Death & Guilt: Living with Regret as I cope with the loss of my mother-in-law

Posted March 20, 2017 by Jenn in Life / 2 Comments

As I started writing this, it grew to something massive and even still I feel what it has become is not adequate enough.  No matter how many times I stare at the words, reread and write it just feels like it is not enough. Even still, buckle in for a bit of a read.

First let me give you the story, the simplified facts as they happened.

In the early part of January my mother-in-law passed away.  It happened suddenly to an extent, we knew something was coming but we thought we had more time.

Getting Blood to battle the anemia after the diagnosis

It was a week after Thanksgiving weekend that we first got the inkling something was wrong. She had told my husband she was going to the ER because she was extremely fatigued. She was in California visiting friends to winter over in a better climate.  She told him  she had been fatigued ever since leaving our house at the end of September but it had gotten worst.  I could give all the details, but honestly I have relived in my head and to others so many times it just isn’t something I want to do.  It was because of that hospital visit it was found that she had colon cancer AND lung cancer.  They told her they were optimistic that surgery and treatment would help.  My husband and her other kids went to be with her at her main visit with a Doctor in December.  My husband and his brother then drove her to our house after, a pit stop on the way to his brothers house were it had been determined she would stay while receiving treatment.  The roads were bad, snow slowed things down. A 7 hour trip took 12.  The girls were already in bed when they arrived.  They were only staying the one night because they were in a rush to make it to a doctors appointment that was scheduled just two day later.  I stayed up to chat and talk but they were all tired and the girls were already asleep.  Max spoke with his mom though and asked her to sleep in  Addie’s bed with her.  He told me when he came to bed “I think this is the last time she will get to hold her in her arms.”

They left the next morning, 5 minutes after I left to take the girls to school.  They had about 2 hours together that morning.  It would be the last time my girls saw their grandmother in person, held her, hugged her, got to play.  She was originally suppose to come for a visit the following week, a plane ticket purchased as her Christmas gift, all this before the diagnosis.  Plans had to be changed, the girls of course sad and disappointed.  She was concerned though when I spoke with her that one night on their stay over before going on, that she had enough gifts for them for Christmas. I promised her she did, that I finished things up and took care of it.  I even showed her that night the gifts they picked out that would be coming from her.  She wanted me to get something for my husband, her son.  I promised I would take care of it.

Christmas Morning

We FaceTimed Christmas morning and she watched them open their presents from her. I could tell it was different, she was a bit distracted.  She probably wished instead too that she was there like she had gotten to be for the 3-4 years prior.

It was but 5 days later as my husband prepared for work on a Thursday morning that the call came that while in another town, at a hotel with his brother as they waited for her surgery that was scheduled to happen the following day, that she collapsed.  Massive strokes, at least 2. From a blood clot in the colon.  She wouldn’t recover.  She was aware enough at times to hold my husband’s hand and pat his head but slowly her body finally let go.

She is gone.  She is gone and will never hold my girls again, scratch my husbands feet, watch my girls grow or send them a card from their “Homey.” (My youngest pronounced grammy ->Haahmmie and she forever since signed her cards “Homey”)

And that is the bare bones of it.

It wasn’t suppose to happen like this. It never is, is it?  She was suppose to live for another 10 years at least. Another 10 to annoy me I jokingly cried to my husband.

You see, I didn’t have the greatest of relationships with her.  Like many women my relationship with my mother-in-law was strained, though I wished like many other women, that I had had a great relationship with her. She wasn’t mean, she wasn’t a bad person.  I would always tell anyone when I tried to explain my relationship with her that she is. . . was. . . a good woman.  She always wanted to help everyone out.  She was more than happy to help even when she shouldn’t of had to.

But our relationship started off a bit strained.  She was living with my husband when he and I first met.  He asked me to move in maybe 4 months after we started to see each other.  Then he took it back because she had voiced some displeasure with that idea.  So yeah, he took back his offer, and that hurt me and started us off on the wrong foot.  Then when I finally did move in it felt like I was in her domain. She never did anything to make me feel bad, or to make it feel like it was her house not mine.  I just felt more guest than anything else.  She finally moved out after her friend suggested she give us some space. I only know this is why she moved because her friend mentioned it to me one time when we met.  Issues in our marriage revolved around my husband not wanting to hurt her feelings over something so preferring to upset me.  It took a while for this issue to become resolved and even though it did, even though he became comfortable in asking her when she was visiting and for how long and letting her know she couldn’t stay indefinitely, there was always a fear that her feelings would win over mine again.

Not long after we moved to Montana she did too because her other son moved there also.  She would constantly be around then it it bugged me, and while it seems petty and stupid, something even at the time I realized, I couldn’t make myself feel different.  Even knowing this I couldn’t get past my feelings, our relationship was just strained for me. There is more, there always is to a story but it is just so unimportant to share or try and explain.

