Understanding and Forgiveness

29 Mar 2022

My mother-in-law is dying. A few weeks ago, I mentioned she was refusing to leave her room in the care home; refusing to let in the light; sitting in the dark and engaging with nobody. Now she has given up eating, and she has an “End of Life” plan in place.

My mother-in-law is 95, so perhaps it is not surprising she has had enough, but we are still grieving as much for her lost opportunities in the care home as for her imminent departure from us.

It’s ironic that, in these past few months, I feel I have come to know her better than at any time in the past twenty years. She has never been an affectionate mother or grandmother; has always maintained an emotional distance - offering merely a courtesy cheek to kiss on our rare arrivals and departures. My father-in-law was always delighted to see us; she never was.

Control has always been vital to her: control over her environment and over any staff serving her needs. As the world became more complex, she retreated into her home and rarely left it. Her increasing physical frailty, and that of my father-in-law, meant she had to leave that home and enter residential care. In the care home she has had no control: the staff are not employed by her, and the rules are not made by her. I think she has felt powerless and helpless.

The care home is much nearer, and we have (subject to covid rules) been able to visit far more often. We have been overjoyed to see how Father has blossomed as he has joined in with the activities and trips out. With Mother it has been otherwise.

Seeing more of her has enabled me to understand her more. I can see how her fear of life drove her need for control; how her fear of rejection made her appear hard and cold. I wish, I wish very much, that I had understood this twenty years ago. I wish I could have said to her then, all the things I have been able to say to her now; although I don’t know if she would have been able to hear them.

Sunday was Mothers’ Day here in the UK. I took her a plant and some chocolates. She would not eat the chocolates, but she liked the plant. For the first time, I felt able to hold her in my arms and tell her she was loved. She is a difficult woman, but I have longed all these years to be able to love her; for my husband, it has been much longer. Now, at the end of her life, she has no energy to keep up her defences, and I hope our love is getting through.

It’s said that to understand all, is to forgive all. That understanding and forgiveness does not excuse hurtful behaviour, but it allows compassion in.

Understanding my mother-in-law allows me to let her go in peace.


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