Dealing with the inevitable is never easy, only inevitable
My mother-in-law passed away last Sunday, July 24, at age 87. She crossed over just the way she had lived, peacefully, gracefully, courageously and with a quiet dignity. Even though dementia had ultimately robbed her of everything worthwhile in life, before its cruel ravages took their toll she was one of the sweetest, most caring, most humble people on God’s Earth.
In a perfect world one’s mind and body would give out simultaneously. All the medical advances that restore and repair organs and thereby prolong life would include the brain among those organs. While Janet’s mom had survived heart surgery and breast cancer and was physically spry until breaking her hip a few months ago, her memory had deteriorated far worse than her body.
Of all the unsung heroes in this imperfect world, those who work in the geriatric field merit praise of the highest order. Watching them care for Mom Redmond at Oakdale Heights for several years and, during her final months that required specialized care, at Evergreens, I have come to regard them as saints. Unlike other caregivers, they never get to see those they tend to get well, and that surely must take a special kind of dedication. It would only take me a couple of hours during a visit to sink into a dark depression; imagine what it must be like dealing with it day in and day out.
Other than watching my dear mother-in-law slowly withdraw into a solitary world, the most depressing aspect of all this is realizing that these folks, predominately women, were once vibrant, productive, functioning citizens. They raised families, had jobs, had social lives, had fun, had friends, had responsibilities. Unlike now, each of them had a life.
I suspect that many, if not most, of the women I came to recognize at the rest homes were war brides. I tried to imagine them dancing the jitterbug to Glenn Miller, buying their first home on the GI Bill, bringing their first child into the world in the late ’40s, wearing hose with the seam down the back, smoking Chesterfields back when smoking was sexy, going to Bogey and Bacall movies, huddling in front a 13-inch black and white TV set watching Sid Ceasar and Uncle Milty, hanging clothes on the line in the backyard, snuggling up to their Prince Charming as he drove their new ’46 Chrysler convertible, vacationing in a post-war boomtown called Myrtle Beach, singing along with Patti Page and Kaye Starr and Rosemary Clooney, and on and on.
My favorite picture of my mother-in-law was taken with her long-deceased husband, Jim, while he was still in the Army during World War II. There they are, arm in arm, her flaming red hair (just like Janet’s), sparkling smile and twinkling eyes broadcasting to the world: here is a couple in love. They had their whole lives in front of them, barely a care in the world yet ready to face whatever challenges that might come their way.
All of us baby boomers, the sons and daughters of those war brides and war heroes, are now at the age where awareness of our own mortality is more than a concept. Retirement is not all that far away, the wrinkles and paunches are facts of life, the aches and pains already a harbinger of things to come. Most of us have either buried our parents or are caring for them in one way or another.
Sometimes I think we mourn not for the sad and decrepit state these folks now find themselves in, but for ourselves. We see our potential future in their vacant eyes and wonder if this is to be the fate that befalls us. We pray ‘God don’t let me end up like that’ even knowing that the most plausible alternative is a premature death. Which is worse? I wonder.
Alas, there is no moral to this story. Oh, I could recite some platitudes and trot out a few hackneyed truisms. I could ponder the meaning of life or pass along some famous quote that might have some relevance. But really all there is to do is love and support my wife in her hour of need, be grateful for the eight decades my mother in law had before the depredation of time set in, be thankful she had her faith to sustain her ’til the end, and take solace in the presumption of fact that she is in a better place.
And if, in fact, that place does exist, she’s that gorgeous little redhead again with that good-looking soldier boy by her side.
Ogi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and heard each Tuesday from 9:30’–10 a.m. on WGOS 1070 AM.