I met my husband’s mother-in-law for the first time in August. She had just had a Carotid Endarterectomy, the procedure to remove fatty plaque from neck arteries. She been having trouble speaking and her doctors came to the conclusion she’d had a stroke. My own dad had the same procedure in the fall of 2005 after a serious of TIA’s left him unable to use his left leg or speak clearly. The day we met she was obviously very tired and in pain, but she was very kind and welcoming to me and to my daughter. I can’t even begin to imagine what she was feeling, seeing me with Rob, but I am sure that it hurt – though she really didn’t let it show in my presence. At the time my thoughts were that Shelley had to have been an even more amazing person than I had originally suspected to have family who were so willing, and able, to put their own grief aside for Rob’s happiness. And I still think that to a degree though since meeting more of her extended family I have modified my thoughts a bit because hers seems like one of those families for whom closeness is a natural and a good thing. Not that they don’t have their moments, like all families do, but what I have seen and learned leads me to believe they are a pretty great group overall.
The last time I saw Leona was in September when the family gathered at her brother Raymond’s farm for the scattering of his ashes and for the internment of some of Shelley’s ashes under the tree in the front yard where she and Rob were married. Again, it had to have been an extremely tough day for her. And again she was wonderful. I am not sure I could have risen to meet such circumstances so well. Indeed I am sometimes very humbled by the grace and generosity with which my husband’s late wife’s family has demonstrated.
Not long ago, it was discovered that Leona had not had a stroke but was suffering from ALS and that the form of the illness that afflicted her was one of the aggressive types. Rob and the girls went up north yesterday to see her in the hospital because she had taken a turn for the worse over the last week and it was unlikely she would survive to see them at the Christmas visit that had been planned.
I didn’t go along, though I wanted desperately to do so. It is hard enough to be away from Rob under ordinary circumstances and much more so when I know that he needs me. And though I don’t push myself on either of the girls, because I am not their mother, it doesn’t keep me from worrying about them or hurting for them. But I had to make Katy the priority and stay behind. We agreed that she couldn’t be subject to another death from a close up perspective at this point in her life.
Rob called me this morning very early. He hadn’t been to bed. I had last heard from him a bit after midnight when he and the girls were leaving the hospital to head out to the farm to get some sleep. His tone made my arms ache to be around him. I could feel how much he needed to be supported through his voice. He told me that Leona’s laboured breathing was stirring up memories of Shelley’s last hours and I knew what he meant without further explanation. It takes very little to bring those last hours and minutes of Will’s to my mind. He told me that they had no sooner gotten to the farm then they were called back to the hospital because Leona had died. All I could do was tell him I was sorry and listen to him talk a bit. The only other thing would have been to take him in my arms and I wasn’t there to do that. He gave me the number he could be reached at and promised he was going to go straight to bed to sleep. For how long I don’t know and worry that it won’t be long enough. My husband is a rock that too many people lean on, me included and I worry.
Leona is with her daughter now, hopefully enjoying their reunion, and her suffering is over. But, like most people, I don’t understand why this has happened or timing of it. Fairness is once again called into question and I wonder if there is even such a thing or did humans simply make the concept up to express their frustration with the ways and whimsy of this universe?