I remember 26 years ago, I left my job as a cardiac nurse and flew as a young mother, with my 5-year-old daughter and 3-month baby girl, to Canada to take care of my dying mother-in-law. My husband was in medical school and could not leave for long periods of time.
That year I traveled from Tennessee to Canada with 2 small children several times and stayed for months at a time. My mother-in-law’s wish was to stay at home. In order to make that happen they needed a nurse in the house since she had a central line and needed medical attention for her spreading cancer.
Every day after caring for my girls and with very little sleep, I would wash her, feed her and give her medicines and treatments. We had not always been best of friends, I knew I was not the first choice of hers to marry her son. We had had many harsh words between us. But when my husband asked me to go help, I dropped everything and packed up my babies and went.
I remember looking at her frail, now 80 lb. body and bald head and every harsh thought melted. She smiled at me and asked me to forgive her. Then she said. “of all the nurses in the world, I am so lucky to have you. You are the best!” We bonded that year and as I sat by her bedside, my daughters playing on the floor or taking naps, we talked, we laughed, we cried.
She shared her dreams for each of her children. She loved her children, they were her world. Her husband was her hero since he made all her dreams come true for her life. She talked about her grandchildren, she had 3 and another one on the way to be born in time for her to hug and kiss on. I remember her taking my husband’s hand and placing it on my belly and asking that we try one more time and have a boy and name him after his father and grandfather. Unknown to her, at each pregnancy with the girls, my husband, a junior, had said, “and if it’s a boy we will not name him after me.” But there was her frail hand on my non-pregnant belly, we looked at each other and agreed.
The year was long, it was cold, the family struggled to understand why this beautiful light that connected us all was going out. Each person dealt with it in their own way, there was lots of sadness. I continued to get up through the night and all day long and washed her, fed her and gave her medicines, sat and held her hand and listened and talked. Confusion set in and we knew the end was near.
I remember the last couple nights we all slept in her room on the floor. Her loving husband, all her children and most of the spouses and grandchildren, praying, crying and hugging each other.
Her loss hit the family very hard. Now what? Now the guilt – could I have done better? Could I have made her life better? Was I a good son/daughter/husband?
It was a sad time, with many beautiful memories. I felt blessed to be part of this stage in life… And now, every time someone asks us why our son shares his grandfathers and fathers name… We smile, and my mother-in-law’s memory lives on.