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Mother-in-Law dying. Not sure how to support my wife.

Discussion in 'Friends, Family & Social Skills' started by Neonatal RRT, Oct 12, 2021.

  1. Neonatal RRT

    Neonatal RRT Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Background: My wife's mother, whom she loves dearly, was diagnosed with elderly dementia about 3 years ago. Like these things go, it starts out slow, but accelerates exponentially. My wife is a nurse, so she has the intellectual understanding of how these things progress, but her brothers and father are engineers, and are simply lost, not understanding the medical aspects of all of this. Well, the past few months, and now weeks, have accelerated further. Talks of Hospice and palliative care have gone on within the past two weeks. Then, a recent physician appointment prompted an abdominal x-ray which showed a severe herniation of her esophagus and her stomach had been pulled upwards through the hole in her diaphragm and now sits in her chest, being compressed by her lungs. So, now surgery was being talked about, because perhaps her loss of appetite was due to her stomach compression,...and why the rapid decline. So, that prompted a pre-surgical cat-scan. I just got a text from my wife a few minutes ago, the cat-scan showed a huge mass (presumably cancer) in her left upper lobe of her lung, with what appears to be metastasis. I don't know if I should even respond to this text. I am thinking I should ignore it and see how my wife is doing before saying a word. In fact, I am thinking I probably should just keep my mouth shut and just agree with whatever she is feeling.

    Keep in mind, I don't process death of a loved one,...at least not in the way I think most people do. My father and my brother,...my brother, I cried like a blubbering idiot for his wife and kids. There was no funeral for my father and I tried to talk to my mother a few days after dad's death,...she was an emotional mess on the phone,...and I was my self,...and she hung up on me. Neither situation have I felt loss, so I feel quite emotionally handicapped with all of this and I am quite afraid that I might say something,...or nothing at all,...and my wife and her family are going to get quite offended by my behavior, or lack of it.

    I feel like I am tied to the tracks just waiting for this train to hit me.
     
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  2. SimonSays

    SimonSays Time is an illusion I seem to have a lot of V.I.P Member

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    Perhaps an old adage would work here..."when in doubt, say nowt".

    Silence allows them to fill in the gaps with what it is they need. I would just listen and understand whatever she says and not reveal that you're not feeling it the same way she is.

    When I saw my mum after she had been diagnosed terminal, the feeling I had was we all have to go sometime, and so it didn't seem tragic to me that this would be the way that she went. I did say this to her at some point. This was not the normal reaction from everyone else, so I didn't reveal this around them. My mum understood even though she was scared, and it was me who was able to help her be less scared. Everyone else is all about quantity... more... whereas I was just concerned with quality, and try to help her balance that from the pressure everyone else had including the doctors to maintain life at all costs.

    Just before my ex-wife's dad died, we went up to see him a few weeks before he did, and it was just easier for me to allow her to be the guiding expression of feeling because it was her dad, rather than make it obvious that I wasn't affected in the same way. I just observed things and became quiet and neutral and responded to her feeling as best I could. Seemed to work ok.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2021
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  3. Raggamuffin

    Raggamuffin Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps not getting so emotional might be of benefit to your wife and her relatives? Most people are emotional wrecks when death and health issues are concerned. If you aren't moved as they are - perhaps they can gain some strength from that? I'm not too sure really.

    I've been called "heartless" a fair few times because I didn't react how I was "supposed to". But in reality, I think people might be grieving for their own mortality when it comes to losing someone. They tend to turn it on themselves "I wish I'd done this" "Why didn't I do that when they were alive" etc. etc.

    Seeing your wife upset is going to be very difficult. But I guess you can't assume that you have to react a certain way. Be true to yourself. Be there for her. Listen when she talks. But you don't need to fake emotions or reactions that you're expected to have.

    I guess, just be patient. I know that's not much help, but in time the curtains will close and eventually the grieving will end and people will inevitably move onto the next chapter.

