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    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    My In-Laws~The Finale

    I just want to give a shout out to those of you who have showed your interest and patience in this story. I had no idea when I started that it would get this long and detailed but I think it has been waiting a long time to get out of me. This installation took a lot out of me. I promise to end it with this post. If you missed either part, they are here:
    Part 1

    Part 2

    After the death of my father-in-law I became even more furious with my mother-in-law when we got his medical records. I worked in an underwriting department for 5 years and had become accustomed to reading them. When the first spot was found, the results were not good. The doctors knew then, 4 years before, that FIL had cancer. It was stated in the records that MIL refused treatment for him and was very belligerent about it. She was actually mentioned almost more than FIL in the documents. Apparently, the doctors were not fond of her and were concerned about her influence on him. She was one of those people that believed if you didn't admit it or talk about it, it wasn't happening. Both of them knew full well that it was his cancer that was causing him pain, not the board that had dropped on him. It took me years to get over this.

    MIL became much more needy. She said she was sure that she couldn't live alone. I was forceful with my husband about making sure that she didn't come to live with us. Our house was not set up for an elderly person and I had two little ones that I didn't need her help raising. I did give in a few times and let her spend the night. I wanted her to understand that it would be hard for her to live with 2 small children in a 2 story house. Each time she did stay, she would stand at the bottom of the stairs and yell up to hubby. She did this several times through the night always needing something. None of us got any sleep and I'm sure it was her ploy to show me that she still had Mr. Sign in her clutches.

    I was adamant about her learning to live alone maybe to the point of being inconsiderate. Mr. Sign spent every day off he had helping her out by taking her grocery shopping and to the doctor. I was ok with this as long as I could be involved as little as possible. She hadn't driven in years but had kept up her license. I encouraged her to drive again to gain her freedom. She did try a few times but told us scary stories about near accidents she had so she soon abandoned driving.

    During this time, Mr. Sign was working an hour's drive away from home managing a large department store. MIL's house was sort of on the way so he stopped whenever he could. I didn't know until later that he was lying to me. He was picking her up daily and taking her to work with him. I had no problem with this except that he found it necessary to lie about it and she backed up the lie.

    MIL would call an average of 20 times (not an exaggeration) a day. If we weren't home, she would call incessantly until our return. She never wanted anything except to tell us what the weather was (damn Weather Channel).

    As time went by, MIL's mental illnesses became more noticeable. She made sure all the drapes where closed even during the day. She talked about how the neighbors were watching her and she was sure that they were working for the government and wanted to arrest her for something. I allowed our 4 year old daughter (I'll call her #1) to go and spend the night several times to try to keep her company. #1 came home with stories about MIL staying up all night and crying. She had even told #1 that she was dying. Why would she tell her that? This completely confused and upset #1. It was decided that she wouldn't be allowed to visit without us.

    I cannot begin to impress on you the frustration I felt during these times. I tried to be a good daughter-in-law for the sake of Mr. Sign and the kids.

    She was losing weight rather rapidly but I thought it was because FIL wasn't there to feed her. I always made her a care package by putting aside a serving of whatever we were having for dinner for Mr. Sign to take to her. I even froze some so she always had something quick to eat. She continued to lose weight.

    Several years passed and things continued to be strained. I invited her for dinner on a fall day. I am an avid gardener and had picked tomatoes from the garden and made my own sauce from scratch. I used it to make lasagna. MIL was never quick with the compliments and when she did say anything it was usually snide. As we were eating the meal I noticed that she was crying. I asked if she was all right. Her response was that she had never had sauce that good since her mother had died. Finally, a show of humanity! I cried with her that day.

    When MIL would get mad because we weren't helping her do something she wanted at that minute, she would say, "You know I've got cancer.". I could never believe this because it had never been mentioned before. If she had cancer certainly we would know. This pushed me even further away from her as I was sure she was attempting to get sympathy. I wasn't having any of it however I was still concerned about her extreme weight loss. She had gone from a very heavy 190 pounds to about 140 pounds.

