Defining “Better.”

I did a google search to find a picture of God. This was the best one.

I did a google search to find a picture of God. This was the best one.

My mother-in-law had a doctor’s appointment on Monday. Until now, I haven’t been terribly involved in the medical aspects of her care, beyond monitoring her vitals and administering her meds daily. Okay, that’s pretty darn involved, isn’t it? So, let me start again, please.

My mother-in-law had a doctor’s appointment on Monday, and although I have been very involved in her care, this was the first appointment I had attended. I did so with ambivalence. On one hand, I felt it necessary that I be present because I wanted to be an extra set of ears. My husband, a well-meaning optimist with taciturn habits, doesn’t always hear bad news and mostly conveys no news. If I want to be in the loop, I need to assert myself into every conversation, including doctor’s appointments.

And on the other hand, I really just don’t want to know. I don’t want to be involved. I want to stick my head in the sand and wish away the hardship associated with her care. Daily, I think, “Oh, if I could just go to sleep and wake up once she is dead and buried.” It’s not that I dislike my mother-in-law so much that I wish her dead. It’s that I don’t like being a care-giver. I don’t. It’s not in my nature.

Still, there I was in the tiny examination room looking at his diploma and using it to calculate his age. I guessed 42, maybe 43. Of course, that doesn’t matter, but isn’t it always an interesting moment when you discover you are seeking expert professional advice from someone younger than you are?

The young doctor was certainly educated enough and experienced enough, and nothing about our time with him stands out as wrong, but I’ve been in a bad mood since seeing him. I think it comes down to this: We don’t share the same definition of better and yet, I suspect that better in the truest sense doesn’t exist for either of us when referring to my mother-in-law’s condition.

She was conscious, but not talkative during the appointment. When she spoke it was in Spanish, to my husband. We—the doctor, my husband and I—conversed about her in English as if she wasn’t there because she was, um, out-of-it. Mentally, she wasn’t there. Still, it felt awkward to me.

He listened to us describe how she has been in the time since he last saw her. Then, he recommended that we cut out one medication entirely and lower the dosage of another. He ordered lab work—he wanted “a complete work up.” And of course, I was thinking, “But why? Because she might die if we don’t monitor her cholesterol more closely? Would that really be such a tragedy?” but I didn’t say that because I was sure it would come across as callused. Later, when I asked my husband, he said that I did sound rather un-caring. Well, THAT was not my intention. It’s my intention to be practical. Forgive me, please.

Then, the doctor suggested that he prescribe something to liven her up a bit, make her more energetic, more alert. Deep sigh. When she isn’t in a fog, she is pissed. And who can blame her? She’s lost her husband. She’s lost her friends, her home, and what was left of her independence. Frankly, that would make me want to yell, scream, and shout profanities, too. So, I asserted myself here. I told the doctor that when she’s lucid, she is really very angry, and frankly, with two small children in the house—one of whom she has already physically attacked—I prefer to have her a little incoherent over fighting mad.

Really, which is better? Foggy, but somewhat agreeable or agitated and yelling at children? I’m not just a daughter-in-law. I’m a mother.

Much later, I realized that “better” is the problem. So, the doctor can give her drugs to fix physical problems such as diabetes, and then, she will be better, but better will never, ever mean good enough not to require constant care or to substantially improve her quality of life, so, what’s the point? We can subject her to test after test, we can alter her diet, we can provide her with endless stimulation, and we can fill her with every imaginable drug, and devote our every waking moment to her recovery, but in the end, it’s not really going to change much. When I voice this aloud, I’m treated as if I am being a real meanie.

Is it really mean of me to want my life back? To do normal things, like take my kids to swimming lessons? Is it mean of me not to want my mother-in-law to have to choose between semi-consciousness and an awareness of all that she has lost?

Better, in her case, is dead. I am convinced of that.

Last year, shortly before my father-in-law passed away, my daughter—then only four-year-old—had a spiritual crisis. We were on a playground and she was surrounded by her friends when suddenly she began crying uncontrollably. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “Mom, I keep praying that God will make Grandma and Grandpa better, but He doesn’t. He’s not listening to me. He’s not answering my prayers.”

I took her aside and explained that sometimes, God heals people by letting them die. Once they are dead, they are no longer sick and while that is very sad for us because we will miss them, it’s an answer to a prayer. I had no problem explaining that to her because that is what I truly believe. She seemed genuinely comforted by my explanation.

See? Better can mean dead.

Of course, the other part of believing in an afterlife that ends all suffering is that I have to accept that God is calling the shots, not me. It doesn’t matter that my definition of better when applied to my mother-in-law’s condition is “no longer breathing.” God must still have some sort of purpose for her since He has chosen not to make her better by calling her home yet.

So, in the afterlife, will there be a Q and A session? Since all of human-kind has the same question: Why do we suffer so? Why doesn’t God just make us better?

Yeah, ‘cuz God owes us an explanation. Eye-roll.

(You might not want to stand too close to me while in church. Lightning might strike.)

Seriously, I know that Faith doesn’t give us the answers. It just makes us more comfortable with not having answers. That needs to be my focus—finding enough Faith to accept that better—my definition or the doctor’s—is irrelevant.


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