“Embrace your grief. For there, your soul will grow.” Carl Jung
Yesterday my husband’s mom looked up at me with her nearly blind milky brown eyes and asked, “Is Vic dead?”
“Yes,” I said quietly. “He died seven years ago.” If I lie, she remembers, so I tell the truth. Her face crumpled. She waved me aside with a dismissive backhand to rid herself of bad news. She turned her eyes away and wept. For twenty seconds.
“What happened to Vic?” she asked within a few minutes.
“He died Virginia.”
“Who lives here?” she whispered.
“You do, Virginia.”
“I’m mixed up,” she said, shaking her freshly permed curls.
“I know, Virginia. I’m sorry. It’s so hard.” I put her groceries away while the evening health aid sat with her.
“Where is Vic?” she asked in two minutes, waving me closer. Then she asked again. Each time, she heard the impossible truth for the first time.
Until recently, she fought grief, raging at God and at me. Forgetfulness and frailty have made her vulnerable. For the first time since Vic took me home to meet her in 1967, she trusts me. I hardly recognize this gentle broken woman I’ve vowed to care for until the end.
“How did he die?” she asked as I put a leash on my dog Willow. Virginia turned her face away and then glanced back with pleading wet eyes. “Why didn’t God take me?” Her fist clenched for a second before relaxing into open-palmed helplessness.
She’s ninety-nine. One hundred in January. Her only child is dead. She doesn’t have the fire to rage anymore.
It’s more than seven years since Vic died. His mother’s insistent questions mirror an unsettled place in me. Oh, I know he’s dead, but what about the part of me that tells him about my day or asks for guidance, as though he were a god? The part that pleads for protection when I’m scared, as though he were an angel. The part that asks for help with a decision, as though he were an oracle?
He is still the positive inner masculine I counted on for so long. Our partnership continues in this odd disembodied way.
I’m not surprised his mother can’t believe he’s gone. Neither can I.
Vic and I grew up together. We created the life we dreamed in hippie days. Our marriage was part of our spiritual path, a psychological vessel, a dream holder, a place of safety where anything could be shared. It still is that for me, except… “Where is he?” and “Why am I talking to myself?”
I can recite the imperfections of our marriage. I knew his flaws. He knew mine. We leaned into love anyway. I can list the ways I’ve changed and grown strong without him. I’m more independent and willing to take a risk. I’m doing well. That doesn’t stop the secret longing.
Vic’s mother’s questions tear at my heart and make me face my own persistent disbelief.
“What happened to Vic?” “Where is he?” “Will I see him again?”
I have no answers. I can only hold his mother’s hand.
Do you have strong continuing bonds with people or places from your past? Does something in you not quite believe they’re gone? What experiences reawaken your disbelief? For other posts about my long and complex relationship with Vic’s mom, see Mother-in-Law Blues: Lessons in “Don’t Bite the Hook”. Pathways, a hospice and home care agency in California, has an excellent article about Dementia Patients and Grief. They recommend honesty–and patience.