“Give my son a kiss from me,” my mother-in-law Virginia whispers.
“OK, I will,” I say as I give her hand a squeeze. She wants to kiss the child who was the center of her world. There’s no use saying her 67-year-old son died in 2008. For years, she hated God for what “he took from her,” but she rarely remembers Vic’s death now.
“Where’s my Victor?” she often asks.
“He’s traveling,” I say. Or “He’s out of town.” I’ve become a smooth liar. She doesn’t see my sad eyes and doesn’t notice that the story I told last time doesn’t match the one I tell today.
“When will my grandsons visit?” At 101, she still knows how to keep a conversation going with questions.
“Anthony and Jenna will be here in six weeks,” I say. That’s the truth, but if it were a lie, she wouldn’t know. “David and Liz were here at Christmas.”
“Do I like their girlfriends?” she asks.
“You like them a lot.” I don’t remind her she went to David and Liz’s wedding in 2013.
“I’m glad,” she says with a fleeting smile. She trusts me, although she didn’t in the past. Did she think I’d steal her money after Vic died? More likely she feared I’d steal her independence and put her in a nursing home. It would have been easier to talk about her fear openly, but that was not her way.
“It’s Anthony’s birthday today,” I say.
“Oh, really?” she says. “I want to give him something, but I don’t know where my money went.” She feels around at her side for a purse that hasn’t been there for years and shakes her head in despair.
“Don’t worry, Virginia,” I say. “I’m taking good care of your money for you. When Anthony comes, I’ll get you a card to give him and write you a check for his birthday.”
“Oh, good,” she says, leaning back into her red pillows. “$100?”
“Whatever you want to give, Virginia.” I want this woman who lived a long independent life to make any choices she can.
I notice she never offers to give me a gift. When I was young, her inability to accept me made me furious. I still feel a twinge of hurt feelings, but not much now. No one her son brought home would have been good enough.
“I’ll see you Friday,” I say as I put Willow on a leash.
“If I’m here,” Virginia says.
“Where will you be?” I ask, knowing the answer.
“At home. In Norwalk.” Norwalk is where Virginia lived as a child and where she raised her son.
“You live here now, Virginia.”
“Yes, this is your apartment. You moved here ten years ago.”
“Then who sleeps there?” she asks pointing to the extra bed where the night aide sleeps.
“Sarah sleeps there. Someone spends the night with you every night.”
“Oh, good,” Virginia says. “I’m scared.” She pauses and looks away. “I’m scared…but not scared. I just don’t know where I am.”
“I know, Virginia. I’m taking care of you.”
“Thank you,” she says with vulnerable brown eyes that say, I’m helpless. Don’t abandon me.
As I open the door to leave. She calls out, “Remember to give your husband a kiss from me.”
“OK, Virginia,” I say as the afternoon health aide walks in.
How could I forget?
Have you had to choose between a painful truth and a gentle lie? How do you handle telling the truth to someone with fading memory who sometimes remembers and insists on the truth, but usually forgets? For other posts about my fifty-year relationship with my husband’s mother, see My Lover’s Mama and the Negative Mother Archetype (the early years) or Disbelief (the way our relationship had evolved by 2015).