The Permission Speech

August 8, 2012

Mother looks so small lying in bed, even smaller in her wheel chair.  Today she ate.  Some days she sleeps all day now.  Other days her eyes may open, but she will steadfastly hold her lips tight denying passage of any food.  When she does this, her caregivers and the hospice team exhale less comfortably.  We all know that one day she will refuse to eat signaling the beginning of the final phase of life.

I really hate watching her die.  It grinds deeply into my soul, carving canyons of pain, canyons that were etched just last year when my husband, Bob, died.   To save myself I write, hopefully honoring those who have passed before me with truth, and when possible humor.  And Miss Elma, as Bob called his mother-in-law, was smart, kind, and could crack one-liners that would have dissolved Johnny Carson into chest-heaving giggles.  It was that way for Bob.

He adored Miss Elma; and she him.  What he loved most was her dedication to him.  She would sit at the table and listen intently to the two of us, sometimes sparing over a current event, sometimes discussing the price of eggs.  The topic never really mattered to her.  Her comment was always the same.

Photo of Miss Elma

Photo of Miss Elma

“Jeanette, dear, can’t you see that Bob is right?”  In the early years, I refrained from laughing out loud smiling only silently as though fearful of reinforcing this behavior.  Bob would nod his head, and in his genteel manner say with a slight Southern drawl, “Why thank you, Miss Elma.”

Over time, maintaining decorum was impossible.  One day, Bob and I were discussing a topic about which neither of us knew much.  It could have been thermonuclear dynamics.  As the questions and comments flew between me and Bob, we paused momentarily.  It was a brief moment, but long enough for Mom to interject herself into a topic of which she knew nothing.  Zip.  Nada.  Didn’t matter.

She looked straight at me, and in her most lady like voice said, “Jeanette, dear, can’t you see that Bob is right?”  Her eyes were wide showing a sly touch of mirth, just enough to betray herself.  I began to laugh.

“She always agrees with you, Bob!”  He leaned back in his chair, his laughter uncontrolled, his eyes tearing as he attempted to compose himself just enough to pay homage to this woman he loved like his own mother.

“Miss Elma, I couldn’t ask for a better mother-in-law.”

If she could talk today, able to compose whole sentences in her ailing mind, she would be the first to tell anyone willing to listen that she could not have asked for a better son-in-law.

As for me, I won on both counts.

© 2012 Jeanette Reese

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