Elisabeth![*] John needs to be changed again." My mother-in-law's voice filtered through my fog of exhausted sleep.
For the fourth time that night, Agnes and I tackled the foul mess in my father-in-law's bed. John was a large man and cleaning him, changing his diaper and bedding, was difficult. It took all my strength to roll him from side to side, holding him in position with one hand while washing him with the other.
John had broken his hip a year and a half ago and had been an invalid ever since. Twice each day my husband, Mike, and I took turns driving to his parents' home, getting John out of bed in the morning to sit in his recliner and then putting him back to bed at night. With the assistance of home healthcare, Agnes had been able to care for him beyond that. Though it complicated our schedule, it was the only way John could remain home instead of in adult foster care or a nursing home. That was important to us.
Recently, however, John's condition had deteriorated sharply. He couldn't feed himself and had to use a complex breathing apparatus several times a day to keep his lungs clear. No longer able to get out of bed, he had to be turned every few hours to avoid sores.
This was beyond Agnes's capability. If John were to remain at home it would require a drastic change in lifestyle for Mike and me. We decided I'd spend the days at his parents' house and Mike would spend the evenings until he put John to bed, so I canceled commitments for the upcoming month.
Is This My Life—Forever?
John's care required me to cross difficult boundaries. Though he tried to help, cracking jokes and laughing, I knew he must be as humiliated as I was.
Even more stressful, however, was being constantly with my mother-in-law. Agnes is a negative, difficult woman. She rarely utters a word of encourage-ment or kindness.
"You shouldn't compliment people," she once admonished after I'd thanked a sales clerk for her help. "It'll go to their head."
After 26 years of marriage to her son, I'd learned to be around her physically while maintaining a healthy emotional distance. But John's illness forced me to be with her all day, every day, doing things her way, listening to her sharp words. While I longed for people to visit us, I dreaded it as well. Agnes chose words guaranteed to inflict pain.
"So is your husband still with that other woman?" she asked her niece. Then turning to her niece's young daughter, "Why do you think your daddy left you?"