to become. Docile and quiet I stayed with her. The idea of sharing duties with my sister-in-law quickly disappeared when she stated that she did not want to stay with mom in the house because it was “creepy”. Although 15yrs older than me, her teenage son laughed and said, “my mom is a child.” And once B’s dad passed away, appearances by them were rare.
My mentality for getting things done became, “if not me than who?” Over the ensuing months I asked once for help to run an errand. I had not showered in a couple of days and was on little sleep. My request was met with blank stares.


We decided to wait to tell Betty her husband had passed. It took a week to get her eating and drinking regularly. One could see her mind trying to make sense. Why were we here? Where is he? She tells me she was scared. She was alone in the house. She says she is glad we are there. She never mentions the heart attack. It is days before she asks for her husband. We say we have not seen him. We say we don’t know. We try to get her on a sleeping schedule. The circus arrives in the form of an expensive private care taking company. If the aides were not on drugs, sleep deprived or out of their league completely in skill level, they were sleeping on the job while Betty wandered outside to let the dog out at 5a.m. Instead of depending on them for her primary care, we used them as a back up and even then they failed. CNA’s, Hospice nurses, care takers, social workers. They all aggravated her situation.

See Betty walk until her feet swell. See Betty think B is her dead husband. Hear Betty curse me for being the other woman. See Betty break B’s heart when she asks, “Why are you doing this?” or “What happens when we want to get married?” See Betty fall, over and over again because she is so weak but her mind will not let her rest. See Betty have a moment of clarity and ask me to drive her to the hospital because something is wrong with her mind. Things are not making sense and she is scared. See that last five minutes. See Betty cry. and cry. and cry. She says she wants a gun to kill herself.

B spends his time in the office still trying to organize his father’s affairs. Probate is stifled. Betty must be deemed incompetent. She looks to us for help with the year. The President. When asked to write any sentence out, while I was secretly hoping it would read, “Fuck you”, it was a nonsensical, “Usa Today”.
B and I are both so. exhausted. Sleeping with a baby monitor by my ear. At the slightest turn I grab my phone to check the cameras. She gets up, I get up to literally catch her as she falls. We share this duty. Similar to having a baby, I make sure she is bathed. I dress her. Set her on the toilet. Clean her after. Fix her hair. Make her meals and snacks. Cut her nails. Rub lotion on body. Wrap her swollen feet. Write everything down. Make appointments. Keep my husband sane. My turn to cry.

Unraveling, B is called back to work. He leaves us both but lived amongst us virtually unseen anyhow. She hates her life. I hate mine too. Too many new faces in and out of the house. We are now both demented. But she is clean and fed and loved because yes, I love her. How could I not? How can one do so much for another without that love? But it is evident this situation cannot last.
Betty tries calling her parents using the remote control. Betty leaves the stove on. Betty is hitting the caretakers. Betty is trying to open the car door while it is moving. Betty put her pen in her tomato juice. Betty is confusing television with real life. No more SVU.

Notes to myself during this period:
6/10 He doesn’t tuck me in here. There is no free time to waste. Pushing limits. Surprising ourselves

6/12 It’s hard for me to be grateful for all that I have when I know that he isn’t and we have all the same things but mainly each other.

6/29 Marriage: The good the bad and the worst get-away-sex ever.

7/3 Now I’m doing it. Fighting sleep. Enough.

7/4 I guess I never think that he misses me or thinks much of our time together

Part Three: The Move

The search begins for a facility. A dear friend and nurse gives me some direction and I take a couple of days to visit my husband and look for the right place. Damn straight I am not leaving her behind. Betty is coming with me. I could give a shit if she knows my name. She knows I take care of her. She looks for me when I am not at home. She calls out to me. When I leave her with her sitters it is with a note because Betty will not remember that I have told her I will be right back. It is what Bruce use to do. I come back. She calms down but only for a moment.

