Jane died in early February. She’d been vaccinated and boosted for Covid, and contracted it anyway. All but a few members of her memory care community tested positive for Covid. And like most, Jane only had the sniffles at first. In a week sniffles turned into pneumonia and she was not up for the challenge.
She was admitted to hospice on a Sunday. I was able to visit her on Wednesday. She was non-responsive. I talked to her about all sorts of topics: Gardening, her spectacular artistic talents, a promise I’d made to her in January, that she looked so comfortable and relaxed, and that she should let (the collective) us take care of everything. All she needed to do was be cozy and content. I also borrowed the words of my late former husband, her son, “Mom, no matter what happens, it’ll be (her included) OK. It’s OK.” A couple of staff came and went while I was there. We shared a few minutes of conversation. I was honored to help them understand a little more about who Jane was, had been. I placed empty vases under the sink, placed greeting cards in a wooden display box on the counter, and threw out extraneous scraps of paper. I am nothing if not a control freak.
For the first time in our 40-year relationship I came to understand our distinct commonalities that day. Mine and Jane’s relationship did not start on the best of foundations… Her son and I were ‘living in sin.’ This was my first intro to my future mom-in-law! My parents didn’t get married until I was 9 (There’s more to that story for another day.), so the words, “Living in Sin” were not only alien, but abrasive. And this from a woman who was on her fourth (and best) marriage 💕. I use this example to paint the portrait of the formidable future mama in law an 18-year old was presented with. While we got through all that, including the divorce, Jane was always a force to be reckoned with. She was tough, opinionated, independent until she wasn’t, smart, a little scary, and forged her own path during a time when women were not celebrated for doing so.
There was growing appreciation between us, going both ways over the years, and I was deeply touched when she told me how devastated she was when her son and I divorced. It was the first time she expressed direct value in me. This conversation happened after my first husband passed away. Until he passed, he was her primary contact for the greater family. After his death, my eldest daughter and I became her primary family people.
People have asked my why I kept up the contact, why I gave a damn. Let me tell you what I told them: When my dad and his first wife divorced, my grandparents Always kept in touch with dad’s first wife (also a Jane!). She was always included in the big family functions. To this day, I am in touch with my father’s first wife. My grandparents treated my first husband the same way. They set an example of how people, how families, treat each other. Just because your kids and grandkids can’t live with their spouses any longer does not mean you abandon your personal relationships with those people. The same thing works going uphill. No matter how wonky the relationship started out, and how challenging it could be at times, family is family, no matter who’s married to who. This was the example my grandparents gifted to their family.
It took until Jane was at the end of her tenure, when there was nothing more I could do for her, nothing more she could ask of me, to really understand just how much we had in common. Our active relationship had kept me from seeing many of our similarities. In the presence of her somnolence things became clearer.
There are a lot of reasons for the lack of clarity over the years, not all of them my fault, and I was naturally influenced by my first husband’s relationship with his mom. Jane had to be right, and sometimes, it seemed, had to make others wrong to bolster her position. Dementia softened a lot of this for her.
We both loved quilting, sewing, gardening, house plants, yarns and fabric (both of which she gave me some of a number of years ago)… The tactile arts. She was a stellar painter. Gallery worthy. She could paint in cross-stitch, embroider, and knit. She was, like I am, a Master Gardener. We both canned… Put foods by (our cave girl brains asserting themselves!), and we both kept stores of dried/canned foods for emergencies (ours all need replacing right now!). We were so alike in so many ways, and still so different. I am thankful to wrap myself up in these realizations and memories as I miss her spunk and transparent personality. 💜