This post is made in honor of my mother-in-law, Frances Toney, who passed away April 26, 2014.
(First published May 7, 2011, on http://www.theboldpursuit.com)
A woman whom I admired and grew to love now suffers from Alzheimer’s.
I met her when my future husband and I were only coworkers and new friends. She was pretty, with close-cropped silver hair and a trim figure. Quick-witted with a no-nonsense attitude, she appraised me unsmiling where I stood during our introduction.
During the course of dating my future husband, I learned about her career, which was quite impressive. She’d risen quickly in the ranks where she worked, first at a bank and then in state government. Commanding and detail-oriented, she managed a tight ship at home too.
I am not inclined to seek the approval of others; but, for some reason, it was important for me to have hers – along with her love.
As we became better acquainted, she seemed to like me more, offering to do little things for me like picking up an item she knew I needed while she was shopping. At first she expected me to repay her, which I was happy to do.
We learned that we had much in common – gardening, a love of animals, and an appreciation for sound financial management. As our relationship evolved, we became friends, and soon in-laws.
She was one of the most intelligent women I had ever known. There was always something interesting to discuss when we were together. We laughed a lot too. Each time we parted we said, “I love you.”
After she retired and my father-in-law passed away, I began to notice that conversations between us became increasingly one-sided. She would often change the direction of our conversation and ramble about something unrelated to the subject that we were discussing.
After a series of more serious episodes, Alzheimer’s was suspected. She was tested and diagnosed. Her sons began managing her life: monitoring her medications, making sure she was eating properly, and paying her bills. They continued to care for their mother until she required 24-hour assisted living in a retirement home.
It was difficult to watch her mind deteriorate so quickly over a few years and to accept this condition as her fate. Each time I’d visit her, I would try to elicit some memory of our past together. My efforts were not always successful.
Recently, I decided that I wanted to decorate a particular spot in my kitchen with a houseplant. I’m usually not a fan of houseplants; I consider them a nuisance. I knew that the plant known as a mother-in-law’s tongue would require little attention. My husband purchased one for me.
I yearn to tell my mother-in-law about my plant. I want to tease her about her own tongue, which was sometimes as sharp and pointed as these leaves, but I don’t think she would understand my affectionate jest.
Unlike my plant, it is not easy caring for my mother-in-law because of this life and memory-depriving disease. However, she deserves the best care we can give her.
Your family will miss you, Frances.