Bits and Whatnots, Grief


I’ve been watching my mother-in-law die.

She’s been sick since Easter, and has been fighting with all her strength to hang on, to pray, to believe.

The problem is, her strength is fading.

Remember the cartoons when we were young, where the character would stick his finger in the dam and plug the leak? Then five more leaks would spring up, and he’d stick in the rest of his fingers. More leaks, and he’d plug them with his toes. His nose. Then suddenly, he’d grow an extra hand to plug the new leaks.

It’s been like that.

One problem gets fixed, and six more spring up. Liver failure. Kidney failure. Kidneys spontaneously recover. Celebrate! But wait…now the liver is worse. Paracentesis, every two weeks. Weekly. Bi-weekly.

Neutropenia. She’s back in the hospital now, but I cannot visit this week, because I’ve been sick with a sinus/ear thing.

C. Diff. Having spent so many years now raising children with immunodeficiency, I know how bad that is.

It’s strange. When the news first comes, it’s a sharp pain, white and hot. I want to deny it, even as I hear the words the doctor is saying.

After that first pain, though, I start to feel as though I’ve got two hearts: one made of steel, and one of emotion.

I shove the one made of emotion behind the steel heart, and do the things that need doing.

Doctor visits. Appointments for tests. Days spent in the ER. Days spent admitted. Medication pick-ups.

I’ve heard that people say I’m coldhearted. I’m not.

It’s simply that I have been down this road before, and I know what is coming.

Crying won’t change it.

But in this space in between a terminal diagnosis and death, there are things that need to be done.

I can’t accomplish those things if I’m a weeping mess, so I do the only thing I know how to do.


Put the pain somewhere else. Anywhere else.

Deal with it later.

I could do what others do: talk, talk, cry, and talk, and ignore that the person who is dying needs help. Needs groceries. Needs medication. Needs to go to the doctor.

But my conscience doesn’t work that way. I can’t not step in to help a helpless human being.

And the part of me that ought to be able to embrace both the emotional side and the harsh reality of this terrible situation seems broken.

The pain will come out later, in a rush.

I’ve found that I tend to move through grief by spilling words, and if the current situation is any indication, I’ll be writing another book this year.

I’ve got the idea in my head, but it’s harder to get the words out when I feel as though my emotions are frozen. But the story is there, in my head. In my bones.

It will be dark. But people who’ve read my stories before should be getting used to that, I guess.

In the meantime, I will keep tapping along at it and stopping back in here to release some of the words I don’t feel like I can say out loud.

Words are harder, that way. Out loud.

But they’ve got to spill somewhere.


6 thoughts on “Spilling.”

  1. Oh Valarie, what a difficult time. You are handling it as well as anyone can be expected – you are there, a presence, doing the graceful and hard work of accompanying someone through an important part of her human journey. You’re an angel. We all grieve differently, there is no right way. Of course you can’t do what you need to if you’re a mess. Of course, your time for tears will come. However it unfolds for you is what’s right for you. All your feelings, every single one of them, are natural and okay. Be at peace with your choices. I’ll be thinking of you.

  2. I’m very sorry to know that your mother-in-law is passing, Valarie. I’ve helped three very important women in my life pass, and it’s never easy – not the first time, not the last time. Much like you, the necessary needs of everyday life were left to me to tend to while everyone else spent their time pre-mourning their loss, visiting when it fit their schedule, or simply being there for each other, not the one who needed them the most. I commend you for your strength and compassion, some people by choice, or simply through no fault of their own, simply won’t or can’t deal with it. One of the bits of knowledge I’ve gleaned about myself in helping someone I care for live gracefully and with dignity while they are passing is that I have mourned with them while they are still here. To share the joy of a life ending is a unique and oddly singular experience, and when they are gone from this world, I find I’m much calmer for it. It’s almost as though you build a bond that allows you to sigh a breath of freedom along with the pain of loss for their soul – you share in the peace of the difficulties and burdens they have left behind, not for yourself, but for them. You’ve done the most important, and most gracious thing you can – you’ve helped someone move on without feeling like an object of pity. Knowing you are dying is hard enough – I speak from experience; last November I was told I had a year left to live, but that’s another story, and something I’ve managed to overcome – so I can tell you with assured knowledge that those around you (the passing individual) look at you differently, treat you differently, and emit a different sense of ‘want to push away’ than you’ve ever experienced before in life. It’s awful. But, I also believe that for people unlike you and I who don’t have the strength to carry them through assisting someone pass with empathy, not pity, it’s a base instinct that most animals employ. My advice, bold as it may be to offer it – and I apologize if I offend you in any way – is to do what you are doing, enjoy the essence of your mother-in-law while she is here, chores that come with it and all, and don’t judge (though the anger will be there) those who didn’t after she is gone. Only judge yourself for having risen above what the average individual would do. Know you gave her the grace, dignity, and the end-of-life experience she deserved – the one we we all deserve.

    My heart goes out to you, my strength is lent to you, and my wish for your mother-in-law to pass with ease is beyond measure. Stay strong,Valarie, and hang in there – allow the anger, allow the frustration with others, but more importantly, always allow you and your grace to stand in the forefront. I wish your soul peace, Valarie, in this very trying time. XOXO

    1. Thanks so much for writing this, Nina. It is always difficult. This is not my first go round. In two days it will mark two years since my sister died. It is the worst thing, but it’s always one of the most important things one can do, I think, is to stick it out, stay around, be there. I am so glad you are still here!

      1. You are a wonderful soul, Valarie. You have lost a great deal, but still you rise above and do the right thing. There is a lot of strength in that, and many who admire it!

  3. Reblogged this on The Art of Aging and commented:
    Valerie, I am sending you love and hugs. My Mom died last year and you’ve described the experience exactly. Survive and remember. But with all the doing, don’t forget to share your love with her, if no one else!

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