card game, cards, playing cards

When did you realize that one or both of your parents may not be playing with a full deck?

I knew from early in our relationship that my mother-in-law was not playing with a full deck.

The first time I visited her home, when I had just started dating her son, I was astounded by what I saw. You know that TV show, Hoarders? It looked like that: empty food containers, overflowing ashtrays, stacks of newspapers – dust, grime, filth everywhere. I had grown up in a typical suburban home with a stay-at-home mom, and while our house wasn’t hospital sterile, it was clean and orderly. I had never seen anything like this and I was dumbfounded.

Fast forward a few years, I’m married into the family now. Mom decides she’s done working for a living. She walks into her boss’s office and quits. No notice. No retirement savings. No plans. She just figured that one of her kids would pick up the slack and take care of her. The family goes into scramble mode, and she moves in with her daughter. That lasts for 8 months, and then she moves in with us and our new baby. She lives with us for 9 years. (Yes, I’m almost a saint.)

She falls ill and is diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. She knows she has cancer. She’s hidden it for 5 years, because she is terrified of medical procedures. Of course, by the time it’s discovered the disease has spread, and treatment options are limited. At that same time her only remaining sibling dies (she’s the youngest of 9) and she declares that she is done living. From that point forward, she literally sits around waiting to die. It doesn’t matter that she has children and grandchildren who love her. She’s done. She ceases caring for herself. We are finally forced to move her into assisted living because she won’t do anything for herself, and won’t follow any instructions we give her.

Mom managed to hang on for 5 more years before finally passing away. In the end I felt really bad for her, because not only was she not playing with a full deck, but the cards she was dealt were stacked against her. It was a pretty sad existence.