53: At Maddy’s Side

53: At Maddy’s Side

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

At Maddy’s Side

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.

~Barbara Bush

“I can’t do that!” I told my sister-in-law Jeanne. My beloved mother-in-law, Maddy, at age 91, had suddenly slipped from needing frequent visitors to needing full-time help, including someone to walk her to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Now she needed someone, this very night. Because there was no time to buy any kind of bed alarm or monitor, what was needed was someone to arrive that night and actually crawl into bed with her, to be there to hear if she tried to get up alone. I could not imagine doing that. It was so private, so personal, so intimate. What if I didn’t hear her get up? What if she fell when I was in charge? What if she was as scared as I would be if someone had crawled into bed next to me in the middle of the night?

I called my own sister to discuss the situation. “I can’t do that!” I complained.

“Well,” she said, “you actually can.” And she left it at that.

I thought it over. I thought about all the things Maddy had done for me in the nearly three decades that I’d been married to her son. She had accepted me at first sight. She had supported me when I was the first mother in the family to work outside of the home. She had always treated me like gold.

And then I remembered the closets.

When my husband and I bought our first house, many years ago, we bought a true fixer-upper, and we had one month to make it livable before we moved in. Every surface needed to be cleaned, repainted, re-wallpapered, or re-carpeted. My father-in-law Johnny had recently retired, so he and Maddy quietly adopted our house as their project. Every day that month, while my husband and I were at work, Maddy and Johnny found a job that needed to be done in our new house, and they did it. Each evening, when we arrived to work on the house ourselves, something new would magically be different. One day, we found the trim painted. Another day, we found the ceilings washed. Once, we discovered the tall weeds outside had been cut back.

But one evening we arrived and could not figure out what Maddy and Johhny had tackled that day. We could tell they had been there, but what had they done? We worked all evening before we figured it out. They had painted the inside of every single closet! Who would think of such a touch? What considerate people! We were delighted.

Johnny’s been gone for 10 years, and Maddy has been a big part of my life, supporting me through good times and bad. And now, when Maddy needed me, I thought about all the things she had done for me since the closets.

I called my sister-in-law back. “Of course, I’ll be there tonight!” I told her.

I arrived late that night as a caretaker was leaving, put on my pajamas, and quietly crawled into Maddy’s bed. A few hours later, she woke up and started to get up for the bathroom. I rushed to the other side of the bed to take her hand. She was surprised, mostly because I stepped on her foot! But other than that, she was just fine with having someone suddenly show up in her bedroom in the middle of the night.

“Who’s that?” Maddy asked.

“It’s me, Jane, your favorite!” I told her. I like to think that, anyway.

“Oh, hi!” she said brightly. “It’s nice to see you!” And she took my hand and off we went.

In the months since that night, my husband and I have spent many days and nights at Maddy’s house, taking turns with his brothers and sisters and professional help, making sure that someone is always at Maddy’s side. Sometimes, it fits in well with our lives. Sometimes, it doesn’t, but we do it anyway. During those times, I just think about the closets. She was there for me then, and I’m here for her now.

~Jane Brzozowski

More stories from our partners