Today I went to see my 96-year-old mother-in-law who is bedridden, barely able to move and living with Alzheimer’s. I went to say good-bye. I thought that this might be the last time that I saw her. I wanted closure and to know that for one last time I told her that I loved her and always appreciated her kindness and support of me.
I was prepared to be sad and, at the same time, I was afraid of feeling sad. I sat in the car deliberating. Should I go or did I want to remember her as she was thirty years ago? Would this frail, helpless woman be the lasting image I had of her or could I integrate it into the full picture of her life? I decided to go and accept her dying as a part of her life. I wanted to be with her as she was preparing to transition.
When I walked in, her unfocused eyes were cast down toward a fold in the blanket. My heart overflowed with love. I immediately started talking to her. I put my face in front of hers and kissed her cheek. I crawled in bed next to her and held her and stroked her hair. Everyone needs to be touched. I sang songs that I sang to my children, then talked to her about turquoise jewelry in Santa Fe and how to make borscht. I wasn’t lamenting all of the parts of her that were lost. I didn’t need her to be anything. I just felt happy to be with her. It was about love… hers and mine. She started to move her head and look at me. She grasped onto my scarf and moved her hands in circles. I made it into an exercise routine. She smiled and made some sounds as she grasped onto my hands. She is still strong!
There was not a clear time for me to go. After a few more hugs and kisses I left knowing that walking away would always be hard. Luckily, my visit was replaced by her warm, pureed lunch. I left feeling fulfilled. Love needs no language. It is a cyclical exchange that expands and amplifies, energizes and enlivens. My love for her or hers for me? It’s all the same. Either way, my cup was full.