A knot formed in my stomach as I watched my husband, Randy, take his suit out of the closet and pack it in the car. “I think you need to take funeral clothes too,” he said. “We don’t know what lies ahead.” I looked away as tears pooled in my eyes.
We had just learned that my mother-in-law was in the hospital. She had come through one surgery already, but the news wasn’t good. The doctors were taking her back for a second surgery to repair a hole in her intestines that was dumping bacteria into her system.
Driving out of state, Randy began talking about his mom’s husband, Tommy. “He’s so dependent on Mom. He has no friends or former work associates who stay in touch. I don’t know how he’ll cope if Mom doesn’t make it.”
“I know,” I said. “It makes me sad to think about.”
Arriving at the hospital the next morning, I braced myself for the worst. I knew my mother-in-law was in ICU, hooked to a ventilator. Her swollen hands and ash-colored skin revealed how sick she was. It became obvious that her time left with us was limited.
“Where’s Tommy?” I asked my sister-in-law, Lisa, as we walked out of the hospital room.
“He’s at home,” Lisa said. “He says he can’t come. It’s too hard on him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
Later that afternoon the nurses gathered the family together to give a report. “She’s too frail to fight this,” they told us. “We’ve given her everything we can, and she’s not responding.”
Randy and his sister knew it was time to make a tough decision. Their mom had always said she didn’t want her last days to be strung out in a hospital room, surviving only on machines. They wanted to honor her wishes. But shouldn’t Tommy be there for his wife’s last breath?
Lisa dialed her stepdad’s phone to deliver the news. The doctor needed to hear from Tommy that it was OK to turn off the machines. He agreed. However, he wouldn’t be coming to the hospital.
The doctor’s orders were completed, and the family gathered in Mema’s room. She lay peacefully. The invasive ventilator was gone. The hum of only one machine remained, monitoring her blood pressure and heart rate. Each click of the numbers counting down told us she was closer to the end.
We held hands and sang a hymn. We reminisced about fond memories with Mema. We said our last good-byes. We passed tissues from one to another.
Within minutes the machine began to buzz. A red line appeared where the heart rate number had been. All eyes stared at the machine. The nurse came in and walked briskly toward the noise to shut it off.
With tears in her eyes, she looked at each of us and spoke softly, “I’m sorry.”
It was over. My mother-in-law had passed peacefully from this life to the next with her loved ones circled around her. She was in a better place.
How would those of us left behind cope without her?
Text messages, Facebook posts, unending prayers, hugs, encouraging words, and other gestures of love from friends and family carried us through the next few days. Their strength held us on difficult days.
Strong communities of love embraced Randy and Lisa during their time of need.
Sadly, Tommy didn’t have the same support. He struggled to face life on life’s terms. Without others to surround and encourage him during his toughest season, life now feels unbearable. As we said our goodbyes to him before beginning our trek home, he sat in his recliner with tears streaming down his face.
Sadness gripped my heart. I couldn’t imagine the reality of life without the support of others.
We aren’t meant to live life in a vacuum. We need each other. Especially on hard days. Especially during hard seasons.
The same holds true for your stepparenting journey. You aren’t meant to walk the journey alone. Your circumstances will look different than your stepmom friends, but you can understand each other like others can’t. Bonds form naturally. Friendships weld together easily.
Have you embraced the support of others? Have you reached out to find others walking a similar path? They’re out there. Keep looking. Sometimes they’re hiding.
A great place to build stepmom friendships is at a stepmom retreat. Women come from across the United States to find help, healing, and hope for their stepmom journey. Here’s a comment from a previous attendee:
- When the ex is challenging
- How to set healthy boundaries
- Traumatized or hurting kids
- The childless stepmom
- Adult stepkids
- How to keep the romance alive
- How to pray for your stepfamily
- And More!
Get all the details of our upcoming retreat here: http://sisterhoodofstepmoms.com/dallas-texas-2017/
When have you found support from others helpful? Will you share in the comments?