I’m on a plane coming back from a weekend visiting my mother-in-law who resides in Florida. I purposely use the word “resides” rather than lives because she has Alzheimer’s, and I don’t think I could say that her existence is living. Alzheimer’s is considered “the long good-bye.’ It’s a terrible way to lose one’s parent.
You can only imagine how hot and humid Florida is in August. In all honesty, I have a tough time dealing with the elderly when they’re ill. And continuing with my truthfulness, our relationship was quite strained initially. And as the saying goes, I did forgive, but I never forgot! So, all in all, this was not a trip I was looking forward to.
As many of you know, my father-in-law passed away a few months ago. So I felt I needed to go as a support for my husband – perhaps a bit of sacrifice that I spoke of last week.
Well, in fact, the one and a half days of the weekend were tough – but tough in ways that I had not anticipated.
When we go to Florida, we always stay with our brother-in-law. It’s the same place we stayed all those countless times we went to care for my father-in-law when he was sick and we took turns taking care of him. It was where my father-in-law stayed while he recuperated. Throughout the bedroom were reminders of him. And the loss hit me like a bad memory as soon as we came in.
At some point later on, I walked in on my husband, as he was going through some of the yet to be cleaned up items from his father. He was gently crying and said he could actually feel emotional pain. “Of course,” I replied. My heart went out for him. I have lost both my parents but have never felt the kind of pain he is experiencing – my loss came long ago by not having the childhood parents I needed. I’m not sure who has suffered more.
My husband’s uncle joined us for lunch. They reminisced and looked over my husband’s Bar Mitzvah album. Great stories, great laughs. I was keenly aware of not only how many of the people in those pictures are no longer with us (including the loss of the uncle’s divorced wife) but also how numbered the years are for this last remaining member of my husband’s extended family.
And then it was time for us to go. Somehow, deep within the recesses of my mother-in-law’s slowly deteriorating mind, though all she is compromised to is the ability to repeat the last phrase she hears, when I went to say, “good-bye,” she held on to me and a tear rolled down her cheek. She knew I was leaving and was sad.
As we got into the car, I started to cry which surprised me. I’ve always been so matter-of-fact about her illness. And then I realized it’s been my defense from experiencing – in fact, I’ve been holding back a great many feelings. The feelings of loss are just too painful.
But loss is a part of life. And unless it is acknowledged and faced, you are cut off – just as I had been. It was only by opening up to allowing myself to feel that I was able to take something rich and peaceful from this visit. I do know that in those few brief moments there was a connection between my mother-in-law and myself. And what I realize is that my hesitation in going was really my fear. Thank goodness my willingness to sacrifice won out.
And, one more thing – as I reflect on that which I do have in my life – it feels so much richer now!