    I spent most of my time cooking and cleaning for her hoping to keep up her strength to no avail. She became weaker and one day we found her on the floor. She went to the hospital and it was decided that she needed physical therapy. She stayed in the hospital for two weeks of therapy and attempted to do what they asked her to do so that she could learn to live on her own.

    I told Mr. Sign that he needed to go into the examining room with MIL when she saw the doctor. Shockingly, she did have a form of cancer. It was Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Her father had died of it only the name then was Pernicous Anemia. You can live a long time with it if you take care of yourself and eat right. She had know she had it since before FIL had died. Again, I was furious. I was so upset to think that I had tried to make her live on her own when she was sick. If I had known, I know that I would have had more patience with her.

    Mr. Sign decided to take her home to Boston to visit her sisters. He took #1 with them. They had a great time although MIL was very ill for the duration of the trip. They visited her church and old neighborhood which had all changed. The trip was almost too much for her but she was thankful that Mr. Sign had taken her there.

    She became progressively worse and Mr. Sign and I decided to move her to an assisted living apartment that was closer to us. The apartments were small but had a kitchenette and the hallways all led to the dining room where they served 3 meals a day. The assistance was very limited and basically they just made sure that someone saw the residents every day.

    This didn't go over very well as the day she moved it snowed 16 inches. It's never fun to move but that much snow made it even worse. We got her all settled and went home. Unfortunately Mr. Sign, the girls and I got the stomach flu the next day and couldn't visit. We hadn't had her phone hooked up yet so we couldn't call her. When we called the apartment office they said they were glad we called. MIL had buzzed the front desk over 45 times in 6 hours. They relayed the message that we were ill and would be visiting as soon as we could.

    Two days later I came to her apartment and found her lying in her bed. She said she couldn't get up. I got her some water and asked when the last time she had eaten was. She hadn't eaten since we left her. She also told me that she had fallen in the bathroom. I immediately went to find the nurse supervisor to find out what was going on. She told me that MIL didn't want to eat or drink and they couldn't make her because it was a limited assistance floor. I asked about the fall and she said that it had never happened.

    Back I went into MIL's bathroom. There was urine on the floor all around the toilet that looked like someone had slid around in it. I went back to MIL and got her to sit up. As I was changing her clothes I noticed a huge bruise on her arm and back. She said that she had hit her head as well. The bump on her head was incredible. She couldn't swallow because she was so dehydrated so we had to call the ambulance to take her to the hospital.

    She got progressively worse in the hospital and it was decided that her days were numbered. I visited her at least 4 hours a day which was hard as I had a 6 year old and a 2 year old. We didn't know what we would do with her and luckily we had an awesome social worker who introduced us to Hospice. We had had Hospice for a short period with FIL but I had never really been able to realize what a blessing they could be.

    MIL was sent to Hospice House, a wonderful place where MIL would have her own room and she would be taken care of 24 hours a day. This place was beautiful. All the rooms were named after trees. MIL's room was the Oak Room. The woodwork was handcrafted and the rooms were decorated like a bedroom hiding any medical equipment. The facility had a fully equipped kitchen for the families to make favorite meals for their loved ones. Mr. Sign and I are superb cooks and prepared several meals for the staff and families. There was also a nice play room for the kids with a television, an aquarium and games. This made it easier for me to keep an eye on #2 who was almost three at the time.

    MIL was almost unresponsive to outside stimuli at this point most of the time. She no longer had an IV and was only receiving pain medication.

    Once in a while she would wake up and demand that I make her toast. I would rush to the kitchen to make the toast only to find that she no longer wanted it. I learned a lot about being patient during this time.

    On several occasions she became very lucid. She was staring at me, but not really seeing me. She started to talk to her brother and mother. Strange thing was, they were both dead. She carried on a complete conversation and I am convinced that she really did see them.

    Something that frustrated me during her stay in the hospital was that they never told you what was going on with MIL. The Hospice staff were angels always asking about how everyone was feeling emotionally. They gave us books to inform us of the physical and emotional changes that were occurring with a person so close to death. One of the first steps is speaking with dead relatives. The next step was "modeling". This is where the extremities turn purple from lack of oxygen. The modeling moves up the arms and legs as death grips the body and soul.

