It has taken me way too long to sit down and write about these last few months.
I’m not even sure where to really start.
In early December I traveled to Ohio with the husband to care for his mom and get her ready to move to Alaska with us.
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I had been thinking about this transition for a couple of years now and I was looking forward to bringing her back to Alaska; where I now comfortably consider home.
My mother-in-law never made her own health a priority. She was too busy volunteering in her church, helping her friends, or her family. Plus, she was a life-long smoker and unless her health interfered with her ability to drive (ie: see the road), she pushed her health concerns aside.
We found out Mom was borderline diabetic, she was diagnosed with COPD and had aortic stenosis. She was also in heart failure to the point of the doctors being shocked she was still able to walk around. But it wasn’t just her heart, she also had severe circulation problems; calcium and plaque had built up in nearly every major artery and vein.
She lived the way she wanted to and made no apologies for it.
In three months she had two major and risky procedures to alleviate the stress on her heart and restore the circulation to her legs. We saw over a dozen different doctors, and specialists, some saying there was nothing they could do and others offering slivers of hope when we didn’t think there was any to be had.
I left the hard decisions and the hard choices to my hubs and his mom. I sat in on most talks, added what I could to make our case for moving, and helped the best way I could, to help her process this huge change in her life. I provided comic relief, talked about knitting, crazy Alaskans, self-employment, and showed mom it was possible to make just about anything in an electric skillet.
After her procedure to restore blood flow to her legs, she suffered serious setbacks. While the husband made daily trips back and forth to the hospital in Cleveland, I did what I could to stay helpful and useful but mostly I stalked mom’s online chart for changes in her condition and test results.
Once the doctors thought she was finally well enough, she was moved to a rehab facility to regain her strength and mobility. This was the most crucial part, she needed to undergo a valve replacement but she wasn’t strong enough to withstand another procedure, yet.
On her first night in the rehabilitation center, I stood outside in the dark at her window and talked to her on the phone while trying our best to smile through the glass and the darkness that separated us.
After our rapid COVID tests came back negative the following day, we were able to meet with the director and visited mom. We discussed the next steps, I reassured her I would be checking in on her daily, we gave the staff all of the information the hospital had missed sharing and told her we would see her in the morning.
Later that night, the husband got a call from the rehab center letting him know mom was being taken to the ER, she was having trouble breathing.
We sat up late into the night, waiting to hear from the hospital. Mom was coherent when they brought her in, and she let them know, she wanted to invoke her DNR if it came to that.
At 6 am on March 5th, the hospital called again, asking about the DNR, did she actually have one, what was her plan?
My husband confirmed everything for them. They let him know that without intubation, there wasn’t a lot they could do. She was going downhill, what did he want them to do?
Follow her wishes and instructions.
Around 7:30 am another call. They were making her comfortable, immediate family should come and say goodbye. Her blood pressure kept dropping and they kept upping her medication.
I went to the hospital in my husband’s place. I promised I would call if I had any questions, and prepared myself as best as anyone could. Nurses and staff spoke with the husband to confirm I could make the decision necessary and sign any paperwork on his behalf.
I don’t remember how long I sat with her. The one thing I do remember for certain, was low-key yelling at her, “THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN”. I told her over and over again.
When the nurse finally came in to turn off machines and end life-sustaining medicine, I called the children and the husband to let them know. A short time later and she was gone. At peace. Pain-free.
In those few moments between this life and the next, I said the things I’ve always wanted to tell her but never did. I thanked her. I cursed at her. I told her things that I should’ve said long before this day arrived.
I kissed her forehead. I told her she was loved. I sat with her and held her hand.
I would’ve sat all day and held her hand, having a one-sided conversation, but I heard her voice inside my heart, telling me it was time for me to leave.
The following week, we had a small graveside service, with close friends and immediate family. It was hard not to social distance. I know we broke social distancing guidelines more than once, or twice.
I don’t know if you can ever understand what she meant to me, our family as a whole, or even more importantly, the kind of grandmother she was.
As a mother-in-law I really expected to butt heads with her a lot but looking back, I can only think of two or three times when I really had to put my foot down. She was an excellent listener, letting me rant when I needed to, taking the kids when we needed. It was never about when she wanted to spend time with them, the kids had sleepovers from the time they were infants up until they decided they were too old for sleepovers or needed babysitting.
She didn’t want to be called grandma, but I don’t remember if it was she who picked “Grammie” or Bug when he first started talking. It doesn’t matter, but now and then, I still wonder, why “Grammie”?
Every year she managed to get her hands on a copy of the school year calendar. She knew the half days, the vacation, inservice, band concerts, football, soccer. Then, the two of us would often sit down and coordinate calendars and schedules. She sat in for me at practices and games when I couldn’t make it but most of the time, she was there by my side.
She wasn’t a traditional grandmother; there was no knitting and baking cookies (God willing, that will be me someday). She was down for fun adventures, day trips, making memories, roller skating, card playing, going to movies, plays(!), pudding for breakfast (it’s dairy was her argument), or a trip to the salon for her and Bebe, and always dinner out because she hated to cook. (Minus the cooking, because I like to cook, I also hope this will be me one day!) If there were awards for best bragging grandma/mother-in-law she would have won them all.
She was our everything. Say what you want about mothers-in-law but I got the best.
And even now, this pales to how much we loved her and there is a Grammie sized hole in our hearts.
The trip to Ohio wasn’t all sadness. There were some bright spots too and I promise to update you about those another day. <3