    Ed
     
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  4. Suzette

    Suzette Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Definately acknowledge your wifes text. "Lets talk later" at least lets her know you are aware and not ignoring her.
    Let her take the lead. She may want to talk, she might not. Let her choose.
    She may not know what she is thinking or feeling just yet. You might even ask her "do you want to talk about it?" Follow her lead.
     
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  5. LadyS

    LadyS Work in Progess

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    I feel like there is a hierarchy of grief. The ones closest usually are expected to have a stronger emotional reaction. I feel like inlaws are not necessarily at the top of that list unless you have a close relationship with them, which is not common nor unusual. Spouse's role generally tends to be more on the consoling role for the others, so agree just to listen and be there for her if you can.
     
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  6. Magna

    Magna Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Sorry to hear about your MIL. I don't understand, are you saying that you DID get emotional when your father and your brother each died but you didn't feel loss, or you did not get emotional?

    How do you be there for your wife? Just some personal suggestions:

    • Text back: "I'm very sorry to hear that. I love you."
    • After your MIL passes, give your wife multiple hugs each day, look her in the eyes even if briefly and ask her how she's doing several times a day during her grieving .
    • Ask her if there's anything you can do for her or if she wants to talk, you're there to just listen.
     
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  7. Neonatal RRT

    Neonatal RRT Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I DID get emotional with when my brother died,...but I think it was because I was there to witness his wife grieving uncontrollably. I just lost it. However, all said and done, I can honestly say I never grieved for myself.

    When my father died, I wasn't there, and there was no funeral. I haven't seen my mother in years. I didn't grieve at all.

    It's these sort of interactions that really question my humanity and reinforce these thoughts of the "observing alien". I have a life, walk amongst people, work with people, but horribly disconnected. I can walk up and talk to anyone, but all too often what my brain is thinking and feeling is unable to be convincingly articulated into something meaningful to the other person,...and I just watch their eyes glaze over and them quietly trying to retreat. Every day, multiple times a day,..."sigh". I used to be quite frustrated and distressed with all of this,...but now, I have just accepted it as my life. I wish I could say I didn't care,...and by now, I typically don't. However, when I am put into a situation where my wife and family is in emotional distress, I am put into an awkward situation because I just can't seem to reciprocate in a way that seems genuine to them,...and I do care about what they think of me as a person.
     
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  8. Yeshuasdaughter

    Yeshuasdaughter You know, that one lady we met that one time. V.I.P Member

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    Right now, your job is to be someone to hold, someone to confide in. She'll probably have an angry outburst and take it out on you. But you have to know she loves you and doesn't mean it. She's just scared of losing her Mama. All you have to do is be there. You don't have to say much. Just listen.
     
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  9. Tom

    Tom Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I think silence is not a good idea when someone has said or emailed something to you. I think one needs to at least acknowledge it even if you do not know what to say in the situation, and in these hard situations most of us really don't know what to say. Just something simple, like 'That is bad news. I'm very sorry. Is there anything you want me to do?'
     
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  10. Neonatal RRT

    Neonatal RRT Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Thanks everyone. I texted her back. We'll see how it goes.
     
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  11. Aspychata

    Aspychata Serenity waves, beachy vibes

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    You have to mask. It's your wife. Say- l am here for you. What can l do for you?

    Hugs, coffee.

    Offer back rub. Offer to do things that normally she has to nag you to do. Try doing the little things to help her now.

    This is your chance to step in. It's not what you feel, it's how you offer yourself to help her ride the tough ride of emotions.
     
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  12. Gerald Wilgus

    Gerald Wilgus Well-Known Member

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    We all grieve differently. Last year, after my mother had a severe stroke, one look at the MRI and I saw she was hopeless. While I hated her for never offering me help and support when as i was struggling socially and couldn't articulate what was needed, I think my grieving was to bring her home with Hospice and continuing basic care as she expressed the desire to die in her own home. Just basic ethics.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
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  13. Wulven

    Wulven Active Member

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    Well you could ease some of the tension. Have nice flowers or soothing music playing when she's around. Say your there for her. If she needs you. Be patient and try hard not to get angry. She's likely very vulnerable right now. So don't take it personally. And be a shoulder to cry on. Also I have been told my emotional state during moments like this was helpful.
     
