Tuesday, December 18, 2018

All she left behind

We lost my mother-in-law last week to breast cancer.  She was 80 years old.

The last few weeks have been rough on my house.  We visited her each weekend the past month so she could see her grandchildren.  Viking was by her side for much of the time, she had decided against intervention, having undergone radiation and a double mastectomy ten years ago. She was fortunate to have the means to have a hospice nurse visit her daily.  Late last week my father-in-law had to go into the hospital himself - it was a prostate scare, he's fine, but his being admitted meant that she could no longer be at home.  She was transferred to a residential care unit at their retirement community and died later that night. It was peaceful and she was not in pain.

Niblet took it hard, and realized that she carries memories of her grandmother that her sister will never have. Viking is as good as could be expected, he has good days and bad.

I'm working through so many emotions.  My MIL was viewed by the world as a saint.  To some extent she was.  All of her outer life was lived for her husband and children.  I mean all of it.  She had many views that were a relic of the 50's.  My brother-in-law liked to joke that his parents stopped evolving in 1962, just before the British invasion. I was something of an alien to her: a Jewish New Yorker.  That I was a lawyer wasn't so shocking.  That I was a former dancer who continued dancing even after my professional days ended was ("Why would you pursue something that caused injuries?  You really danced every day even when you went to high school? Are you sure Niblet is safe pursuing ballet as you did?") I remember once lamenting not being able to get out of the house when Niblet was born and colicky.  I missed seeing other women.  I missed decompressing in a dance class, I missed enjoying a meal where I didn't have to try to eat while feeding another person.

"Those days are over for you right now," she said to me.  "Your needs have to be put on hold."

I recall being so resentful of this at the time. I was nursing and up every 2 hours.  I needed a shower and a massage. Was that really so selfish?

Looking back I have *so* much more sympathy for her.  She was, in fact, alone when she was raising her first son, her husband away in the Navy.  She was isolated.  I'll bet money she suffered from PPD without a support network, it was just what a young American mother was expected to do.

She had an inner life that most of us could only really scratch the surface of.  She looked like Grace Kelly (for real, she was stunningly beautiful as a young woman). She loved gardening.  Writing letters. (I've both vented and joked a ton about some of those letters on this blog, they were at times hilarious in their formality, and at times infuriating). She once told me she was interested in anthropology and would have studied it more in college if she could.  She wasn't interested at all in clothes or fashion or jewelry.  She enjoyed classical music, and could play piano, though she never did in front of us, even when we got our own piano - as it happens my FIL was a trained music major in college conservatory, and I imagine she stopped playing once he came into the picture.  Playing piano for an audience - even family members - was HIS thing. She was an awesome swimmer, once a lifeguard in her teens. She was fiercely in love with her husband and devoted to her sons. And loved her grandchildren. Both of them, despite her misgivings about my decision to have a second.  Babies made her smile.  

She was also a hoarder.  Oh man.  The boxes.  I mean BOXES.

But she gave me my Viking.  With all of his flaws (the hoarding tendencies inherited from her FO SHO).  

Her obituary was short - she was a wife of 57 years, mother to two surviving sons, grandmother to two grandchildren, sister to two surviving brothers.  That's it.  She refused to have a funeral, my BIL attributing this to her "unwavering modesty."  

In Judaism we say of the dead, "May their memory be for blessing."  Never have these words rung more true.  Her legacy is captured in our memories and it's our responsibility to ensure it lives on.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

It's been difficult to write

Writing has been a challenge.  Ideas flow into my head on posts all the time.  Then the realities of my day to day intervene and suddenly it's December.  How did it get to be December?

I'm waiting for the day when I'm matter of fact about the fact that Samantha is woven into the fabric of my family.  I'm still not there. I am and I'm not.  We have this baby - this sick cute, hilarious, snuggly little baby in our home and she has her father's face and to a great extent her sisters face.  And she's obsessed with me.  OBSESSED, and I'm absolutely her favorite human and I'm starting to think it's not just the milk I still produce.

And sometimes when we're driving I share her origin story with her.  It's something that I think will improve with practice.  We want - no really *I* want for this story to be, well, a nothingburger in her life.  The matter of fact hand of her genetics, not some scandalous revelation, or the topic of a very very special episode of family conversation.  My eggs were damaged.  I was fortunate to be donated some good ones.  We made a baby.  A baby that is biologically mine, even if genetically she isn't.

Niblet has good days and bad days, though mostly good.  She is starting to allow herself to be charmed by this tiny blob with big blue eyes, rather than feel threatened by her. She's protective of her in ways that make our nanny both smile and sigh, but we are all generally still feeling the endorphin rush of "THIS BABY IS REALLY HERE"

But maybe it's the still not sleeping through the night, maybe it's the times we live in, maybe it's the climate report of doom, maybe it's the family stress where parents are getting sick while Viking in I are like gerbils running on a wheel.... I'm spent.  And I feel guilty for saying that, like survivor's guilt.

I watched the movie "Private Life" with Paul Giamatti and Katherine Hahn, and OMG I was a fucking wreck afterwards.  The pain of that infertile couple was too real, it all hit too close to home, and when I was done I realized just how lucky I was to have Samantha - and Niblet - in my life.

What have I done to be so fortunate?  How will I ever be able to give my due to the universe for doing me such a monumental solid?  I mean sure, raising empathic children who aren't sociopaths is a good start....