    I had learned about taking care of someone who is bedridden from my time spent with FIL. I knew that you have to roll someone every couple of hours or they would suffer horrible bed sores. It was so sad to move MIL's now frail little body. She would wince with pain every time we moved her. There were no more body fluids at this point because she wasn't eating or drinking. Her mouth was so dry that it was cracked. This was a horrible way to die.

    MIL became more attached to me always looking around the room for me. She couldn't talk much at this point but she was able to say so much with her eyes. She started to push Mr. Sign away and wanted me. I am sure that this was an attempt to lessen the final blow of her death for him. This was yet another step toward death. She would call out my name and reach for me. This was surprising because I always thought that she hated me. I pushed aside my harsh feelings toward her and was able to be of some comfort to her. Whenever her eyes were open, I would hold her hand and tell her that I would take care of Mr. Sign and her granddaughters.

    MIL had a tumultuous relationship with her daughter (SIL) who was 13 years older than Mr. Sign. SIL had moved 2 1/2 away 15 years before. She always promised to come and see her mother but always had an excuse at the last minute. SIL did this on all holidays always getting MIL's hopes up. SIL had only been to visit her mother once for thirty minutes during her Hopsice House stay.

    Over a period of 2 weeks, I only left twice. The first time was to attend my uncle's funeral. He had died suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly.

    It was the night before Easter and I had spent the day at my uncle's funeral. There was an incredible spring thunderstorm which MIL had always hated. As the lightening would flash, I could see the fear in her eyes. I'm sure it was the fear of death. Mr. Sign and I had decided to stay as long as we could, but we wanted the girls to wake up at home for Easter morning. We were torn about leaving her because she was on the cusp of death.

    The nurses had not expected her to make it as long as she had. We explained our dilemma to one of the aides. She had been supportive of us all along. She said that she had seen people linger this long before and that they were always waiting for someone. Once the person was told that the person was en route, they would die within an hour. Yes, that made sense, she was waiting for SIL. The aide's advice to us was that she would never condone lying to someone who was dying but in seeing MIL in so much pain that we should tell her SIL was on the way.

    Mr. Sign and I whispered in her ear that SIL was on the way and told her our goodbyes kissing her on the forehead. We went home and collapsed and within an hour we got the call that MIL was having agonal (fish out of water) breathing. Mr. Sign went to her while I waited for my parents to come and stay with the girls.

    By the time I got there, she had expired. The nurses aids had washed her up and placed her in a pretty nightgown and laid her out on the bed. Mr. Sign and I spent about an hour with her while we waited for the funeral home to come and get her. We talked about how much she looked at peace now that she was not in pain. Her forehead that had been scrunched up with pain was now smooth. Our conversation turned to SIL and the fact that she would regret not having seen her mother before she died. I looked up at MIL who had been so relaxed looking before and now her face had changed to a scowl. Her forehead became furrowed much deeper than it had before. Her mouth was contorted into a sneer. This was the most frightening thing I had ever experienced. We called in the nurses aide who had just fixed her up and asked her what she thought. She said that in her 15 years of Hospice work she had never seen anything like it. I can only guess that somehow even though she was gone, she was still mad at SIL. Mr. Sign and I left immediately because we didn't' want to remember her like that.

    Living through these experiences with my in-laws has only made me a stronger person. I learned tolerance and patience. I also learned how hard it is to lose someone you love.


    Big Pissy said...

    OMG, Jenn. That was such a moving story, I almost don't know how to express what I'm feeling....
    I hope you know that no one could have or would have done more than you did. You're obiviously a very caring and giving person to have taken such massive responsibility on yourself.
    the part about MIL's facial expression changing after her death..... ummmmmm...
    You should write a book about her. Such an interesting character.
    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I know it wasn't easy.

    MamaKBear said...

    Wow, Jenn!

