Seventy Year-Old Orphans

I sat by my mother-in-law’s bed.

She was breathing like they do on those Peloton commercials.  A deep, exerciser’s breath.  But she wasn’t exercising, she was dying.

She would’ve laughed if I had connected her with any kind of vigorous activity.  “I just want to sit”, she would say and smile radiantly from her chair.  And she sat very comfortably well into her 94th year. 

She was never much for exercise.  She smoked for 40 years and asked me one time if I would bring her a cigarette when she was on her deathbed.  I said I would.  But, of course, she was unresponsive as she lay there.  Eyes closed, bone-thin.  You can’t always choose how things are going to end.

I lost both of my parents within 7 months of each other over ten years ago.  My dear mother-in law was the last parent I had.  I am an only child.  So is my husband.  All the responsibility falls on you.  But you get all the attention.  I got a lot of love and support from my mother-in-law, as if I were her own daughter.

As I sat next to her I thought about my parents’ deaths, her imminent death and my own demise.  Should I be thinking about my own death as I hold her hand?  Her death was clearly the most important thing in the twilight of that room. 

My thoughts kept returning to me, though.  Death takes on more significance as you age.  You can brush it off in your younger years, but it is much too close to you when you’re in your seventies.

So I mourned her, my husband, and myself. 

Now, two weeks after her final breath, I come back to another notion I had when I withdrew from the hospice building every afternoon and walked into the sunlight.  I saw cars zipping by on the road in front of me.  People going places, living their lives the way most of us do. 

Death is for those who are dying.  It is a sacred space—one of resolution, quiet and transition.  When the moment comes, death will be appropriate.  My husband and I may be orphans, but we are still here.