Several years ago while visiting her mother-in-law in a nursing home my mother-in-law encountered a woman who asked her name. She responded, “My name is Jacqueline; Jacqueline Dobbs.” The inquirer who was clearly suffering from some form of dementia or metal disability replied, “Well that’s an unusual name but it’s very nice to meet you Jacqueline Jacqueline!” And so it went. Every time the woman would encounter my mother-in-law she would greet her as Jacqueline Jacqueline. My mother-in-law found it quite amusing but she was always kind to that stranger and never tried to correct her. She just accepted her as she was.
This week my mother-in-law passed away. I suppose that I’m remembering that story because she too ended her life in a nursing home and was blessed by the kindness of strangers. In the weeks leading to her death she became increasingly weakened by COPD, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. In addition she was struggling with dementia which was likely brought on by her diminished oxygen levels. Her caregivers were gracious, respectful and loving and she in-turn won their hearts. Because of her dementia she sometimes believed that she was visited by television celebrities and was convinced that beautiful lake homes surrounded the nursing facility. Her imaginations were very real to her. And the staff indulged her and just accepted her as she was. When it became clear that she wouldn’t survive, the nursing staff embraced our family with overwhelming love and kindness.
My mother-in-law wasn’t always easy to be around. And I often joked that she had been in a bad mood for nearly 40 years because she was unhappy that Deb had agreed to marry me (she apparently had imagined a better life for her daughter). The truth is, our relationship was pretty tense at times. But life went on and after many years she accepted the fact that I wasn’t going away. We shared the love of the same people and ultimately learned to love one another.
The last several weeks of her life Jackie seemed let go of her anger and disappointment and she and I had the best days of our 38 years together. It was the most beautiful gift that she could have ever given me. I realize now that she did love me and was proud of the life that Deb and I had built. She told me how much she loved our children and especially our grandchildren. She let me know that I was a good husband and father and son-in-law. But the real gift that she gave me was the realization that life is too short to hold on to grudges and resentment. Anger and bitterness only serve to sap the spirit from our lives. Being justified in my outrage is not worth the loss of love that I will be denied by my own stubbornness or self-righteousness.
When things became hopeless and no medical intervention could save her, we prayed for a peaceful passing. God granted her that blessing. Jackie was surrounded by her husband and children and, I believe, the angels. A few weeks before her death she told us that she kept hearing a man’s voice singing one refrain from the hymn Silent Night, “sleep in heavenly peace.” At last she had found that peace. Peace with the world. Peace with God.
My mother-in-law wasn’t always easy to be around but she was capable of tremendous kindness and she loved her family fiercely. And I know that included me.