Your mother-in-law must be a great person, and I’m so sorry about what your family is going through while losing her, but can we please hear about other stuff? Can you please write about something else?
I mean no disrespect,
My family and I appreciate your extremely thoughtful and heartfelt email during this time. Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t been approached to start writing for Hallmark cards.
Nevertheless, I freely concede. Yes. Over the last week I’ve been pretty obsessed with my mother-in-law (boy, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write).
This is, of course, because my mother-in-law is dying. I don’t know if you’ve ever lost anyone close to you, but when people you love are passing, you make lots of promises to them.
When the hospice nurse first told us Mary didn’t have long, I stood beside her sickbed and promised her that I would dedicate many, many columns to her.
These mediocre stories I’ve been writing for the last nine years—which probably take ninety seconds out of your entire day to read—were often the highpoint of Mary’s entire month. Especially the stories I wrote about her.
Mary spent the latter portion of her life as a shut-in. She would sit in her wheelchair, holding an iPad, chuckling at things I’d written. This brought me a lot of joy.
So when I told a dying Mary Martin last week that I’d dedicate a bunch of columns to her, her face broke into a wide grin. She took my hand, stared at me, and tried to speak, but couldn’t. We shared a profound moment, although no words passed between us.
Also, what you probably don’t know is that Mary was one of the few people in my life who actually liked being written about. When I started this blog/column/naval shipwreck, I was surprised to learn how many people don’t want you writing about them.
I always thought people loved reading their names in print or seeing their pictures in newspapers. But trust me, they don’t.
People are touchy these days. Remember how people in New York used to stand on sidewalks outside network-TV studios for morning news shows, holding poster boards, smiling like they’d just escaped from Sing Sing, begging to touch the hem of Al Roker’s blazer?
Yeah, the world isn’t like that anymore. Not everyone wants an overload of attention nowadays.
But it was never like that with Mary. Mary loved to be featured in my columns. Especially when said columns involved my fine-tuned, albeit mature blend of inappropriate and adolescent toilet humor.
I once wrote a story, for example, about how my mother-in-law dropped off my mail. She let herself into my house using her spare key. No sooner had the door opened than she found me standing in my kitchen wearing nothing but my wedding ring and a pair of socks.
“Mary!” I screamed. “I’m naked!”
“Yes,” she said.
“You can’t just barge in like this. What are you thinking?”
She shrugged. “Right now I’m thinking, meh, I’ve seen better.”
Such a story would have embarrassed lesser mothers-in-law. But not Mary. I’ll never forget when Mary first read that column. Her reaction was to swat my hindparts and say, “God, you are such a ding-a-ling.”
A word which took on a brand new meaning between us.
So over the years, I’ve written a lot about her. I could fill an encyclopedia with the hundreds of tales I’ve written about Mary. She became one of my most beloved victims.
And now that she’s slowly disappearing, fading within her hospice bed, I realize that I am losing a main character in my life. In a way it feels like I’m saying goodbye to a piece of myself.
This death will also mean that our lives are about to majorly change. My mother-in-law and my wife are tighter than two coats of paint.
My wife spends every day changing her mother’s diapers, cleaning her infected wounds, administering breathing treatments, cooking her meals, doing her laundry, and lifting her mother’s frail body from wheelchair to commode. Mary has become the gravitational center of our universe.
When Mary passes—and she doesn’t have long—I don’t know where that will leave us. I don’t know what life will look like anymore. All I know is that my wife will be an orphan with a gaping void in her heart.
Ah, but there I go again, boring you to death. Forgive me. I’m not trying to excuse myself or elicit sympathy. I don’t want sympathy. Believe me, there are people in this world who are suffering far worse.
So thank you for your advice. I honestly appreciate you taking the time to send your unsolicited critiques regarding writing that nobody forces you to read. I hope this letter finds you well.
And I sincerely hope you never lose anyone close to you, Coach.