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    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    My In-Laws~The Finale

    Here are the other parts in case you missed them:
    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 Pernicious 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 Hospice 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.


    Top cat said...


    lime said...

    wow, jenn....just WOW!

    what you have been through and yet you have been able to extend such grace and love to someone who never really did to you. i am humbled and challenged to do better myself.

    you can really have a clear conscience knowing you did all in your power to care for her when she needed it most. no one can ever accuse you of being vindictive.

    Rat In A Cage said...

    That was gut wrenching. I cannot even read the back story. I commend your efforts, and the strength you had on that journey. I hope it's a very long time before you have to go through that again.

    G-Man said...

    You are so special Jenn.

    SignGurl said...

    TC~ Big hugs right back at ya!

    Lime~ This was the toughest time of my life, but I know that the challenge was one of my life's test. I just hope I passed.

    Rat~ Welcome! I hope I never have to go through anything like that again.

    G-Man~ I'm special alright!

    MONA said...

    this is indeed a very humbling post. Reading your last post hads me angry. Reading this one has awakened compassion!

    I feel a great respect for you jenn!

    Wow! You are such a wonderful person!

    Nonny said...

    I needed a good cry today-thank you.

    You are truly and very special and self-less person Jenn. We could all learn something from you. XOXO

    cadbury_vw said...

    this is a difficult and highly emotional story to read

    it must have been so much more to have lived through

    Crabby said...

    Damn, Sign. You've been round the emotional mill a time or two, haven't you? You seem too young to have endured so much. But look what a strong person you've grown to be. I guess that's the upside to life's sad times. They change you, make you stronger, more compassionate, and less shocked when life kicks you in the ass on another day.

    Little Wing said...

    Believe me, you passed this earth walk test!
    I had a cry when I read this, it was so emotional.
    I remamber how good hospice was when my grandfather was dying.
    What a truly compassionate group they are.
    Bless you.

    snowelf said...

    Jenn, you are so awesome.

    I am always going to think back on this post when I am having difficulty dealing with someone in my life. Thank you for that.

    love you,

    gab said...

    Well this has made me cry. For several reasons 1 for all that you went through. 2 because my mom died of cancer and no one told us how long she even had. In fact my father still denis it to this day that she died of cancer. I too stayed to care for my mom. However I couldnt turn mom like I was suppose to because she was already in so much pain and the home health nurse said just leave her be. She noted it on her chart there at home so that if mom had had sores they knew that I hadnt nelgected her. The night before she died I heard her talking to both her mom and brother both whom were dead. The thing that stands out in my mind clearly is how she cried "wait dont leave without me". The next day I called the home health nurse and she told me to tell my sister to come say good bye because mom was on her last leg of her journey. We both told her we loved her and that if she wanted to let go it was ok with us. We told her we didnt want her in pain any more and that we would take care of daddy. That night she yelled at my dad. The next morning she was gone. Dad was with her when she died. I had just gone to bed after being up all night with her. I was upset that I hadnt been awake when she passed but I was glad as well. It had already been stressful on me being there daily giving meds and taking care of her. But like you I was and still am mad at dad and mom for not telling us how sick she really was. In fact I learned later that she was recieveing chemo just a month before she passed. My mom's youngest sister said that mom had told her the dr said she had anywheres from 5 months to 5 years. But she didnt want us girls to know. I told my aunt that was unfair to both of us girls because I know if we had known how sick she was and how little time she had we would have made a point to be there every day not just the weekends. She said thats the way your mom wanted it. Thank you for sharing.

    J Morgetron said...

    WOW. This makes me appreciate my MIL so much. I mean I've heard some horror stories and this is tops. Doesn't if feel good to tell this story? Writing is my drug of choice. It gets me through rough times too.

    PS: Thanks for your help on the comments. I don't think I ever properly thanked you.

    jillie said...

    You know deep down inside after reading this...I'll bet she's always loved you.

    Jenn you have a heart of gold and I am sure it was not easy to be there for her through all of this but yet, you stuck it out. You taught us all, well, at least me anyway something here....for that thank you.


    *S* said...

    Hospice is an amazing thing, isn't it? I actually ran the hospice organization for our state for a few weeks, before I realized that the people were amazing, but the job wasn't a good fit.

    I recognized a lot of what you were saying from my mother's husband's death a few months ago. I hope it gives you comfort that you did absolutely everything you could for your MIL and were a better daughter to her than the ones she gave birth to.


    Pauline said...

    I found this deeply moving for reasons too lengthy to go into here. Thankyou for sharing this.

    Kittie Kate said...

    You have heart of a angel. My love goes out to you.