My in-laws were an active retired couple for more than twenty years. Nine of those years were spent in the Philippines working as missionaries at Silliman University. When they returned to the United States, the two of them purchased the house next door to us. But the ice storms in the winter of 2003 were too much for them. They moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. We went back to seeing them only on vacations.
Pulmonary hypertension changed our relationship very little. Sarah's father managed the disease very well for many years, but he did ask one thing of us. He wanted to be sure his wife was taken care of when the time came. Being a manly man from the era when American men were expected to be stoic about life and death, there was no mention of his needing care. He would let us know when he was no longer able to "take care of her" himself.
Last February, he passed out at his computer and spent the next month in the hospital. Things in Florida were falling apart while we were going on with our lives in Kentucky.
We were in Indiana doing research on a story when the call came. Sarah's mother panicked, almost incoherent, our cell phone breaking up because we were miles from the nearest tower, we lost the connection twice before we found a place where we could pull over and get reception. They needed us, NOW!
We dropped everything, took vacation time, and came to Florida to deal with the crisis. For fifty years he had managed all the bills, bank accounts, retirement planning. Now he couldn't remember how to use his computer. It didn't take us long to realize that the crisis was going to be life changing. In his case, it was fatal, for the rest of us it put life on hold.
Sarah struggled through the immediate crisis of paying monthly bills, talking to the doctors about his prognosis, and arranging for her brother to come down until we could wrap up our lives in Kentucky. Joel took over things in Florida. We gave notice to our bosses, sold the house, packed up and moved.
From April to September of last year, life as I knew it ground to a halt. Each day centered around keeping my father-in-law alive and as comfortable as we could make him for one more day. Toward the end the focus was one more hour, one more minute... Hospice was great, his friends and my family were wonderful, but Sarah, her mother, and I were on watch twenty-four hours a day. There were close calls, and moments that broke our hearts. There was laughter at things other people couldn't understand and times when we were downright silly.
When it was over, there was nothing. The three of us got through the days, but we had all given so much that it was hard to even think. Little by little, the numbness is fading. Only now are we starting to think about the future, opening our minds to life after Frank.
I've finished my novel, just in time to learn my publisher is closing. One more door to the past is closed. I guess we will just have to keep opening doors to the future.