Betty is my mother-in-law. When we first met I think she might not have been too fond of me. I met her once in the summer and by Christmas I was in her house visiting for 10 days with her beloved son. She is one of the original helicopter moms. It may not have seemed so to Bob at the time but I could see it right away.
That Christmas I went out and bought lots of gifts and wrapped them and put them under their tree. I saw Bob's dad go out to Sears and buy a bag full of hand tools, for me, which he was told he could not give to me as, "You don't even KNOW her." He wrapped the gifts, sitting on the floor, grumbling about having to give them to Bob as Betty instructed. "Mary is the one who likes tools," he told Betty. Trust me, even then I knew she was not to be dealt with and so the wrenches and screwdrivers were opened by Bob and I was given a coffee mug which I have often thought was a re-gift.
The next Christmas I arrived laden down with gifts and with no expectation to receive gifts in return. That Christmas Bo bought me some tools from Sears, wrapped them and there did not seem to be any arguments, they were under the tree with my name on them. He sent me home with one of his saws as well and some plastic ties from a package of a zillion he had. He genuinely seemed to like me from day one but it took Betty awhile. A long while.
Betty would tell the same stories over and over and would repeat things almost verbatim, as though memorized and told as "story." I would go home from the visits and think to myself that she had spent so much time bragging about herself. I thought it was strange but Bob did not seem to see it at all so I thought it must be me...maybe I was exaggerating. Year after year I heard the same stories over and over. To me it seemed so odd but Bob did not find it strange.
When Bo died Bob started out calling his mother twice a day. For the original helicopter mom those calls were all she lived for. She hardly ever went out to play golf after Bo passed as that first year she nearly fell and hurt her shoulder. So, those calls meant a great deal. There didn't seem to be any friends and certainly no activities. She was never much of a reader, no crafts, no clubs and with golf curtailed that left, sitting at home waiting for "the calls."
I went out and purchased a laptop so that she could e-mail Bob and maybe get some interest from being online. I got her a digital camera so that she could take pictures without worrying about development. Almost daily I was on the phone with Betty, talking her through getting the computer on, finding the e-mail that had just "disappeared" without her touching "anything" and just turning the thing on and off. Dealing with her unplugging things because they felt warm or she heard a fan running was in itself frustrating. I could spend an hour a day talking with her and I did it over and over with as much patience as could be mustered. Trust me, she NEVER knew if I were frustrated by the calls, although she was always apologetic. That is something she has always been!
The laptop worked for the first year and a half maybe two, daily calls included. She looked forward to Bob e-mailing during lunch and she would sit and type out a long e-mail to him. What I would ever have to share with my kids for two calls and an e-mail I have NO CLUE! But, they seemed to be able to find things to say and I am glad I was able to give her the ability to do that.
One of the RED FLAGS that happened was one fall when Betty got home, she could not find the cords to her laptop and she started accusing her neighbors daughter, Vickie, of using the computer during the summer. Vickie's mom and dad came over, no doubt pretty hurt and angry, and found the cord under the bed where Betty had hidden it before she left.
Luckily these neighbors knew Betty and loved her before this happened so they realized that things were changing with her memory, and have been kind about her forgetfulness.
When Bob and I got married, Bo had already passed. Betty had to go outside before the wedding and during the reception as she got to feeling faint. Helicopter mom. She actually told me she had an attack. I was having such a good time I just smiled and told her I was glad she felt better. That seemed to take care of it and she appeared to enjoy the rest of the day.
Betty always had good things to say about me, to me. But, she has often asked for pictures of me when Bob and I first met because she says, "I have told my family how you looked when you first met Bob and they can't believe it." (I have gained 30 pounds) Hello? So, I have tried to always be kind and respectful to Betty but have known that she has had issues with anyone being between her and her Bob who she has more than once called "her boyfriend."
That brings us to now. The caregiving. The tremendous patience it takes. Allowing dignity. Trying to think ahead of trouble. Listening to the neediness and knowing that a part of me remembers the years when I was on the #1 re-gift list. Putting her neediness before my needs when often I could curl up into a ball and beg to be left alone. Setting aside my sadness and realizing that she is afraid and sad beyond belief and that I would be a lesser person if I did not put her needs ahead of my own. Holding my tongue when Betty says things that could seem crazy when I know that it is the disease talking. And sometimes, no most times, she just needs to talk and feel less crazy not receive affirmation that she is crazy.
So, it is a struggle. I am only writing here about my struggle. I am only writing about the part that I feel safe to share.