17 Sep
I Miss My Mother-in-law


My mother-in-law has been experiencing excruciating pain in her mid-to-lower back. She can barely walk, and, at ninety-five, her entire body wants to quit. I took her to the doctor this weekend in hopes of finding a better treatment for her pain. With my help, she willed her body from the car, into the office, and finally made the last few steps into the examining room. The doctor quickly had a plan for a new approach; he would give her localized injections rather than more oral medication. I was hopeful.

Unfortunately, she had to be in an awkward position to receive these injections. It took almost half an hour to get her into place. When the doctor finished, it took three people, the better part of an hour, to help her off the table. I went to get the car while two sympathetic, caring men, one a nurse and one a doctor, walked her toward the door. She understood they were caring for, and she smiled at them. I saw a glimmer of her previous self.

It was definitely time to have her measured for a walker. She has resisted this for years. She has always felt sorry for "old people." In fact, she has often told me she would never leave her room if she needed to use one of those ugly, wheeled carts. I braced myself for the impending protest.

First, we had lunch in a restaurant near the specialty store that sells walkers. She ate everything on her plate. She instructed me to give the young waitress a generous tip. At that moment, I saw another glimmer of her previous self.

We strolled, slowly, toward the specialty shop. We stopped at every bench, so my mother-in-law could rest. Her face often contorted into pain. As we looked into the shop windows from our bench, she told me, optimistically, that she planned to buy a new fall wardrobe when her back got better. We talked about coats and boots. I enjoyed the days when we could shop together.  

After a long slow walk, we arrived at our location, only to discover the store had moved to the other side of the mall; I felt like weeping. I offered to get her a wheelchair from the hospitality desk. She scoffed at me. We proceeded for another twenty minutes - three steps - find a bench - three more steps - and find a bench. Bruises formed on my upper arm, where her fingers grasped my flesh; she was in agony.  

We entered the new store. The clerk recognized me from my caregiving days with my father. It took only five minutes to size my mother-in-law for the proper walker. We suggested she go for a test drive. I pried her fingers from my arm and placed her hands on the walker, and, in a few seconds, she took a step. It was like she had entered a race. She showed us just how fast she could walk. We asked if she could put on the brakes. Of course, she could. Could she turn around and sit down on it? Of course, she could. She was showing off, and that was a good sign. I was delighted.  

I quickly paid for the walker, but when my mother-in-law realized we were buying it, she instructed me to have them put it on hold. She would let them know when she was ready for it. Perhaps my joy had been premature. I signed the warranty papers, collected our belongings, and placed her purse in the basket of the walker. I started to leave the store, hoping she would follow. She would need to use the walker if she planned to come with me. My heart ached. I felt the way I did when I left my eldest daughter at kindergarten, on a day when she didn’t want to attend. My mother-in-law decided to follow me. I told her we were going to the car. She said she would wait on the bench. I told her that with her new walker, she could wait outside in the sunshine.

I helped her park her walker near a lovely planter. It was a warm day. I walked across the parking lot, which seemed to go for miles to get my car. When I looked back, I saw the tiny old lady she had become, sitting on a walker, hanging her head. Sadness and sympathy swept gently over me.  

We were both quiet on the way home. When we parked, I placed the walker, with the brakes on, near her open car door. Before I could make a plan, she had made it out of the car, turned around and sat down on it. I asked her if she needed to rest before walking into the building. She replied, “You can push me in, Maureen.”

In that moment, it seemed like a wheelchair to her. The fatigue and worry of the long day got the better of me, and I started to giggle. In response, she laughed. As I wiped away my tears, I told her that her feet would drag if I pushed her. She told me she’d hold them up. Of course, when we tried, she couldn’t. We laughed. She stood, turned around, and began to walk. She passed a row of people, sitting on their walkers, enjoying the sun. She was too proud to make eye contact. My mother-in-law walked, independently, through the doors and into the elevator. Her walker became entangled with the walkers of the other passengers. She seemed agitated.   

