My brain is exploding with the words I want to get out, but I know, no matter how detailed I get, no one can understand. It is comedic, scary, sad and victorious…all at the same time. But I have to try or I am sure my head will explode.
Today my sister in law (SIL) and I took my mother in law (mom) to an event put on by her graduating class of 1964. My SIL has anxiety. Not the same sort of anxiety as I have, but rather hers shows in her actions. I internalize mine to the point of physical pain. My SIL and I have been friends since I was 14 and she was 12. My SIL is paranoid and questions everything. I’m trusting to a fault. If you pass her on the road and don’t honk and wave, you have some serious ‘splainin’ to do. I don’t even see you when you do honk and flash lights. But nevertheless we have been good friends and then sisters in law and I love her dearly.
In the weeks leading up to this event…no, I mean in the months leading up to this event, my SIL contacted mom’s classmate organizers multiple times to confirm times, schedule of events, so on. She had every detail down. She made a poster of her family (both mom and dad graduated in 1964-high school sweethearts, just like me and my husband). She asked me repeatedly what I was wearing (pants or a skirt), did I think it would be hot or cold (hell, it’s PA in late September…your guess is as good as mine), and would I please ask my husband to dig up some old pictures of the time they went to Graceland when he was 5.
I desperately did not want to go to this event. In February, when my SIL asked me if we could take mom, it seemed so far off and I was sure I could get my head around it in plenty of time. See, my anxiety builds internally. It was terrible trying to get moving this morning, and I vocalized my dread to my still-sleeping husband. So don’t go, my husband said. He doesn’t get it. It was my duty to go. And that is what moved my dragging feet. I got to the home early, but sat in my car for 10 minutes, trying to force myself to move. I put on “that” face and off I went. Not because I didn’t want to be with mom and my SIL, but because today I had to be places I don’t know, around people I never met, listening to chaotic noises.
Mom is confined to a nursing home, wheelchair bound and has to be manually transferred. She will stand if told to and as I call it, dance, to move from chair to car and back again, but my SIL can’t do it alone. I am physically stronger than I look so I transfer mom. Mom has had several strokes and has little controlled use of her hands. She has progressive dementia and despite a shunt in her brain, she has little balance and often agitates easily. But, my SIL insists she enjoys the events. I suspect she has little, if any, memory of it within hours of attending. It is still good to get her out and I love my talks with her. She has known me since I was 14 and her son (my husband) and I are responsible for those silver hairs on her head.
Today’s event started with a memorial service at a small chapel on the local military base. In addition to honoring the 87 classmates who have passed away – my father in law being one of them – they honored the military veterans both deceased and living from the class of 1964. Again, my father in law being one for them. The service was very nice and concluded with the singing of God Bless America. Mom’s voice was the loudest and most beautiful. So many people remember mom and Dad R. Mom struggled to remember them.
Next stop was the picnic at the fire hall. I’ve attended many a wedding reception at that fire hall. Lots of old memories for me. Mom recently has had difficulty eating solid food so she is on a smushed food diet. We brought some ham salad for her and started her eating right away so she would take her meds. (Fought like a toddler when med time came.). Mom wanted to know why I wasn’t feeding the man across from us some ham salad and I told her he was waiting for the chicken. Stupid, stupid me. Needless to say, mom wouldn’t eat the ham salad anymore…well, not for about 15 minutes. Then she forgot about the chicken. Whew. I am trying to make myself small at this point sitting by a pole trying to be invisible and just tending to mom. Food took longer than expected and then it was a mad dash to the buffet line. Of course we were right by the line so the noise became unbearable. For me and mom. Mom started getting agitated. She yelled at my SIL’s chair. She was not there. I talked to her about the VW she had in high school and she calmed down. SIL came back with the food. I got in at the end of the line. People talk to me. Why? I thought I was invisible. Who am I? Mom only had one daughter. I’m married to her son. Her son? I don’t think we have met him. No, likely not, he is…quiet. (All the while my head is screaming he’s an introvert like me…but I’m here because duty called…please leave me alone.). But that “face” is still on. I get my styrofoam plate of fried chicken, coleslaw and potato salad…grab a cookie and a piece of pineapple upside down cake and crawl back to my corner in the center of the activity. My SIL, who stays in touch with mom’s friends and knows many of them (she has worked at the same place for 25 years), is now “over” her anxiety. She’s chatting and taking pictures. Mom is tired. She’s agitated. It’s getting late. Past nap time. Mom has a hold of my hand. Jerks it across her chest and the yells for my SIL to let her go. I whisper “that’s my hand mom”. She doesn’t want to hear it. I give my SIL a pleading look. They start calling off the raffle winners. Mom wants a prize. Did I win? No, not yet. I never win anything. Ugh. Finally, she wins the mums centerpiece. Whew. We can leave.
A classmate, whose son graduated with me, comes up to me. I am such a good daughter in law for tending to mom. She sees how I care for her. What do I say to that? Should I be insulted? Mom is deserving of all of my respect and kindness as are all of our parents. I am not doing any more or less than I would expect my kids to do. But I say she makes being her daughter easy and smile. Please let me be invisible.
I get mom transferred to the car. Its hot. We get mom to the home. I transfer her to her wheelchair. I have her hug me, then 1-2-3 stand…ok, let’s dance. Not the tango. Mom you’re on my foot. She laughs. How about the twist. I cringe. There goes my back for the next week. She’s in her chair. Get to her ward. I say my goodbyes. I go home. Is it with my husband and SOMH, and then retreat to the silence of my bedroom.
I am blessed with an awesome family and I thank God for my time with them. I made it. I lived. The stress of this day will manifest itself in aches and pains in a week or so, but I know it’s coming. I’ll be ready.