Saturday, July 26, 2014

Watching Death From A Distance

I had to watch my beloved mother-in-law die in Murfreesboro, TN, three hours from the home my wife and I share in Cordova.  My wife was there for her mother in her last days.  I stayed here to watch the house, although if the vehicle we're using these days wasn't her uncle's aged pickup truck but rather something sturdier, I would have made the drive to be there.  It wouldn't have been easy for me, because I don't deal with death well, but I would have done it.

I'm sure I've talked on this blog somewhere about my emotions when my mother died in 1986 when I was ten years old.  I basically shut down emotionally, refusing to go to her bedside for her final days and refusing to go to her funeral.  Pretty immature, even for a ten-year-old, but I guess I just wanted to pretend it didn't happen or that it wasn't a big deal, even though it was the most shocking moment of my life.  I haven't had to deal with much death since.  My grandmother raised me after my mom died, then she kicked in 1994 right after I completed high school.  She had been sick, so it wasn't a big shock, and I was able to absorb that loss much easier.  I've attended two funerals since--my grandmother's two brothers around a decade and a half ago.  So my reaction to seeing my mother-in-law dying had I been there probably would have been some version of an emotional shutdown because it was a sudden and swift illness--an ovarian cancer and kidney failure combo--and I would have been in a position with which I'm not very familiar.  My wife said she wanted me there to support her during that very stressful two weeks, but I'm not sure if I would have provided anything besides a shoulder.

My wife had to watch it happen right in front of her, and she's been dealing with it predictably, sobbing at Outback during our first dinner after she returned home.  I basically got a play-by-play over the phone for that two-week period--the hospital stay, the surgery, the complications, the digestive system breakdown, the dialysis treatments, the doctor's conflicting diagnoses, the eventual decision that it wasn't going to work out and the in-home hospice care that wasn't very caring on the final night.  My wife was the last voice she heard.  "Don't be afraid to walk into Jesus's arms," my wife whispered to her, and seconds later, she stopped breathing.  I was asleep when she died.  My wife called four times, then finally gave up and texted me, "Mom just died."  When I saw all the missed calls the next morning, I knew before I even read the text.

It was a rough couple of weeks for me.  You may not think it would be seeing that I wasn't there watching it happen like my wife was.  And I'm not saying it was anywhere near as rough as she had it.  But I had shit going on inside of me as well.  I had a lot of guilt for not being there for my wife, and also not being there for my mother-in-law, who I'm sure would have liked to have my support.  I had a deep sense of loss because I just gained a new mother three years ago when I married her only daughter, and before I could really have a bonding conversation or some kind of intimate talk where we get beneath the surface and really get to know each other, she was gone.  I had a nagging guilt for signing up for scoring Memphis Redbirds baseball games once I knew my wife was going to be in Murfreesboro for a while, before we knew her mother was dying.  The night she died, I was asleep because I was tired from working a baseball game that day and then driving to a wrestling match that night.  I guess I felt like taking advantage of my bachelor status to enjoy myself to the fullest, but afterwards, I always felt like a little turd, running around like a kid whose parents left town and left him the car.  And naturally, there was the mortality that everyone contemplates when someone close dies.  I've had issues with my mortality ever since I almost passed out during that cruise last summer, and almost every day, I choose to eat bad foods and not exercise and I beat myself up for doing it and I wonder how many days can I waste doing that before I pass out permanently, and then I do it again the next day.  Yes, that's a really crappy way to live, and I'm going to see a therapist next week.

The memorial service was very nice, but the moment that got to me emotionally was a little odd, which is perfect for me since I feel a little odd every second of my life.  It was seeing a poster board at the entrance of the church where well-wishers could write messages for the deceased, and the first message was from two women who were longtime friends of my mother-in-law.  They dubbed themselves "The Three Musketeers."  When the minister asked for volunteers to share memories, one of the Three Musketeers was the first to stand up, before any family members or other friends, and something about hearing her speak made me think about the only friend I have, "Jacob," and what he's going to say at my memorial (probably some off-color stories).  That touched me.  Seeing friends cry hard and talk about how much they missed their buddy reminded me of how fortunate you are if you have friends who love you that much.  Or maybe I was affected by the thought of how many people I knew during my time on Earth who wouldn't be at my funeral because we have lost touch.  Or because they don't care about me.  I try to be a tough guy on the outside and act like I don't give a fuck about anyone who did me wrong, but I guess I'm not as tough as I try to be.  I hate that "Ronnie" and I spent that much time together and we won't be there for each other now that we're older and hopefully more mature.  I hate all those moments I spent with "Karen" and "Torrie" and "Sarah" and The Co-Worker Who Shall Remain Nameless and "Giselle," none of whom I anticipate ever seeing again.  I hate that I'm nowhere near my family and Jacob and "Drew" logistically, so if I do keel over after another chicken tender at Gus's, they wouldn't be able to make it down here in time to say goodbye.  All those thoughts flashed before me during the service.  I stood up and spoke about my mother-in-law, about how nice she was to me, as she was to everyone, and how she had four pictures from our wedding on her shelves, which is three more pictures than we have of our own wedding.  Then we sat around at the church for a few hours sharing stories and fellowship and, for some of us, bringing the excruciating last few weeks to a close.

We'll be dealing with the aftermath for a while emotionally and in a tangible way.  My wife has to slog through a lot of paperwork in settling the estate, and soon we'll have to drive back to the home and clean it out in preparation to try to sell it.  We have her mother's car, a Honda Accord, and my wife bequeathed me her mother's laptop computer, so there are daily reminders of her here at home.  We'll be planning a trip to Florida to scatter her mother's ashes into the ocean.  What my wife has told me she has really taken away is how loved her mother was.  People came through to wish her well during her illness, and no one had an ill word for her ever.  "I have big shoes to fill," my wife said.  We should all have such a legacy.

Rest in peace Mama Howell.

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