Things change quickly in this household.
About two weeks ago, I wrote and posted a blog entry about how I now answer inquiries about my mother-in-law. You might ask, “How is your mother-in-law doing?” and I would answer, “When is the last time you saw her?” just so I can give you a more complete answer. Do you remember reading that? If not, go back and read it now. It’s called A Long Answer to a Short Question.
Or don’t because here is a summary: I compared how she is now to how she was a year ago when she first moved in with us. At the time when I wrote that, caring for my mother-in-law wasn’t that different from caring for a houseplant. She wasn’t eating or talking much. She was sleeping a lot—sometimes up to 18 or even 20 hours a day. The words “semi-comatose” and “almost catatonic” come to mind.
But, she was a houseplant that required babysitting. For me, the difficult part was of that I didn’t have the freedom to come and go as I chose or even as I needed. Leaving her alone would be like leaving a baby sleeping in a crib. Sure, the baby is probably going to be asleep the whole time you are gone, but what if the house catches on fire? The baby would be trapped! And so, no responsible person would ever do that, right?
We do have a respite care for fifteen hours a week. While she is here at my house, I feel I have to leave. Otherwise, I’m paying the care-giver to do what? And I don’t like having an audience as I cook and clean and parent. It’s would be different if I had hired a housekeeper who would do the cooking and cleaning for me, but no, I hired a nurse, of sorts. She does nothing but granny-care and so after she bathes, dresses, and feeds the houseplant, she’s just granny-sitting. It’s just uncomfortable.
So, yes, that is tough for me. I like my freedom. Who doesn’t? I want to come and go as I want and need and not have to think about granny-care.
However, something has changed in just the past few days. My mother-in-law is eating a lot more! And sleeping a lot less! And talking a lot more! She’s gone from being out-of-it—and I do mean way, way, WAY out-of-it to being alert, talkative, lucid. It’s a miracle!
Now, before you go dancing in the streets and shouting “Amen,” let me tell you that everything is a little tougher for me because of this change. It’s not like she is recovered that she is capable of taking care of herself. It’s not like she is healed and so we can pack her up and send her home. So, the loss of freedom—my freedom—remains.
And it’s made worse because she now is very demanding and our interaction is…well, she’s no longer a houseplant. She’s a person with genuine needs, feelings, and opinions, and I want to respect that, but it’s tough. For one thing I have a lot to do as is. I’m busy, and when my child is crying while I’m cooking supper, I don’t also need her yelling at me to take her to the bathroom. So, when she rejoins us in the land of the living, I get pulled in yet another direction. No fun.
Plus, it’s exhausting. “Emotional rollercoaster” is how I frequently hear people describe caring for sick or aging loved one. Sick, better, sick, better, sick, better, sick…you do reach a point where you want to yell at a person—even someone you love—“Die already!” Please let us all mourn you and get on with our lives!
With our current situation, I have watched my mother-in-law decline these past few months and although I have tried hard not to see anything as a “sign,” I know that when a person with dementia stops eating and starts sleeping around the clock, their body is winding down. They are getting ready to die. Thinking of my mother-in-law’s impending death—and I’m not being cruel here as the woman is almost 90-years-old and has led an extraordinary life—made me feel hopeful. I figured that she would be St. Peter’s problem a year from now. I figured I was only months, perhaps only weeks away from getting my life back. Now, no? How can I not be disappointed?
Perhaps I shouldn’t see her rebound as a sign that she has moved further away from death either, but yeah, I’ve gone from thinking, “She only has months” to “Good God! I’m going to be waiting on this crabby old woman for the next decade! Please, someone just shoot me and put me out of my misery now!”
So, if you ask me how my mother-in-law is doing today, I may tell you how I am doing instead. And the truth is I’m feeling frayed. Tired. Hopeless? No, I’m not there, but I do feel like a prisoner who has been denied parole. I thought I was getting out, and now, no, maybe not. I may have to plot an escape.
(I know I come across as really selfish in this post. Me, me, me, me, right? So, please feel free to judge me, but only if you have changed your mother-in-law’s diaper today.)