Tiny bumps in the road

This isn’t exactly the cheeriest opening but: My mother-in-law died last Wednesday. It was a good death, and by that I mean that she did not linger long, she did not struggle, and she went on the terms she wished. I should know. I was there to care for her.

What’s funny is that my mother-in-law did not like me. I know there are many of us who feel that way, but I know she did not like me. She actively plotted for my husband to leave me for the girlfriend he had before me. She thought -sometimes rightfully so- that I bring too much stress and not enough happiness into her son’s life. Needless to say, I would avoid her frequently. I didn’t often answer her texts, and I wasn’t sorry that I had to work when family gatherings came up.

And yet at the end, I found myself providing care for her. I advocated for her wishes to die in her bed at home to be honored even when that meant difficulty for the rest of us. Her choices to refuse recommendations of taking pain medication, using her bedside commode and using oxygen were frustrating, but I chose to support her through those choices. When she seemed like she might allow those things, I encouraged her to make use of them.

The last seven days of my mother-in-law’s life were spent finally getting to know each other as we truly are. They were spent in the mundane tasks where real life and relationships reside: toileting, massaging, dancing, singing, cooking, cleaning, repositioning, transferring and simply being quiet together. If only we had bothered to inhabit that space together years ago…

This weehaw journey is full of turbulence and, sometimes, we keep right on in the rockiness instead of picking another path. What appeared to be an insurmountable cliff was really just a tiny bump in the road. I wonder what other paths might be more peaceful if we just try to walk a little bit further. Perhaps we will discover what I did at the very end of this road: another broken woman, arms outstretched, whispering “I need you.”

Weehaw!

A thirty-something father takes his two young daughters out for a ride in his single-engine airplane on a lovely Florida afternoon. All is well. His girls understand what he must do: pre-flight checks, plotting his course with maps, talking on the radio, etc. They love flying with their dad and he loves flying with them.

Eventually the pilot sees storm clouds. He tries to navigate around them, but he can’t. He hears there are tornadoes close by – he has to land, and soon! His whole body strains with the effort to keep the plane under his control, finally landing at a small runway and rushing the girls inside the hangar.

His daughters are grinning. They have no concept of danger. All they can say is, “That was like a roller-coaster! Let’s do it again, Daddy!”

Years later, the father is now a grandfather. His arms ache from pushing his granddaughters on the swings over and over again. These two little girls can’t get high enough, fast enough. Their delighted shrieks slow as the man stops sending them into the air. They dismount and grab his hands, echoing the sentiment their mother and aunt expressed all those years ago.

“Papa, that was weehaw! THAT was weehaw!”

Whether we’re white-knuckling it through a sudden and unexpected storm or we are happily gliding along a chosen trajectory, we must remember that life is messy. Life is full of the unexpected. Life is hilarious, heartbreaking and somehow both at once. Life, well…

Life is Weehaw.