    I don't know quite what to say, but Wow...

    sugarpunk said...

    well i read the entire thing.. and yes i was one of the ones glad you finished the story ...

    im like the others above me.. what do you say.. what do you feel.. well i know for me.. i feel a million things ... all of them RAW though... and it had to have hurt you too .. no matter how you had felt in previous years...

    thanks for showing me how to behave .. i do get frustrated at times... and i just needed to know others do (did) as well..

    ell said...

    jenn - what a story. you are an amazing person to have done all that for your mil. i'm sure this means more than anything to your hubby. especially since she was such a difficult person. my grandmother was much the same way, but i guess we have to make allowances for people when they're sick. who knows how we ourselves would react when going through the same thing.

    you have definitely earned some points in heaven, girl.

    wmy said...

    Jenn- you really take the cake honey!! Mr. Sign is lucky to have you...it is a rare person who will put up with all of that for the sake of family! I had a similar experience with my grandma...her face changing...it was so scary!! I never even told anyone cause I waw sure they wouldn't believe me...Thanks for sharing your story with us, I will remember it next time I need to show more patience!!
    take care k?

    Mike said...

    Quite the story...You're on my ballot for sainthood.

    Michele in Michigan said...

    Jenn--what THEY said (I'm pointing at all the other posters before me).

    The part about her facial expressions was freaky.

    I am glad you kept writing the story of your in-laws.

    barman said...

    Jenn thank you so much for sharing the entire story. I must admit I am so impressed. It would have been so easy to hold a grudge. You are such a good person.


    There is so much to be learned from your story.

    Gosh I don't even know what to say. I already thought a lot of you Jenn but now, wow.

    SignGurl said...

    So here's the thing, I had a really hard time writing the MIL part. As I wrote it I cried. Even though she was horrible to me, I know deep down that she didn't deserve to die the way she did and I know that somewhere in there, she loved me.

    gigi said...

    People come into our lives for different reasons they teach us or give to us what we need to learn and then move on. Your MIL though a horrible person at times gave to you a gift, it's your job to figure out what exactly the gift is and what you are supposed to do with it.

    buddha_girl said...

    I have few words...

    What a wonderful compilation of memories of your FIL and MIL. I'm so proud of you for seeing the positive lessons you learned through your relationship with your MIL.

    You're amazing!

    da buttah said...

    woah. the things i miss when i take two weeks off from blogland.

    amazing story doll. no other words can describe it

    ~Deb said...

    You're quite an amazing woman. It's very theraputic to write it all out. It's definitely hard when a parent loses their life partner, and goes into a depression---and you witnessing this all.

    I wish you all the best...thank you for sharing this. You're a brave woman!

    Sheets said...

    Wow. That really is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Jay said...

    What a tragic story.

    It's never easy to lose someone you care about. I know that your relationship with MIL was nonexistant at first, but I believe it changed through time because that's what she needed.

    SIL wasn't there to help, but you were.

    Anonymous said...

    Beautiful story jenn.
    I'm so happy for you to have poured out all of this from your heart onto your harddrive.

    When you look back on these times you can hold your head HIGH and know you went above and beyond the call of duty...

    You are an inspiration to us all.:)

    Bert Ford said...

    Dealing with aging relatives can be a trying, and rewarding experience.
    Sounds as though you have dealt with it well.
    The woman who raised me is in a good care facility now.
    She is lucid enough to have long conversations.
    But, she thinks I’m a cousin of hers that died in WWII.
    I have to steer conversations away from her husband and father.
    She doesn’t remember their deaths, and every time she finds out, she goes through the grief all over again.
    She sometimes thinks she’s staying in a resort that her father took her to when she was a child.
    Her stories about the depression and WWII and my family’s lives are fascinating. Even if she thinks they are current events.

    Great post.
    Thank you very much for sharing.

    Light Strikes A Deal said...

    I have no words. None at all.
    But thank you for writing it all down for the world to read.

    Chrissie said...

    Wow.. good story! Worth the wait... Your a good girl *smooch*

    The infamous Jen said...

    thank you for sharing your incredible story...it makes you realize how short time really is.

    Suze said...

    Jenn, thanks for opening your heart and soul to give us this insight in to your life.