Life with MIL – Cost? A hug & a kiss…
‘Life with MIL’ a very candid, funny, moving, and sometimes difficult journey of Alzheimer’s with my mother in-law …
Life with MIL
The television was blaring across the room as Mom gently rocked in her chair. The nightly news was reporting the latest updates on North Korea as I stood in the kitchen slicing beets.
MIL: humhdmlghsnng (incoherent) what are they TALKING about?
ME: Just the news Ma … (I continue cutting beets.)
Mom sighs heavily, shaking her head. I rinse the next beet, pick up the knife, and as I slice through it the blade hits the cutting board with a solid strike.
MIL: Are you washing my dishes?
ME: Nope! I’m making you beets Ma!
MIL: Beets? What the hell are BEETS …
ME: Those red round things I brought you and Frank from my garden Sunday.
With her eyebrows knitted, she stares hard at me and abruptly turns in her seat. The news continues reporting the day’s events, including the passing of Glen Campbell. I stop cutting for a moment and watch the brief history of Glen’s life including his very public battle with Alzheimer’s. Mom struggles to rise from her chair, grunting and mumbling. I turn my focus back to Mom.
ME: What do you need Ma?
MIL: I want, I want (she stops and sighs loudly) I want…. YOU KNOW (she points to the cutting board)
ME: The beets aren’t cooked yet Ma…
MIL: I haven’t eaten ALL day … (humph)
ME: Mom, Frank said you both had dinner an hour ago, do you…
MIL: I DID NOT EAT!!! YOOOUUU don’t know when I ate!
ME: Mom? …. (putting the knife down and approaching her slowly) Mom?
MIL: WWWWHAT? How the hell do you know when I ate?!
I place my hand gently on her arm. I’ve found she reacts well to a tender touch and gentle, genuine expressions of love. I guide her back to her chair.
ME: Mom? Would you like me to make you a small snack?
MIL: NOOO! (humph!) No … (quietly ) no …
I hear the gravel in the driveway announcing Joe’s pulling up the driveway.
ME: Joe’s here…
ME: Joe, your baby boy.
MIL: oh …
As I wave to Joe, Mom cranes her neck looking confused. I lean down and kiss her forehead. I return to the kitchen and work on the beets.
JOE: Hey Ma!
Joe leans down kissing her and patting her arm. He crosses the room and places a soft kiss on my lips. Then he steps back and half smiles.
JOE: How’s she doing?
ME: Well, we’re a little calmer now … she had a little outburst about dinner ….
Joe looks at his feet, I kiss his cheek.
ME: I’m going to finish this up and then get her ready for her bath.
Joe crosses the room to sit next to Mom. She looks up at him and politely smiles.
I finish the beets and wash up the dishes. I stop by Mom’s chair to let her know her bath was next… I’m met with an inquisitive look.
ME: Ma? I’m going to get your bath ready. I’ll be back for your teeth in a minute.
MIL: (sigh) Ok …
I return to fetch her teeth and take her to the bath. I watch her struggle to get up from the chair. We walk through the bedroom and enter the bathroom to turn on the shower.
Now we start our ‘dance’. I repeat over and over that it’s just bath night. No, she needs clean clothes, those are dirty ones. Yes, she can use the toilet again if she needs to. I listen to her sigh heavily at every task and watch her try to keep her patience. Then comes our saving grace.
ME: Mom? Let’s brush your hair out. Come sit here on the bed.
MIL: Ok … you gonna, ummm gonna get to me ok? I mean if I sit there? How you umm … how .. you…
ME: Yep you sit, I’ll be fine. We’re old pros at this.
I climb up on the bed next to her and tuck my legs under me. I rest my hand on the top of her head and tenderly pull the comb through her hair. Her eyes are closed, and she’s wearing a slight smile. Her hair is so thin I could comb it in its entirety in mere seconds. Instead I continue…
ME: Does that feel good?
MIL: Sure does ….
I continue slowly stroking the comb through her hair. She’s so peaceful while I do this simple act.
ME: How’s that Ma?
MIL: Goooood … you’re so good to me. What do I owe you?
ME: Owe me?
MIL: Yea, what’s this gonna cost me?
ME: ummmm … (smiling and looking right into her eyes) It’s gonna cost you a hug and a kiss!
Mom reaches up so quickly wrapping her arms around me she startles me for a moment. I slowly pull back a bit …
Mom kisses my check.
MIL: (laughing) That’s cheap! I guess I’ll have you back every day!
Mom’s eyes dance, there she is …
ME: You made a funny Ma! …. I love you …
MIL: I love you too.
We walk back to the family room where we find that Joe has nodded off in the chair.
MIL: Oh, I was going to sit there.
ME: He’ll move ….
MIL: No, let him sit …
I pull a kitchen chair up next to Mom’s chair. Joe lifts his head and smiles. A new dance begins. Mom asks how the kids are. I answer Ashley’s in Massachusetts and Joey still lives at home. Mom is surprised each time I answer. In the background Entertainment Tonight is on with another story of Glen Campbell’s passing. I pause mid-sentence to watch part of an interview with Glen and his wife, Kim. The interviewer asks, “I understand there are good days and there are bad days … what’s today?” Kim smiles and says, “today … today is a good day!” She strokes Glen’s hair and smiles.
Glen Campbell’s last song begins to play, ‘I’m not going to miss you’.
MIL: How are your kids?
ME: Good Ma, Ashley is in Massachusetts and Jo…
MIL: No kidding! Massachusetts?!
…and the dance continues.
RIP Glen Campbell. Thank you for sharing your journey ….