Last November, my 92-year-old mother-in-law was admitted to hospital with a serious medical condition. Let’s face it, at that age any medical condition is serious and we were becoming accustomed to receiving calls to come to the hospital, but this time things really didn’t look good.
After several tests to determine the problem, it was clear that surgery was definitely not an option so the plan was to stabilize her, treat her with various medications and hope for the best.
Normally mother-in-law lived at home with one son, and at least three more of us visited her regularly every week so it wasn’t surprising that once the word got around, everyone showed up at the hospital.
I hate to sound the alarm unless things are really dire but eventually there came a point where we really believed that she wasn’t going to survive this latest crisis, and I sent the message out to our three daughters, two of whom live quite a distance away, that now might be the time to gather round. Other family members had done the same and before long there were sons, daughters, in-laws, grandchildren and their husbands and even a great-grandchild at her bedside.
Now, I’m in no way religious, but I have to say that the effect of seeing all those caring faces surrounding her was nothing short of miraculous! The joy of knowing that there were so many people who truly cared about her well-being was unmistakable. Some people may have frowned at our numbers and the sometimes-raucous joviality no doubt engendered by a nervous concern for the patient, but I truly believe that the power of family brought her back from the brink.
Over the course of the next couple of days she perked up! She sat up and started eating. She made jokes and even managed a few steps with the physical therapist. However, this progress was short-lived and over the course of the next few weeks she was shuttled between ICU and a standard hospital room with startling regularity. It was like being on a roller coaster ride, for her and us.
Eventually it was determined that nothing more could be done and the decision to send her home under hospice care was taken. Once again, everyone came to grips with the fact that this probably was the end. But this tough old bird was not going to go down without a fight, almost literally as it turned out.
Winter came and went and spring brought hopes that once again things might be looking up. Mother-in law rallied to the point where she was able to walk a few steps with some assistance. And then the unthinkable happened.
Answering a summons from the doorbell one morning, my brother-in-law was lured out of the house by a man claiming to be there to cut down some branches that were overhanging a neighbor’s yard. While he was outside, another man entered the house and started rummaging through drawers and cupboards. Mom called out for her son and when he didn’t answer she knew there was something wrong. She managed to get out of the hospital bed that had been set up in the living room and, filled with righteous indignation, came steaming out of the room unaided and without her walker, shouting at the intruder to “clear off!” And he did, along with his partner in crime. He must have got the fright of his life when she came at him shaking her fist.
We laughed about it afterwards but things could have turned out a lot differently. Despite her claims that she “wasn’t afraid,” this by now 93-year-old, who also relied on a pacemaker to keep her heart functioning, could have suffered a fatal fall, or even been attacked by someone who could have quite easily knocked her down. But neither of these things happened and the episode became the topic of conversation for several weeks thereafter.
Summer arrived and things settled down. Although she wasn’t in great shape, Mom continued to show signs of improvement. I suppose, realistically, we shouldn’t have expected this trend to last and it didn’t.
Last week she took another turn for the worse and once again family arrived from different parts of the country to be by her bedside. This time, rather than rallying her will to live, I think she took comfort in everyone’s presence, knowing that now she could finally let go of life and eventually, on Monday morning, she slipped away.
We didn’t always see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues and I certainly found her infuriating at times but her loss has certainly left a void in our lives and, for some, her leaving will be a difficult thing with which to come to terms. Still, the power of family will keep us strong and together we’ll face the future with some fond memories of a woman with an indomitable spirit.
Note; – The rose images were captured at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It became increasingly difficult to coax mother-in-law out of the house when she got older but one of the last places we visited together was the Garden.
I’m still catching up with posts and replies but be assured, I will get to all of them eventually.