My mother in law is dying. We visited her over Christmas, spent 2 days at the nursing home with her, and had to deal with goodbyes that included "this is the last time I'll see you". My daughters were distraught. My husband was ... well, given the kids' reactions, we didn't get to talk a lot about him.
To back up a minute, let me tell you that my mother in law is a pretty horrible woman. She damaged her children over the course of their childhoods and continued the damage and manipulation into their adult lives. When I came into the picture and started introducing my husband to the concepts of boundaries and non-engagement in family triangulation, it pissed his mom off to no end. Between that and the fact that I married her only son, the Crown Prince, I assumed she would hate me. But for some unknown reason, she adored me. I used to joke that when she came to visit she acted like she wanted to sit on my lap and pet me. That was never going to happen but I was polite, I was kind, and I maintained my boundaries. She would lay into my husband, she would say horrible things to him in person or on the phone, but nothing in front of me.
Over the past ten years, her physical condition has gone downhill - some undefined neuropathy started in her feet and has traveled up her body, and started compromising her speech. Earlier this year they finally diagnosed her with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Finally, my father in law's doctors convinced him he couldn't be her 24/7 caregiver any longer and she went to a nursing home. She only has some minimal control of her left hand now and has almost entirely lost her ability to speak. And she is hugely frustrated with that. Which I understand. If I had my brain but no ability to engage with anyone, my head would explode. And it is a perfect example of karma biting a person in their ass as my mother in law has done so much damage with her words over her lifetime that this is a particularly cruel end.
And so, she now has a respiratory infection and is not expected to last the night. It would be a merciful end. Quite frankly, based on our time there over Christmas, I think she'd agree that it's time to go. It has made me think about life and death and our perceptions of the terminally ill - we all feel bad for her, no doubt, but we also assume all these sweet and nostalgic feelings coming out of her. But I was reminded that her mind is just as it always was when she whined and cried at nurses when she wasn't getting what she wanted, when she yelled at my father in law for having the nerve to talk to someone else while she was talking to my husband and me, and she glared or rolled her eyes at certain times when she didn't like what was being said to her. The horrible woman is still in there. And yet I feel compassion for her. So I rubbed her legs and held her hand and talked to her for two full days, and I hope her time on earth in this condition is as pain free as possible and short.
Two days observing the world in a nursing home and all the thoughts that were triggered about my own opinions about end of life matters, combined with all the complicated feelings that swirl in my husband's family gave me a lot to think about. I am not nearly proficient enough in deep talk to express how all this makes me feel, but I'm convinced there is nothing that is black and white in this world. Even life and death exist in shades of gray.