I know the season of Festivus has passed, so I really should just keep my mouth shut and wait until December to spill the dirty laundry in our family, but since psychotherapy doesn’t fit into my schedule at the moment, I’m doing a little literary therapy. Turn away now if family drama is not your thing. Get your coffee and go pee if it is. This is going to take a while.
The day my mom had her surgery in December, my father-in-law asked Jim to take him to a doctor’s appointment, as he was ill. They admitted him to the hospital with an infection. When Jim called to tell my mother-in-law that my father-in-law was going to the hospital, she didn’t even ask about his condition. She asked us to come and get her to bring her to our house – where she can’t get up and down the steps to use the bathroom or bathe – and check her blood sugar and give her an insulin shot – something I had been begging my father-in-law to teach her how to do. Since she needs four shots daily, I knew that there was no way with a normal schedule that I could be at her house at breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime, so I suggested to my husband that we go and teach her. I say teach, however, she had already been through training to do it, has been getting shots for nearly two years, and just absolutely refuses to do it herself.
When we arrived, she was eating dinner, provided by a kind neighbor, and she said she had called the neighbor, who called a friend who is a nurse, and the nurse did her dinner shot and offered to come back at 11 PM to do the bedtime one. She asked if I could come back the next morning to do it, and knowing this was putting a bandaid on a limb amputation, I told her I would show her how to do it. This was not measuring medicine into a syringe – it’s a clickable “pen” style insulin – she just had to dial the correct number of clicks. She refused.
Saturday morning, after an all day surgery the day before for my mom, things looked grim. I was headed to meet my stepdad at his and my mom’s house, so Brighid offered to go to my mother-in-law’s house to see if she had given herself her shot. When Brighid arrived, she demanded an ambulance be called because no one was giving her the insulin injections, and her blood sugar level was over 300. I’m not sure how she knew that, because she won’t check her own blood sugars either. When the EMTs arrived, they poked and prodded and tried to find SOME reason to take her into the emergency room, and finally, she told them she was out of breath, and they took her in.
While my father-in-law lay in a hospital bed with his heart impacted by the infection he had, my mother lying in a medically induced coma and on life support at another hospital, my mother-in-law got herself a ride to the ER, where she sat unattended for nearly 24 hours before they finally put her in a Clinical Decision Unit – the place you go when they don’t know what to do with you, but they aren’t sure they can send you home.
When 72 hours in CDU passed, my mother-in-law had herself taken to a nursing home. All because she refused to give herself these insulin shots. She called me to bring clothes, to check her house, to bring her mail, to help her pay her bills – all without a mention or care or concern at all for what I was going through with my mom OR for what was going on with her husband. I ran twice to the nursing home, checked on things at her house, and looked in on my father-in-law.
The last day that I saw my mom alive, I stopped over at my mother-in-law’s house to see what bills she had that needed to be paid urgently. I found none. Her constant pleas for me to forget everything that was going on with my mom to help her were for no reason – the bill due the soonest didn’t have to be paid until after the new year. The constant cries from her for attention were exhausting, wearing on me, making me even more sad to be going through what I was going through with my mom.
To give some brief background – I have always been the one to run and go. I’ve been on vacation and raced to her side when my father-in-law had heart surgery. I’ve left my kids in Jersey and in South Florida to go to Orlando when she needed help with anything. When she suffered her stroke a few years ago, I begged my father-in-law to let Jim come down and help him. We have been there for them at every turn when they’ve needed us – no matter what. This despite the fact that she has two other sons and daughters-in-law. So to have her be so demanding at such a difficult time for me actually pissed me off.
10 days after my mom’s surgery, she passed away. My father-in-law was still in the hospital, expecting to be released possibly in two or three days. My mother-in-law sat, completely attended to, every need being met, all her choice, in a nursing home. We left for Florida the day after my mom died, but Brighid was home and offered to help where she could with her grandfather, knowing that she still had to go to work. On Christmas Eve, he called me to tell me he was being released from the hospital the next day and needed food. I sent Brighid to prepare the kitchen for him – basic foods that he wouldn’t have to cook or work too hard to prepare – microwave or quick fix sandwiches. My mother-in-law complained that she hadn’t been able to provide the grocery list, despite several attempts to call her that went unanswered. Brighid went to the nursing home for her twice, running errands that should not have had to be run if she had only given herself her insulin shot.
During our trip to Florida, Brighid called crying. Her grandfather had called while she was at work, leaving an urgent message for her to call him right away. Having just lost my mother, she was already in a sensitive emotional place, and I think her mind wandered to the worst case scenario when she heard the panic in his voice. The panic was that my mother-in-law was being discharged from the nursing home due to a lack of need for her to be there. He needed more groceries in the house. Brighid herself was physically and emotionally exhausted, and burst into tears when she told me that his “urgent” call was over groceries. I assured her we could take care of it remotely, and would order anything he needed to be delivered from the supermarket.
