My husband told me that when we first met, he was attracted to my confidence. Sure, he thought I was good-looking, but he really liked that my physical appearance wasn’t the most important thing about me. I’ve always taken that as the very best compliment. And he’s right; I am very confident. I don’t scare easily. I refuse to be intimidated by people or situations. Even when I am, I move forward. I don’t let fear stop me.
When he first described his mother to me, he said, “She’s got balls. She has enough raw bravado for her and 16 other people.” That statement made me really want to meet her.
As I got to know her, I found that he was right, and that her boldness had served her well. She had come to the US alone as a young woman. She had worked at the Ecuadorean Embassy and then, for the Organization of American States. She had spent her career comfortably rubbing shoulders with diplomats from around the world, and once retired, she volunteered at the White House where she came in contact with the Bushes, Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, and Colin Powell. New experiences and powerful people never unnerved her.
Because MIL’s unique brand of courage was completely unchecked, it could be amusing or even embarrassing. “Why aren’t you married?” she might ask a stranger. “Take this back to the kitchen!” she might order a waiter. Once after being pulled over by a police officer for a minor traffic infraction, she claimed she did not speak English. And she got away with it!
So, here we are: two ballsy chicks with an unexpected set of emotions. MIL is dying, and she and I both seem to need constant reassurance perhaps for the first time in our lives. She’s afraid to die. I know this because I had the guts to ask and she had the courage to be honest. We prayed about it then, and I continue to pray about it. I ask that God grant her peace so that when it is time for her to go, she won’t be frightened.
At this moment, I think “her time to go” could be today. Or next week. Or six months from now. I may be saying this prayer every night for some time to come. I know I will say it when I am alone in my bedroom and again, when I am holding her hand.
I’m starting to include a prayer for myself because I, too, am very afraid. It’s not that I fear losing her. It’s that I am afraid that I am doing this all wrong. I’ve never really been with someone at the end of their life. Or at the very least, I’ve never before looked down the narrow corridor of life and seen that death is so inevitable, so obvious, so close. I’ve never ushered anyone down that hallway. I don’t know if I am moving too quickly or too slowly.
I want guidance. I want someone to show me the pace.
A couple of weeks ago, I sought guidance from Hospice at the recommendation of the hospital doctor, but after an examination, the Hospice nurse concluded that whatever issue MIL was having with swallowing had been resolved. She wasn’t a candidate for Hospice, and although MIL’s general practitioner had not seen her in months, he agreed with the nurse. This was NOT late stage dementia. This was not a failure to thrive.
I called the Department of Aging and Disability. They, too, sent a nurse to visit. She made some recommendations and assured me that I was doing everything right. Why couldn’t that sweet lady camp out at my house to offer that encouragement every time I think I need it? Like today, maybe?
MIL has eaten very little over the past few days. She’s drank even less. Today, I spoon-fed her apple sauce. She chewed it. Yes, she chewed the apple sauce—each spoonful took about a minute to chew and then swallow. After a couple of bites, she pushed my hand away and refused to open her mouth. She took two swigs of water and two swigs of juice. That’s all she has eaten today. I put her down for a nap because she seemed tired and I didn’t know what else to do with her or for her.
Oddly enough, I’m not afraid to walk into her bedroom and find her dead. I am, however, very afraid that I will do something wrong between now and when she does die.
I think it is time to call Hospice again. It’s time to ask for another evaluation, but first, I know I need MIL to see her own general practitioner in person. If he can witness her issues with eating and drinking, perhaps he will call it “late stage dementia” and her chances of getting into Hospice will improve. Doesn’t that sound like a horrible diagnosis? Yet, I want it so badly because I need the guidance—for both of us.