A Memoir Discussion

With Rob on forced rest as he recuperates from the abscess, we have had time to sit and discuss ideas for the memoir I have been threatening to write since pretty much the dawn of this blog – in its first incarnation. Because I had always planned to use blog entries, emails, message board posts (my own only – so down boys & girls) and photos to tell some of the story, Rob writing some of the book seemed an natural outgrowth of the project.

We sat for quite a while Monday evening after dinner with tea and memories and tried to figure out where we should each begin which brought up the issue of back story. Just how much do we include and how do I – mostly – tiptoe around the fact that my perspective isn’t very flattering where Will’s family, my mother-in-law in particular, is concerned.

Rob is always amazed when I share in-law stories. Shelley’s family is a family with all the flaws and foibles that you would normally expect, but they are kind and gracious, and they pull together when it counts.

I ended up telling Rob the story of MIL’s evil during the last few months. The day Will was taken to ER from the nursing home, I was in Dubuque with Dee. My dad was undergoing surgery to stem the TIA’s he was having. There was a good chance he would die and my mother was crumbling under the pressure which wasn’t making DNOS’ job any easier. I wasn’t sure at all I would be able to get away. I had to phone in sick for one thing and I had only just started working at the high school I was at, and Will had been sick all week. He was spiking temps and had a terrible cough. The nursing home DR’s were telling me it was bronchitis, but in retrospect, I know it was the beginning of embolisms and pneumonia. However, the night before Dad’s surgery, Will was doing better and I felt safe to make a dash for it. My plan was to be back early on Sunday but for some reason that I can’t remember anymore – I was probably exhausted and slept in a bit – Dee and I didn’t make it back until late Sunday afternoon.

The answering machine messages went from

“Will is spiking temps. Do you want us to transport him to the hospital?”


“Since we can’t get a hold of you, we are sending Will by ambulance to ER.”

which was followed by several calls from the hospital.

When I finally got to the hospital with a frazzled 3 year old on my hip, I found MIL and her annoying friend had been there all day. MIL had my cell phone number and had apparently told the admitting DR that she didn’t know how to contact me.

Fast forward 4 days and she was the one who was at the hospital when Will was transferred to hospice. I went ahead and made the call on that over her objections and she was seething. I was in bed with a migraine. I had to call my BFF to get Dee to preschool because I couldn’t stand up and was basically crawling back and forth between the toilet and my bed until the meds kicked in around noon.

I get to the hospice to find that Will was settled in and MIL and her irritating side-kick were occupying the seats on either side of his bed which forced me to hover at his feet. I hadn’t been to work in four days and still had the nursing home to deal with as his stuff was still there and there was the little matter of the fact that they had called his mother when they sent him to the hospital instead of calling me on my cell – a number they had too.

I filled out paper work. I got into an argument with MIL about funeral arrangements of all things and by then it was time to go pick up Dee.

I came back after dinner to find an agitated Social Worker who ordered me to leave Dee with MIL and follow her as she needed to talk to me right now.

In a small office off the nurse stations, she informs me that she is disturbed by accusations MIL has leveled in my absence.

“She claims you abused him and regularly threw him out of your home when he was ill.”


I quickly disabused her of her faulty information. And then I cried. And I never cry in front of people I don’t know. 

I could have banned MIL from hospice at that point. The staff quickly came to know MIL for who she was and not what she pretended to be. But they put a lot of pressure on me to keep things civil and to work on repairing the relationship with MIL for Dee’s sake. The fact that Dee had never had a relationship with her grandmother was a fact that I soon got tired of trying to explain.

The story from here goes from awful to simply more-so and ends with MIL having a tantrum the night Will died, and so she was allowed to sit with his body until the ambulance came to take him to the hospital for the autopsy* and I went home. I was tired. I was sick with strep that eventually gave me shingles of all things. And I was done.

Is this the kind of thing people really want to read? But as Rob pointed out, “our story” is a short one and some of what brought us to the point where we met on the widda board – which is a whole other nightmare to try and tell yet not tell – needs to be written to bring perspective.

What, if anything, would you want to know if you were inclined to be interested.


*I donated his brain and spine to a university that specializes in research about illnesses such as Will’s.

18 thoughts on “A Memoir Discussion

  1. Write, but not publish? Publish and invite/evoke the sort of family backlash and hue and cry usually reserved for celebrities? I dunno, girl. I just don’t know. Can your phrasing be completely objective and non-judgmental when describing the actions of others? If so, it’d be hard to fault you.

        1. I attempt, when I can, to admit their pov – though I am only guessing as to what it might have been – but memoir really has only one person’s perspective.

  2. This is my first time here really and I feel as if I just walked in on a private conversation not meant for passersby.

    That is a tragic story. I’m sorry you had an MIL treat you that way. And for the loss you went through.

    As for memoir, I’ve been writing my memoir-esque writing blog and I can only say that putting your story out into the world can have unintended consequences. Good and bad. I wouldn’t unwrite (new word!) anything on the blog, but I’m not completely comfortable with what I’ve done either. Some people seem to love putting it all out there. I like writing these things down, but I tell myself that people I write about and that people who know me in real life will never read it. This has been proven wrong. I still don’t know what to do about that.

    But you’ve got to write your truth. it is your life. Your story. Write it. The other issues can be dealt with if you’re actually face with publication.

    1. Well, if I am going to write down the events of a segment of my life I see no reason to coat it with anything shiny. And as Gary Paulson says, a writer has to be able to “go there” or forget it about it.

  3. I’ve never had someone like MIL in my life. How lucky can you get?! Sure, I’ve had some run-ins with my relatives. But nothing with the raw maliciousness of MIL. Reading about it gives me the proper depth of appreciation for my own circumstances.

  4. I would be interested in any aspect of the story that gets you from one point to another. It must feel good to be able to compare notes with Rob.

  5. I’ve had a tricky MIL too (though I think yours takes the cake) and know how draining it can be. God, how awful that must have been. I hope you write that memoir.

    1. It will get written but I go back and forth on whether it is publishable. Widow books seem to be a dime a dozen anymore and if not books, then movies or tv shows. It’s the chic factor.

  6. It’s hard. Is she at any way in your life at this time? Does Dee see her? How soon will she follow Will? But if you don’t know the backstory, your story doesn’t have a start. It contrasts the way people deal with grief. Although I suspect your MIL was batshit crazy since she was born. Only you can answer if the risk is worth it.

  7. i find strange comfort in your stories of the MIL. but that’s because i’ve seen that sort of behavior, know it well from my own family, and your tales force me to realize that batshit people inhabit the lives of others as well… and it does tell much about you, and paints Will’s life experience, to include some of it…

    how awkward would it/will it be for them to read it? well, i haven’t let my relatives know about the blog… yet…

    1. Oh, awkward understates. His father’s siblings really see themselves has having been helpful and supportive, but I expended a lot of energy making that happen. MIL is vindictive despite the fact that she seems civil of late, she turns on a dime as far as what she might do in any given situation. I am tempted to just disappear off their radar when the next move for us comes round in a year or so. Let them read about us when the memoir comes out.

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