May 15, 2005

My mother-in-law, Virginia, is dying. She has been in poor health for a couple of years, and by all accounts is fading fast now. Obviously this is very stressful and difficult for Michele; being so far away and not having much financial flexibility isn’t helping matters.

I expect we’ll be making a trip to Manteo soon. The trip is 1275 miles by car, which makes it nearly impossible. Air fares are down right now so we maybe able to fly in two weeks for less than $300 total.

She has known this was coming for some time. Two years ago at Christmas time Virginia was sick enough to be hospitalized. While we never got the full story, it is apparent that there was something major wrong. In her indomitable way, Virginia refused all treatment and went home as soon as she was allowed. This past Thanksgiving she once again collapsed and had to be hospitalized. Her manner of dealing with authority figures, and stressful situations, made it appear to people who didn’t know her that she was suffering from dementia. Michele worked long and hard to get her mother into a nursing home situation and not into the psych ward.

Virginia didn’t fare well in the nursing home, and once it was apparent that her health was as good as it was going to get, she went home. Michele arranged family visits and home health care for her mom, and she has been able to stay in her apartment since returning home. Now that the end appears near ever choice has greater import and impact.

On Tuesday Virginia will see a doctor. We are waiting to get feedback from that visit to determine what to do next. Michele is struggling with the choice to see her mom one more time, in a weakened and very ill state. Having that memory is not something she really wants. The two of them have made their peace with each other over the past few years. Michele has said to her mom what she needed to say and is therefore fortunate not to be facing a “if only I had said this” situation. I told her that I completely support her going to see her mom again or not.

For myself this brings up my own emotions about my parents. They are both showing their age more than ever, and I know their time is limited. I have to seriously reconcile the unsaid things and determine what I need to do while they are alive so that I will not have regrets once they’ve died. My mom has successfully, for now, battled back from lung cancer; and my father is learning to cope with diminished stamina. Being with Michele has helped me to see myself as an adult man who is capable, worthy, and good. Still, I have a hard time seeing myself that way through my parents eyes. Or rather through my interpretation of my parents viewpoint.

Death, as a good friend recently said to me, is a very weird thing. You never know how you’ll react until it happens. The only thing I know for certain is that from our perspective on this physical plane of existence, death is one-way passage.

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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.