As we arrived on her floor, she tried to exit the elevator without the walker. I held my ground silently. She begrudgingly took the handles and began to walk. It was almost suppertime. She told me she needed to comb her hair and put on lipstick. I saw a glimmer of her previous self. I was so proud of her for wanting to fix up. She took the walker into the bathroom, which was big enough for these helping devices. I combed her thick silver hair. She put on her lipstick. We walked toward the door, side by side, she with her walker and me carrying her laundry.

Then, she stopped, looked into my eyes and said, “Maureen, I can’t go to the dining room tonight. I can’t make conversation.” She took the walker to the couch, parked it, put on the brakes, and eased herself into place. Soon after, a lovely man came to her door and offered to take her downstairs. I told him she had experienced a rather big day and wouldn’t be going to dinner. He offered to bring her a tray. She gratefully accepted.

I kissed her on the cheek and promised I would see her the next afternoon. As I left her room, she was peaceful. With her eyes closed and a blanket on her lap, she looked like a child.

When she needs help with a simple task, she often quotes her husband’s grandfather, who used to say, “Once a man, twice a child.” Lately, she has been saying that more frequently. 

Above, my mother-in-law enjoys a coffee in the garden at her residence (September 2015). For a glimpse of the 54-year journey I have had with my husband's mom, please read about our Christmas tradition.

Remember, click the highlighted words to go directly to the story. 









Comments (9)

  • Isabelle Mills
    September 20, 2015 at 08:18 pm

    Your mother in law is so blessed to have you to help her as life ebbs away. You have had extensive training in this role and I admire and love you for your caring.

  • Dianne Peterson
    September 19, 2015 at 07:45 pm

    Well this one brought tears to my eyes. I can just see her resisting, not wanting to accept the need for a walker. I remember visiting her shortly after she moved to her condo, we walked over to Market Mall for a coffee. As we approached the Mall she told me that the food court would be full of "old people with white hair, but I guess I'm one of them". I am so sorry to hear about her pain issues I hope it can be resolved. Thank you for a great story, it moved me!

  • ralph johnstone
    September 19, 2015 at 09:15 am

    You penned a wonderful, poignant story of caring, love and companionship about your relationship with Mrs. H. Very touching and heartfelt. Bless you.

  • Marion Murawsky
    September 18, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    Maureen, You are an amazing daughter in law. It has been wonderful having you bring Mrs. H up to our shop this past year or so. She is an amazing woman and I know she loves you so much. Her wit and sense of humour have made our visits so touching and fun. Love you both, Marion

  • Nicki Ault
    September 18, 2015 at 06:36 pm

    Maureen, you are an angel on earth. So sorry to hear Mom H is in pain. XO

  • Susan Hansen
    September 18, 2015 at 03:00 pm

    What a beautiful story, Maureen! We just moved Dick's 92 yr old mother into a retirement community fighting all the way! She is now the center of social activity!! The newsletter had a picture of her off of her walker bowling!! Of course the ball was about 4 oz!! I hear she is quite the black jack player too!! Her life is no longer lonely. She has all the companionship she needs, whenever she feels like it. I hope that all goes well for your mother-in-law!

  • bill and val hodge
    September 18, 2015 at 01:16 pm

    hope you get this. we are going out to winterize the bus this weekend. it seems like we just got it ready for summer. great article about marg. so sorry she is in pain. we are both so lucky to have had such great inlaws. i just hope you save a little time for you, i worry about you overextending yourself but i guess your stamina is one of the reasons we love you so much. please take care of yourself. love billy and val

  • Gayle senger
    September 18, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Maureen. As always you write an awesome article.. and you are a very special lady. So kind and caring. It has been a pleasure to know and appreciate your wondrrful qualities. Take care sweet girl!!

  • Deanna Turetski
    September 18, 2015 at 09:13 am

    Loved your story. We all have to go through this with our parents. It's so sad to watch a parent in pain when at one time they were so active. They took care of us through childhood, teenage years and even watch over us when we are adults. It is now our turn to take care of them.

Let us know what you think