Recently, my mother in-law had a massive stroke and as I write this, she lay dying in a bed in our front room that hospice delivered a few days ago. My wife and her siblings, along with their father, decided not to hold out for false hope. They all agreed Nancy would not want to linger indefinitely, dependent on a feeding tube and unable to communicate or move. She has now gone five days without any nourishment or water, just an occasional small dose of morphine when she shows signs of discomfort.
Just three weeks ago, this 79 year old woman was lifting heavy objects, caring for her wheelchair bound husband of 59 years, and telling my wife and I she would water our garden and feed our chickens while we were out of town. Now, she rests as comfortably as we can make her while hospice checks in on her from time to time.
Nancy’s husband, Al, has gone from being cared for by his wife to being moved into an assisted care facility he picked out while we all scramble to get all their affairs in order and deal with the sudden change in all our lives. “She didn’t live up to our agreement,” according to Al, meaning he was suppose to die before her. All the plans in the world won’t keep high blood pressure from striking someone down and that is what has happened in Nancy’s case.
While countless siblings celebrated National Sibling Day last week, my wife and her two siblings were packing up some of their father’s necessities and loading furniture into the back of two pickup trucks so Al could be looked after with the type of care only Nancy previously provided. It will take a team of people to do what Nancy did. Al would love to move in with my wife and I but we are simply not equipped to tend to his every need or want. Suzanne, my wife, feels guilty over this and yet she knows doing what is best for her father might mean making some decisions he does not initially like.
As for Nancy, we have watched her slowly fade while lasting longer than the 72 hours her doctor predicted. Seems she is still as stubborn as ever. Will she pass today, tonight, tomorrow, or wait for the next day? No one knows.
All I know is I am a bystander in all of this, trying to just help out in any way I can. I know when Nancy takes her final breath, there will be a sigh of relief from my wife accompanied by feeling the horrific loss one feels when they lose both their mother and best friend. There will be no avoiding these conflicting emotions and for me, my primary concern is for Suzanne’s well being.
Life will go on, with or without any of us, but it always changes whenever someone dies. Children are born just as someone passes, but the balance of life on the planet is forever altered. When Nancy passes, those closest to her will feel that change far more than those who never knew her. Still, all our lives will be altered in some form.
Despite the suddenness of all that has happened, it is actually very comforting to see my mother in-law in such a peaceful state. Both my wife and I feel so fortunate to have her in our home with family all around while Nancy is cared for, spoken to, and most of all loved by the most important people in her life. She never liked being fussed over which makes it so much nicer for all of us to do one final act of love for her.
When Nancy decides, she will pass peacefully. Maybe one or more of us will be at her side when that time comes. Maybe it will be on my wife’s birthday. Maybe it will be during the quiet of night. However, when that time comes, Nancy will live on in the hearts and memories of those of us who were fortunate enough to have been touched by her quiet and thoughtful way of putting others before herself.
Rest well, Nancy.
James Moore is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching and currently runs his own personal training business, In Home Jim, in Hemet, CA. Jim’s writings are often the end result of his thoughts mulled over while riding his bike for hours on end.