My mother-in-law is 86 and will pass away in the next couple of days from cancer of the mouth and neck, triggered by an auto-immune problem.
She’s been a grumpy old thing the 10 years I’ve known her. She says I just don’t get her sense of humour. My sister-in-law reckons its becasue she is a bitch. Regardless, whenever I come to visit her in England (from Australia) I inevitably receive an email about a week after I get home apologising for being horrible and bad-tempered, while at the same time sneaking in a comment that during our visit we ruined her favourite frying pan by using it to cook salmon when clearly that pan should only be for sauteeing celery or some such. It is now ruined beyond rehabilitation and she will have to throw it away.
But now here I am, having arrived a week earlier than planned as her condition has gone downhill quickly, and my love and respect for her has deepened immensely. It is like she has finally let her guard down and is allowing us to see her vulnerability and her fear (while still having flashes of her irritability with us and the world).
She had been transferred to a hospice a couple of weeks ago to have IV fluids to dilute a build up of calcium in her body, and then insisted against medical advice in coming home. I’m not surprised. Not only because of her strong will, but also because she has the most amazing views over fields to the next village — an achingly beautiful English countryside idyll — and it is only right that she gets to sit in her favourite chair watching the sun rise over them, even if only for one more time.
But now the chair sits empty and she is confined to her bed, to weak to move and too exhausted if we help her move to the lounge room in her wheelchair.
Photo by author, Oct 2019
People come and go all day — the care worker who washes and changes her nightie every morning, the district nurse to change her dressings and check her medication, the palliative care support person in the evening, and her local parish priest for a comforting chat and…