There is no room I am uncomfortable being in now. She asks for Bruce more and more. Now that B has gone the lack of a male in the house has really thrown her. She spends hours, to the caretakers’ dismay, searching each room, knocking on doors over and over and over.
I break the news to her other son. I feign like I care what he is feeling. Other than a handful of visits while I was out of town any help or concern for anything other than Betty’s financial affairs has been nil. He seems to have a real distain for me. Lucky for me I am use to that.

Her room had already been decorated with her favorite things. Art from her house hung. Statuettes and figurines on the shelf. Flowers displayed. I made sure to drive the staff insane with my demands and inquiries. I am there hours at a time, every day making sure things are on the up and up and getting her settled in. I am quickly disappointed. The big change has accelerated her condition. Though we walked her in, it takes a week for her to be confined to a wheelchair.

The caretakers are hit or miss. Some are good, some are great and others are there for the paycheck alone. But the place is clean and there are nurses on staff until 11pm each night and we still have our Hospice nurses who continue to be great and eventually we get her meds leveled out. The other residents are all in different stages and levels of alzheimer’s or dementia. The set up of the home was great. Betty lived in a place called Boat House. There was a front porch, a living room, and a dining room for her wing mates. There were about 12 of them. Everything painted blue and meant to be nautical. The other wings were different. One Garden themed and one Country. There was a pet bird in the corridor, also named Betty and realistic activities for most of the day. The activities director is the Ambassador to the Alzheimer’s Association and has been to D.C. as such. There were flowers planted along a circular path and unlocked doors for residents to wander but of course only unlocked within the fortress.
We were lucky to find the place.

Part Four: The Release
There were many ups and downs for Betty but her condition worsened to a worrisome level two weeks ago. She no longer wanted to eat. I had seen her do this before. Pocket her food. I could get her to eat but sometimes feeding her lunch took almost two hours. Then out of the blue she would snap out of it and was back to rolling her eyes and making sassy remarks. I told B to call his brother and suggest a visit, the last one being the month we moved her in, to my knowledge. That was around August. It is now mid April. He did not have the gas money is the excuse relayed to me a few months ago. We decided to hire a private sitter to allow Betty to rest, out of her wheelchair without the fear of a fall for only a few hours a day. She was to start on Monday. The Sunday before we got a call from her Hospice nurse. Betty was in serious decline. We spent the next few days by her side. She was no longer speaking and had not eaten in days. We had never seen her bed ridden. Not like this.

The second day her face relaxed. All her wrinkles disappeared. Everyone commented on her great skin and how comfortable she looked. Her breathing slowed and a fever escalated. We said our goodbyes and cried standing over her on Tuesday talking with our social worker. I told her, “I just want this to be over. I want her to have her whole mind again. She is always so confused and scared and frustrated. She wouldn’t want to live like this. No one would want to live like this.” I did not want that for her anymore. When I think of eternity or a “heaven”, I think about being reunited with the Universe on the next level. Seeing loved ones left behind from that realm not from a puffy cloud in a blue sky, but as energy and dust in the grass, in the air, in the stars. Everywhere. I wanted her spiritual mind to be complete and for her essence to join Bruce’s. B and I called the Chaplin to say a prayer and her Hospice nurse told us to get some rest. She said sometimes a person waits until they are alone to let go.

Waiting for a person to die is very similar to waiting for someone to be born. A nurse tells you it is for sure happening. A count of how many breaths (or contractions) a minute is taken. Family comes together and hangs around being of no help. And finally once you leave because it has gone on for hours and hours and seems to have no end in sight you say you’ll be back, and that is when it happens. Someone records the time and tells the family it’s over. At around 5:00a.m., like fireflies released from a jar, Betty joined her husband once again with no cares and no fears and hopefully no second thought to what’s going on down here. Betty, it was an honor.

One Response to “My mother-in-law just died and I couldn’t be more relieved”

  1. Judy Curbow May 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    BEAUTIFUL…thank you for sharing Betty with us.