Monday, August 24, 2009

On a competely separate topic,

today is a day of anniversaries. Today is my first father-in-law's birthday, and to be honest, I don't remember what year he was born in. My guess is he is 68 0r 69 today. Happy Birthday Jim Sr! It is also the wedding anniversary of my dear friend and her husband, someone I have sadly lost touch with, and although I couldn't be there for the wedding, I was so thrilled to know she had found her true love. They have a passel of children now, (there were 4 last I heard), and I wish them many more years of joy together and in each other. God-willing, we will reconnect some day.

Today is also the 16th anniversary of my first mother-in-law's collapse and "death" (she was gone in the emergency room for over 4 minutes, although she lingered in intensive care, first in a medically induced coma, then in a vegetative state, for an addition three weeks, until Sept. 11, 1994). I remember that day like it was yesterday: a beautiful, warm, sunny, Sunday late morning, when we got the call from Jim's brother that his mom had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. She had collapsed in the bathroom at her house. I was outside walking, with Reimond in my arms (he was 4 months old), and Jim yelled frantically for me to get the kids together so we could meet his brothers at the hospital. Once there, they put us into a private room, and explained that things were very grave (she had pneumonia, early stage emphasyma, and had taken, we later found out, a lethal mix of tylenol and alcohol--she was self-medicating her fever and her body aches, and we believe she didn't realize how much tylenol she had taken, along with the quantities of alcohol she was known to ingest). She had been alert in the ambulance but went into respiratory arrest in the ER, and her kidneys subsequently shut down; we had to approve her being put on dialysis. I remember calling my parents for them to come get the kids, and fortunately I had a full diaper bag with me that included bottles and formula (I was a nursing mom primarily), so my family came to take Liisa, Tony, and Reimond home with them. Her prognosis was poor, and they didn't give us much hope, so we stayed and waited for most of the day, and into the night in the ICU waiting room. Eventually Jim and I left to go home as there was little we could do other than pray, and the baby/kids needed to be home and put to bed, but his brothers stayed.

For three weeks I drove to the hospital daily, taking the kids with me. Liisa and Tony took turns sitting in the hallway and ICU waiting room with Reimond so I could help care for her, and we gave the children the option of going in to see her only if they wanted to (they did), so I would take them in one at a time, the other sitting with Rei. They were only 9 and 10 years old. Jim would go in the evening after work, and his brothers and Aunt went daily as well. We tried to keep family by her as often as we could, and although her eyes were open when they lifted the coma, she never came back. We did think she knew when we were there, because her heart rate and respirations would change slightly but noticably when we were present, and occassionally her eyes would tear. We talked to her, we prayed for and with her (she was raised Catholic), and we encouraged her to let go. Initially Jim's brothers wanted heroic measures at all cost, but as we moved into the third week and watched her continue to deteriorate, they too came to the conclusion that it was better to let her go. We stopped all heroic measures and instituted palliative care.

During that time of limbo, I frequently got the impression that her soul/spirit was somewhere outside of her body, making peace, with herself, with God, with her life. She had had such a hard life. Nothing came easily to her, and she had made many poor choices at times, of which there were numerous and hard consequences. She had her faith, but it was challenged so very many times, and she was tired and worn out beyond her years (she was just 54 when she died). I pictured her in my mind as I talked to her as if she were at some retreat center in northern MN, a place of peacefulness and contemplation. The night that she died, I had a dream. All her life she had been terrified of Doctor's offices, and I frequently went with her to appointments so she wouldn't be alone. In my dream I was sitting in a waiting room with her. We were sitting perpendicular to each other in a corner near the office door, and she held my hands in hers. She told me how much she loved me, how grateful she was for me being a part of the family, and that it was now my role to take care of her boys. She apologized for our early years of heartache (she saw me as a threat early on and resented my relationship with Jim, and our being married; she would get drunk, call me, and ream me out verbally/abusively until I was in tears. This went on for about the first 4 -5 years of our marriage). She also told me she was ready to move on now, and that she was no longer afraid. She seemed so peaceful, so content. As she finished saying all she had to say, I heard the phone ringing, and it woke me up. I answered it, and it was the hospital, telling us it was time for us to go there, that she was dying. Given it was like 2 am, I stayed home with the children, while Jim met his brothers at the hospital. She died early that morning, on 9/11/94. I was so at peace with her passing, and I had no regrets. I had done all I could during our time together to be a good and loving daughter-in-law, and I was so content with how our relationship had grown and changed over the 11 years I had been a part of her family. When I think about her now, I have my hard memories, but they are tempered by forgiveness, by understanding, and by love. When she was sober she was an amazing woman. She was strong, she was independent, she had a joyful personality, and she loved fiercely and loyally. She had a flirtatious nature, she had an infectious laugh, and she enjoyed life to the fullest. She was a beautiful woman, and she did her best with what she had. I learned so much from her, and while I didn't always agree with her or the decisions she made, I could also understand where she was coming from. She was no saint, and we have our emotional scars from her; some are deeper than others, and I won't deny they are there. Still, she was who she was, and there are times I miss her. I see the best of her in Liisa especially, and I am grateful that it is there. I can remember her with joy and gladness, and celebrate her life.

I am thinking of you today Carol, and I am so glad we became friends. You are missed by all of us.

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