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  14. Tido

    Tido Active Member V.I.P Member

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    You don't have to be feeling anything except for what you truly feel, there's little point in trying to manipulate this because things can quickly turn pear-shaped when you aren't true to yourself.

    You don't feel emotional about it, or you feel disconnected? That's absolutely fine, the pressure of being like others is what makes you feel this is wrong. You don't need to be like others, you just need to be you.

    As for your situation with your wife - what actions would you nornally take to tell her you love her? Just little things like making her a hot drink, warming her towel up for after her shower, physical touch if she can handle it right now - shoulder rubs, holding her hand; making her a favourite snack, a special saying you have for each other. Any little gesture to let her know you are here and you are thinking of her, as long as you don't think she'd feel patronised by it.

    You don't have to feign a certain feeling or attitude, if you are questioned about why you aren't reacting in a certain way, just explain you care and are processing things in the way you need to, and for you that isn't very "showy" on the outside.

    You will never come across as genuine if you are trying to force a reaction, just be yourself. Even if that causes strife, just understand your wife is going through hell and may need to get it out, and you'll likely be the punching bag if anyone.

    This should all calm down a few weeks after your mother in law passes. When she does, just be there quietly and sit with your wife while she cries. Let her cry as much as she can, she needs to release it. Cry with her if you feel emotional about seeing her like this, this could be a good way to show her you do care (if it is a natural response for you, don't force it).

    Everything will begin to remind your wife of her mother, she will be confronted by little reminders throughout her daily life and it will be hard for her. Just do your best to understand her and love her, however that translates for you.

    I'm not sure about your wife, but I feel it is important to keep talking about those who have passed. If you think she'll handle it okay, you can bring her mother up at appropriate times. For example, in my situation it was a close friends father who passed, and everytime we come across something he used to use in the house, we might tell a story about it and remember the funny things he did with the different objects we find. Just to keep his memory alive and pleasant where possible.

    I wish you all the best in navigating this awkward situation, all I can suggest is to be true to yourself, while being thoughtful of your wife at the same time.
     
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  15. Gracey

    Gracey Well-Known Member

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    Be honest.

    " I don't want to do the wrong thing and upset you. How can I best help you?"

    Ask her to check in with you daily.
    Letting you know how she feels.
    (You don't have to 'fix' anything she tells you. Just listen.)

    Many conversations from now on may well be about progress or development of Mum In Law's condition,
    Make responses all about your wife.
    How your wife is feeling about progress or latest development. What, if anything, is she concerned about regarding progress and developments.

    If good lady wife is unlikely to check in with you daily and let you know how she's feeling,
    send random daily texts whilst at work.
    Simple short (open) sentences such as "Thinking of you"
    "Just wondering how things are?"
    "Any news on mum?"
    and so on.

    Your wife knows you're not an experienced grief & support counsellor.
    She also loves you for being exactly who you are.
    Don't stress over not automatically knowing the right things to do in this situation.
    Be honest with wife and ask her what she'd like you to do.
    Good Luck :)
     
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  16. Thinx

    Thinx Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I m sorry to hear that your mother in law is so poorly. It must be quite shocking, even though your wife is a nurse, to discover these advanced illnesses. I guess the focus will be on pain relief, probably.

    My father had dementia for several years and couldn't recognise people latterly. He broke his leg in a mistep, then got pneumonia, but they didn't feel intrusive treatment was appropriate as he couldn't understand what was going on by then, and it would be too distressing for him.

    I am glad the emphasis was on prevention of suffering, for him, that seems the right path. I don't think it helps that society is in such denial about old age and our gradual or sometimes quick, deterioration and eventually demise. It's a stressful topic and time.
     
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