Posted by: lolalately | November 26, 2012

Every ending has a beginning

The month of November began as most months do; with the juggling of work schedules with visitation, and the usual assortment of appointments and activities filling my calendar pages. There were reminders about mailing birthday packages, parent/teacher conferences, and updating my will. And of course there was the upcoming holiday to consider and shop for, not to mention a family wedding mid-month that if I wasn’t exactly dreading … I sure as hell wasn’t anticipating. Just your typical month in Lolaland.

My husband likes to joke that if I ever lost my cellphone, I’d truly be lost. For it’s my cellphone calendar that holds the daily reminders of our lives, and the Taskmaster app that serves to coordinate it all. I’ve always been an orderly, organized person. My therapist says it’s the result of a childhood lived in chaos, Makes sense to me.

But schedules and reminders take a back seat when something rocks your world, as happened to me the morning of October 27th. It began as a typical Saturday morning; I drove to the local farmers market to pick up some fresh produce, and after returning home to sort it, decided to take a portion to my mother-in-law so that she could enjoy it too.

I’ve always been close with my mother-in-law, calling her “mom” long before hubby and I even began the dance of “should we or shouldn’t we talk marriage”. She was friend, confidant, cheerleader, rowdy Scrabble partner, and dream mother all rolled into one. Whenever I heard friends speaking disparagingly about their mothers-in-law, I’d think how blessed I was to have mine; a woman of few words, great wisdom, and incredible generous love.

When I phoned mom around 7:30 that Saturday morning, I wasn’t totally shocked to find her line busy. Popular in the neighborhood, it wasn’t unusual for her to be up and out of the house by 6am, and perhaps she’d run into someone on her morning walk and decided to follow-up with a call. But when 30 minutes later her line was still busy, something in my gut said; “check”.

I loaded up the fruit and veg, along with a couple of books I’d purchased for her (an avid reader like myself), grabbed a bottle of water for myself and a Red Bull for the husband I was to pick up at the airport at 9:15am, and I headed to mom’s, a short drive from our house.

Arriving at her front door, I rang the bell, No answer. I noticed that her front blinds were still drawn. Odd, because my mother-in-law was as I said, an early riser, and one of her first activities each day was to open her living room blinds. Sort of a signal to her neighbors that she was up and about and ready to receive visitors. Yet here it was, nearly 8am, and those blinds were not open. I knocked on the door several times, and rang the doorbell again, but again there was no answer. By now I was beginning to feel as though something wasn’t “right”, so I withdrew my cellphone from my pocket and dialed her number again. Another busy signal! How could that be? How could her phone ring busy, but she wasn’t answering her door? Something had to be wrong.

Should I run back to our house and grab my husband’s key to his mother’s house? Or would it be just as efficient to call the local police and ask them to do a welfare check? Mom had one of those locking boxes on her front door that many seniors have; it allows the fire department to access your home in case of an emergency. I first called the fire department, but got no answer. It’s just a small volunteer fire department, and when they’re out on a call, the phone often goes unanswered.

As I got back into my car to drive to the airport, I phoned the local police department and explained the situation to them. Thankfully, they happened to have a car nearby and were only too happy to look in on mom, and yes, they’d call me back to let me know what (if anything) they found.

As I tried to focus on the traffic, and not imagine the worst, my cellphone rang again. It was the police officer now inside my mother-in-law’s house with a team from the fire department. Mom was in fact inside the house, in her soiled bed, semi-conscious and suffering from a massive stroke. Suddenly I was cold with fear and wracked with guilt. Could I have helped her if I’d rushed back home to get that key? Would it have made any difference? And when did she have a stroke? I’d just spoken with her the Thursday before, and she sounded great … like her old self.

In fact, we talked for quite some time about what a great month October had been for her. She’d attended the family wedding just the week before, a wedding which saw every single one of her 20 decendants all gathered together (and getting along peacefully, I might add) in one place at the same time. She’d followed that up with a visit two days later to see a dear old friend from her childhood. Mom was the happiest she’d been in a long, long time.

But during that same call, she’d also been intent upon discussing a subject not unknown to me, but one I tried mostly to avoid; her eventual death. Not the dying part of it per se, but rather what was to happen with her body and her belongings upon her death. Like me, my mother-in-law is a pretty organized woman. She long ago made her own final arrangements, and for some reason I couldn’t get in what now has become our last call, she really wanted to go over it with me. So despite my repeated attempts to move her onto a lighter topic, mom reminded me in great detail of her wishes; no funeral, body gets donated to science, and God help the person who wastes money sending flowers!

Thankfully, we talked of sweeter things; like the family wedding, and how good it was to see so many familiar faces. How nice the bride looked (despite being a bit long in the tooth – not to mention being a four-pete – to be wearing white) and how well behaved all the little ones were. Mom called that day her “best ever”, and I do believe she meant it.

And as odd as it seems now, mom also seemed to be seeking some sort of assurance from me that my husband and I were okay. That we were working on our marriage. That I was safe.  My safety was always in her mind, even as she prepared her will years ago, my dear mother-in-law took steps to protect me from greedy stepchildren should my husband pre-decease me. God love her, that woman was so much more than “just a mother-in-law”. 

As strokes so often do, mom’s took a great toll. She was completely paralyzed on her left side, her speech was incomprehensible, and she mostly slept. At 90 years old, she’d lived a good and rich life, but she was ready for the ride to end. She’d said so nearly every time we saw her over the past several years, more so the past several months. And now it appeared the ride was indeed coming to its end.

The following week, abiding by her own written instructions, we ordered that a feeding tube not be inserted, and we moved my dear mother to hospice for end-of-life care. The words seem cold, they look cold as I type them. But there’s really nothing cold about hospice care. In fact, I dare say, it’s more “caring” than most of us will ever receive in a traditional medical facility.

When the end of mom’s life came at 2am three days later, my husband and I were by her side, each of us holding one of her hands, speaking softly to her – letting her know it was okay to go. And as she took her final breaths, I had the strangest feeling of peace. Every ending has a beginning … and this was the beginning of mom’s final journey.

I miss my mother-in-law more than words can express. Last week was the first time in 10 years that my husband was away, and I couldn’t just pick up a phone and chat with or pop in for tea with mom. It’s shocking how sad that thought makes me even now. I have shed more tears for the loss of this great lady than I ever did my own mothers death 4 years ago. Maybe because my mother-in-law was more of a “mom” to me than my own mother had ever tried to be. Maybe because without my mother-in-law in my world, I wonder if my marriage can truly survive, or if it’s held together these past few horrible years because my husband hadn’t wanted to disappoint her.

With the death of my mother-in-law there’s also the loss of a buffer, a safety I’d long been comforted by. Every ending has a beginning … and I suppose that in losing mom, I now must begin to be my own safety. Maybe the best legacy she left me is that I AM my own safety. I got this mom. You’ve earned that rest. Enjoy sweet lady, I’ll love you and cherish my time with you all the days of my life. Thanks for loving me.





  1. It sounds like your mother in law was a really good person. It sounds like you are too. It’s sad when we loose such good people from our lives but I like to think they live on in us. I think your mother in law was really lucky to have you in her life. Don’t ever forget that.

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