In Shock

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Last week the sister-in- law of a good friend/neighbor woke up (in
L.A.), did her morning rituals, went to work, and while seated at her
desk in the shop she and her husband owned, was struck by a truck
doing 90 miles an hour that plowed into their new building, seriously
injuring her and three others. She ended the day in ICU, in an induced
coma after brain surgery, with many stunned and horrified loved ones
praying for a non-tragic outcome, one that seemed painfully remote.


When she awoke that morning, she had no idea it was the last day of
the life she had known. They’ve been told by the neurologist, “Sarah’s
brain has been badly wounded. Even if she pulls through, she won’t
really be Sarah any more, and she’ll need lots and lots of love and
support. If it were my wife, I’d pull the plug and if it were me, I’d want
her to do the same.” What do they/you pray for? And how do I support
my friend, who is about to have her cantankerous, controlling, 93-year
old Catholic mother-in- law who is on the downhill slide move into her
small guest room? The woman’s only activity other than eating and
sleeping is watching game shows (with the volume turned waaay up).
Her favorite is The Bible Quiz Show. It’s all a bit overwhelming. Sorry
for the mishmash of deep and practical but this has us all up-ended.

In Shock

Dear In Shock:

The world is a scary and unpredictable place. You’re describing five
different problems: the dying woman’s husband’s decision about his
wife; her mother’s grief; her brother’s decision to bring his mother
home; his wife’s acceptance of her mother-in- law; your support for
your friend. Here goes:

The husband is the only one who can legally make the decision about
his wife. He should consult with his rabbi/priest as well as with medical
ethicists. Although many folks would trust the neurologist’s judgment,
this is a minefield of emotions and medical issues. I am sorry for his
predicament. Yes to prayer, but no I cannot tell you or anyone else
what they should pray for in such a circumstance. And no one will ever
be sure that the outcome they think they want or happens is the best
one for their loved one or themselves. It’s a tragedy, pure and simple.
No parent expects to survive a child. That’s doubly true for a person
with her own medical issues, who may not fully be able to understand
what’s occurred. No rational person could. The loss of a child is an
extreme trauma, as is a move to another state. Frequently elders need
much more support after either trauma, let alone both in rapid
succession. The mother will need a lot of love and help. But your friend
and her husband do have some rights about air pollution in their
home. They should be kind and caring, provide lots of tenderness and
care at the outset, but should not establish living arrangements that’ll
break up the marriage. They should at least look at assisted living or
group homes as an option, or consider building a mother-in- law suite,
after the initial after-effects of death and relocation wear off. Chicken
soup first, then problem-solving.

You can support your friend in several ways. Let her vent, cry, and
take quiet time as often as she needs to until the shock of all these
horrors and changes become a problem that needs to be solved
instead of a horror show she cannot stop. Encourage her to have very
practical conversations with her husband about all the on-going
logistics in L.A., from funeral to putting his mother’s house on the
market. Make sure he consults with his married-in- laws about the
relocation in case there is a different option that does not involve a
move. Assuming mother really is coming, help her get the house
ready. Prepare the guest room before she comes, by cleaning and
painting it. Make it warm and welcoming, even if that’s not her gut
response to the change. Help her use the occasion to do a household
purge and reorganization, taking advantage of the shift. That may
mean rolling up your sleeves and grabbing a paintbrush, running
things to thrift stores or recycling, or just lots of brainstorming and
listening. Make sure she knows you are there for her, and that you will
offer her a place to come hang out and kvetch later if she needs it.
Virtually everyone in “the sandwich generation” (people with aging
parents and children) has experienced this kind of dislocation. She is
neither the first nor the last. There’s probably support groups and
helpful hints all around her, once she gets past the shock of losing a
sister-in- law and housing a mother-in- law.