Well, I'm not writing real well these days – catchy title though, don't you think?
April 29 was my birthday – I am celebrating the last year of the 50s.
Unfortunately, that same day my mother-in-law died.
My Significant Other (I'll name him Lovey) and I have been together for over 22 years. He and his mother (Mum) were very, very close. He is a take-charge kind of guy and he did all the "manly" things around the house, checked on her every day by phone, fixed the sink, fixed the car, fixed the hot water tank, fixed ….. Everything. Mum was very independent and ornery. That's what I want to be when I grow up. She was a little tiny thing that was filled with dynamite. Always on the go, always into something, and most times into trouble of some sort.
She loved yard sales and garage sales and would spend her days going around the neighborhood where she lived for 60 years, scarfing up treasures that she would bring home, announcing, "Look! Just like new!" (And we would observe the stain here, the scratch there.) Later we could expect to receive the same item wrapped as a gift.
Mum collected things – all kinds of things – she collected coins, glassware, rocks, gems, beads, Garfield-anything, Depression glassware and any glassware that would turn color in the sun, bottles from the late 1800s and early 1900s. She lived in a little tiny cottage (kind of perfect for her) and she had shelves everywhere with bottles, glassware, vases, Swarovski crystal animals, and Garfield. When Lovey was living there, the people in the neighborhood called her house "the Bottle House" because all the windows were lined with bottles – whiskey bottles, medicine bottles, all kinds of bottles.
She got me started on collecting Duncan Glass – a beautiful, elegant bowl or plate with a graceful five-petal base, and the glass would flute out from the petals in a fluid wave.
Three years ago, she came home from getting her hair done and was getting out of her car, when the neighbor was leaving for work and thought she looked really odd. The neighbor drove around the block and came back to find Mum on the ground. Ironically – Lovey was at the neighbor's house, fixing her hot water tank. He rushed over and picked his Mum up – she said she couldn't move her legs – and took her into the house. Within 30 minutes, medics had arrived, rushed her to the hospital, and we both had been taken to her bedside because she was going to die any minute. She had a debilitating stroke, actually called an intercranium bleed at the base of her brain, severely affecting her left side and her memory.
Three weeks after that we found a nursing home for her, and the first night the nurses gathered around us and told us to prepare for the fact that she would not make it through the night. She was going to die any minute. This was about the third time we heard this and just brushed them off and hovered over Mum and sat vigil for hours at a time – taking turns doing eight-hour shifts.
Four months after her stroke we took her home to her house. Same little tiny house, now filled with hospital bed, oxygen machine, nebulizer, feeding pump, colostomy supplies, wheelchair. I remember sitting outside the nursing home the last night before she came home, thinking to myself, "Oh God! What am I getting myself into?" I'm not a nurse. I'm not even a nurse's aid. I'm a secretary and my skill is typing. Not nursing.
From then on we have been caring for Mum's every need. Lovey wasn't working and so moved in with his Mom and started the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-by-minute process of taking care of his mother. I worked during the day and then came home and relieved him and continued her intricate care until I left for my house at 10:00 at night. Then start it up the next morning and do it all over again, packing a little bag to stay there every weekend, and then take all the family's laundry home on Sunday night and wash and dry all the clothes for the next week.
We would go along fine, we had our routines: An hour to get her ready for the day, changing her diaper, crushing her medications, push them through her feeding tube, administer her breathing treatment on top of her continuous oxygen tube, make sure she was comfy, and set her up with a magazine. Then we would give her her mid-afternoon meds, spend a half hour on physical therapy, then bring her to her favorite chair and she would watch TV for the rest of the day. An hour getting her ready for bed – two if it was bath night.
We plugged along, each of us going on and on, like the Ever Ready Battery rabbit. Twice we had episodes where she had difficulty breathing and took her to the hospital. She was on a ventilator for five days the first time. And they told us she was going to die any minute.
The night before my birthday was a normal night, just like all the three years of nights before – and it was bath night. I was teasing her that I had her pink gown and pink socks so she would be "in the pink." We held hands, laughed; she told me I was a good kid. We bathed her, fluffed her, petted her, got her tucked in for the night. I went home as usual – with all the laundry. At 5:00 in the morning Lovey called me to say that Mum was having trouble breathing and the paramedics were there – that they'd probably be taking her to the hospital. So I jumped in my clothes and raced across town and just at her exit I decided to make sure they were still at the house or maybe at the hospital. Lovey said we wouldn't be going to the hospital now because she was gone.
We were both in shock. It couldn't be so! How many times had we been told she would die any minute and she defied them all. She couldn't have just slipped away quietly like that. A few hours later, Lovey and I sat in a small room at a funeral home on my birthday making arrangements for his mother's cremation, whom I had just dressed in pink so she'd be "in the pink."
So, now you know why I haven't written. And why I won't for a while. Life goes on – but I just have to slow it down a bit, rein it in. I'll be back.