Family Business

February 18, 2003

This past weekend my wife and I traveled to Manteo North Carolina to visit my mother-in-law. We had scheduled this trip some time ago last fall and in the time since then there have been some complications with Virginia's health, so our trip had a sense of urgency.

She was admitted to the hospital briefly just after Christmas, showing signs of extreme fatigue and shortness of breath. In the end she was given 3 pints of blood and released after a couple of days. Her sisters all took this as a sign of impending death and shifted into high panic and berated my poor wife for not dropping everything in our lives to come and live with her mom. My wife has struggled with how best to help her mother while keeping her own life. In the end we felt that with family on the ground there our coming earlier than planned wouldn't help. In fact, by keeping our mid-February date, we arrived after some of the panic had died down, and we were able to evaluate Virginia in her normal setting.

Michele also had time to prepare herself to ask her mother some very difficulty questions. Michele wanted to discover her mother's wishes concerning heroic measures in the hospital should she be admitted again. Also we wanted to learn what her wishes were for a funeral and service. Talking to ones parent about the end of their life is not an easy task. Michele handled it beautifully and I was very honored to be a part of the bonding that happened between mother and daughter that evening. Virginia has survived a difficult and often hardship filled life largely on her wits and savvy. She is reluctant to expose her self emotionally to anyone, and she does not like intrusions into her business. I think, however, she did appreciate the concern and love Michele was showing, and she was able to talk about her wishes.

Knowing that my own parents are both in their seventies I realize that I will be faced with this same discussion in the near future myself. I understand the value of laying out your responses to emotionally charged situation ahead of time, but I am not looking forward to actually discussing it out loud with my parents. Somehow saying it out loud makes it more real.

I have the utmost respect for Michele for facing her fears about losing her mom and setting those aside so that she could create a safe place for Virginia to open herself emotionally. She treated her mother with dignity and respect, accepting her wishes even though she doesn't agree with all of them. Too often we try to take care of ourselves by imposing our wishes on someone else, Michele refused to do that with her mother. Instead she worked out her needs and issues separate from her mother, so that she was able to leave control of her mother's live with her mother.

I hope that when my time comes I am fortunate enough to have someone in my corner who sets aside their needs in order to respect my wishes.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.