We called my father-in-law, who fed us a heaping helping of bullshit and lies. The groceries couldn’t be ordered online, he insisted. Neighbors had come over and tried to place the order on his behalf on his computer, but the list of groceries was too extensive. The site kept crashing from the long list of items. There was no way he could get the order processed. Jim immediately set out to see what the problem was, and phoned the local grocery store. They informed him they routinely process orders of well over $500 or $600 without a problem, and there was no limit on their site as to how many items you could order. As for delivery, they could have everything he wanted delivered directly into his kitchen by 10 am the next morning.
My father-in-law refused when we called back to give us the list he claimed to have tried to order. After some prodding, we learned he didn’t have a list. My mother-in-law was going to come up with a list when she arrived home the next day. So he lied to us, and he put Brighid in a state of panic for no reason.
We were leaving for home the next day, and called to make sure my father-in-law was doing okay. He said they had plenty of food for the next two or three days, but we insisted that Jim or I would stop over and place the grocery order for them as soon as we got home. The next day, Jim arrived to have to dig through piles to get to the computer that had allegedly been used just two days prior in the attempt to place the enormous grocery order. The computer clearly hadn’t been used in ages, but immediately connected to the internet – which my mother-in-law has claimed it hasn’t done in two years – and updated. Jim logged into the grocery store website, prepared to be there a while with an enormous grocery order, an in a matter of minutes, had placed their order for $93, which included only a few staples, an unhealthy supply of frozen dinners, and a roast. The groceries would be delivered that day for only a $10 delivery charge – far less than the cost of a taxi back and forth.
My father-in-law made another panicked sounding phone call the day after New Year’s, insisting that we come to the house immediately, as he needed to have prescriptions picked up and he needed to go to the bank. We told him we would pick up the medication for him, and asked what he needed at the bank, as he is not supposed to be out of the house due to his medical condition and visiting nurse restrictions. He said he just needed some cash. We offered to bring him however much money he needed so he had it, assuming he wanted it for delivery person tips or, ummm, what else do you need cash for? In your home? When you can’t leave? Jim asked repeatedly how much money he needed, telling him we would get it for him. He refused, over and over. Finally, he changed his story and said he had to transfer money from one account to another. Jim told him that was no problem. We would either do it online for him, or he could write the necessary checks or withdrawl slips and we would do the banking in person for him. He finally refused and hung up.
We called back after a few hours and asked him about picking up his medication, and he said he would take care of it himself. We told him he was risking losing his visiting nurse benefits if he was going out, and he said he would take care of it.
Jim called him the next day, as my father-in-law had a doctor’s appointment he needed to be at on January 5th, and Jim had offered to take him. He said he didn’t need our help – he got a neighbor to take him.
And at this point, my heart turned to stone. These are people that I have known for more than half of my adult life. For more than 25 years, I have taken them to doctor’s appointments, taken her shopping, brought them out to dinner, taken them on trips with us, helped them with yard sales, picked him up when his car was in the shop – we have never said no when they’ve needed us. I’m not going to say it was one sided. Russell, my father-in-law, has always been willing to help when we’ve lived near each other. They have taken us on vacations with them. Russell always picked Brighid up at school when we lived in Orlando, and he picks Granuaile up from school here. But we have interrupted our lives time and again at my mother-in-law’s whim. We have never said no before.
But the yeses seem to have run out. And my desire to crawl back over there right now, knowing she’s pissed, and beg forgiveness for not being more available these past few weeks – as I would have been inclined to do before – just isn’t there. It isn’t that I don’t care what happens to them or that I wish them ill, but I have yet to hear one word from my mother-in-law on the loss of my mother. My mother-in-law’s sister, with whom we’ve barely had any contact through the years, has done more to offer comfort and condolences than my mother-in-law or father-in-law have.
Does this mean that we move forward from today with the expectation that our relationship with them is over? I don’t know. I know what it means for me is that I’ve done all I can for people who refuse to do anything to help themselves. For years, I’ve said that it really seems like a Sad Sack kind of deal – everything for them gets complicated in some way. Even simple things like going to the grocery store ends with Russell having to make a return trip because some fruit is too sour or some meat looks spoiled once it’s opened to be rewrapped for freezing. Every dinner out includes the return of a food item or a dirty spoon or cup. Each vacation ends with a complaint about food, service, or accommodations – even staying in four star hotels and dining at some of the best restaurants or sailing on the most highly rated ships. Nothing is ever awesome, spectacular, worth repeating. There is no happiness, no celebration, no joy.
And when this past decade has meant a loss of SO much joy for me – first my sister Bean, then my dad, and now my mom,and even Jim’s dad, who had a smile on his face through everything – I can’t surround myself with people who want to suck any bit of pleasure out of every experience. I can’t be around people right now who carry themselves with a woe is me attitude. I don’t want to carry on a conversation with someone who can only focus on themselves as the centerpiece of every discussion – and then only to talk about how miserable life is.
As Monsignor Michael Doyle says, “It’s a Terrible Day, Thanks Be To God!” There is something in every day to be grateful for, even if it’s only the fact that you’ve lived to see another day. So many people don’t get that luxury, that amazing gift. And right now, I don’t want to put my efforts into being brought down by people that just can’t see past their own self inflicted misery to appreciate that.