The Mother-in-law Tongue


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


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.





5 thoughts on “The Mother-in-law Tongue

  1. I’m sorry for your loss, Cynthia. I never knew the name of that plant. That’s a cute joke I’m sure she appreciates now.


    • Thank you, Sparks. It gives me peace to know she is not sick any longer, mentally or physically. She is probably laughing with me now! The plant is also known as a snake plant, but I never saw the resemblance. 🙂


      • I can see where it kind of looks like a bunch of cobras dancing, maybe.
        I lost my father-in-law two years ago, April 6th. He’d been horribly sick off and on again literally all my husband’s life (courtesy of injuries suffered in Vietnam). In fact, we’d been dating less than a year when he was given 6 months by the doctors. But God pulled him through time and again – to see us married, to see our daughter born, to see his other son married and hold his first grandson through them – 12 years later he finally was released from his pains and went to be with the Lord. The loss is a little easier to bear when you know they are restored whole with Him. 🙂


  2. I am so sorry for your loss. The same thing is happening with my father right now. He still has periods of clarity and we are learning to seize the moment and cherish the memories. Bittersweet.


  3. Pingback: The Scriblerians | Looking back and moving forward

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