She never hid her desire to want to live with us, I never hid my desire (at least with my husband) for her not to. When we were house hunting this past June I overheard her on his phone after he told her we just looked at a house, her response “Does it have a mother-in-law unit?”  The glare of death I gave my husband then would have melted lesser men. She had made her plans quite obvious when we moved, she told my mother and then me that she did in fact plan on moving to the town we were moving to too. She didn’t know exactly when but she was tired of NE Montana’s cold and wanted to be around the girls.

Inside I was flipping out.  There would be no possible way for her to move to the same town and support herself, the rent alone would eat all of her money up.  The only way she could move here would have been if she moved in with us.  I vented, I stressed, I flipped out and my husband knew her moving in with us wasn’t going to happen without the consequence of me going sideways.  He talked to her one day not long after we made the move.  Explained to her the hard truth that she wouldn’t be able to find a place to move into on her own to live out here.

She came out for a 10 day visit after, on her way out to California, over my husbands birthday.  I used the time to seclude myself in my office to work while she hung out with the girls.  After she left my husband told me she confided in him that she felt I didn’t like her, that I avoided her during her visit and just stayed in my office.  I was mad, indignant.  Asked him if the fact that he worked the whole time and took no time off was any different than me working during that time.  I had interacted with her, I’d done the small talk each day.  But no, I didn’t give her much warmth. I felt awkward, I didn’t know how to let my issues go.  And I thought to myself, she will be back soon enough anyways.  Maybe I will be more cordial then.

For Thanksgiving we decided to visit my family. It had been over a year and half since I last saw them, since my girls last saw my parents on something other than FaceTime. She heard where we were going and because she was just 2 hours from there she decided she would come up to see the girls again too, it had been 6 weeks since she last saw them.  I told my husband though, that I wanted the trip to be about my parents. That she had lived in the same town as our girls for the past 3 years, seeing them all the time, having sleep overs, playing, etc. I wanted my girls to have the time to get to know my family, to make that connection with my parents.  So it was agreed she would come for Thanksgivings day but the other days would be a focus on my family. She hung out with my husband and the girls some. I remember peaking in and finding her napping durning the afternoon with my husband right next to her.  Her birthday was on the following Monday when we would already be home so I had scrambled to get a her a gift the days before Thanksgiving.  I’ve never known what to get her and my husband was never much help.  She ended up with a brag book to carry around of the girls and. . . a date book.  So she could keep track of all her appointments over the next year. . . man hindsights a bitch.  Just thinking about that gift makes me cry something awful.

A week later is when it all went south and all I could think was “She was suppose to live another 10 years, she was suppose to be the thorn in my side for so much longer.”

Hindsight is always 20/20, so many woulda couldas to contend with.  I regret so much. I regret not spending more time with her back in October, I regret not being more easy going when it came to her. I regret not taking more pictures of her! I took so many more when Addie was younger but hardly any once we had Coco. And you know why?! Because at events, by the time we had Coco, I was resenting her constant presence. The fact she was there and my family wasn’t. The fact that we would be somewhere and my children would be more excited to see her than spend the time with me.  So I stopped wanting to take pictures, figuring why doesn’t my husband, it is his mother anyways.  Then after I had to tell my children that their “Homey” was not going to be able to talk to them anymore the first thing Addie asked for was pictures.  I spent the morning finding all that I could and hating that there weren’t more.

I live with so much regret and guilt.  It could be so easy to say “Be nicer to your mother-in-laws if you don’t have a great relationship” but see I can’t. We live life with the set of knowledge and information we have in that moment. I live with regret now, she was suppose to live another 10 years.  That is the funny thing with life, it likes to mess with your expectations.  It doesn’t matter if it isn’t fair, that I mourn and cry for a woman I didn’t treat as well as I should have, because that is life. Unpredictable and indiscriminating in how it proceeds forth.

I miss her, I miss what my children will never have again because she LOVED THEM. She loved them so much. She lived to do for our girls. She should have been at my daughter’s assembly several weeks ago, sitting amongst us while I rolled my eyes that she was yet again there. But she wasn’t and I missed her, missed her for my children and for my husband. She deserved to be there.  I see someone with her car driving around and it is like a punch to my emotions.  I walk into a store that she visited with us just once here, and think “There should have been more visits.”

I live with regret and guilt. I have no recent photos of her holding Coco.  I hate that.  And I miss her. I just fucking miss her. She should be here still, it doesn’t feel real that she is gone and each time the realization hits me that she is gone the pain is fresh and raw yet again.


2 responses to “Death & Guilt: Living with Regret as I cope with the loss of my mother-in-law

  1. Sarah B

    I’m so sorry, Jenn! I have a wonderful relationship with my mother in law, but I’ve had similar times of exasperation with my own mother. I think losing my father while I was pregnant with my twins has helped me gain more patience with my mom, but I know exactly how you feel when you say you just couldn’t behave any differently around her at certain times. Even when your mind is being rational, sometimes your heart and feelings just won’t follow along. I think it’s impossible to live with no regrets; we’re all just doing the best we can every day and we learn from our own mistakes in hopes that we can avoid making them again.

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