When my mother in law had a heart attack, we were facing impossible life-altering choices

When this post goes live, I’ll be in Switzerland, buying sweets and chocolates for my trip to the U.S. next week. I’ll be enjoying the company of family and relatives, amazing food and hopefully glorious fall weather. St. Gallen, my home town, can be glorious this time of year. However, this year our trip is overshadowed by my mother in law’s health. After suffering a heart attack, she was rushed to the hospital where the professionals quickly surmised that she needed major open heart surgery to replace a heart valve and to undergo a triple bypass. Yeah, imagine. Life…

Disease isn't 'really' about Alzheimer's, it's a story about celebrating life, creating memories that outlive our physical existence.

Disease, my highly praised coming novel, isn’t ‘really’ about Alzheimer’s, it’s a story about celebrating life, creating memories that outlive our physical existence. You can pre-order it here.

Open heart surgery is never easy. Recovery times are three months for healthy people. Well, healthy for someone who needs that sort of major op. But for someone who’d suffered a major stroke, whose general health is on a slow downward slope? Yeah. Luckily, we didn’t have to make the choice between surgery and no-surgery. In Sweden, when someone isn’t of sound mind, that decision lies with the healthcare professionals.

Today the hospital informed us that they wouldn’t perform any surgery on my husband’s mom. I should say I’m relieved, but on the other hand I also know that this means that she could suffer another heart attack at pretty much any given time. Tomorrow. Or a year from now. But like Hunter in my coming novel, a best before date has been place on my MIL’s life, and unlike the date we all have to face at some point, it’s not in the too distant future.

The death of Casper is the start of the story, not the end. A story of life and one hell of a relationship.

Luckily for her, she’s not aware of all this, never will be. Not consciously. But we, her kids, and her grandchildren, are. And we have to deal with it, somehow. Carpe diem comes to mind, and we’ve already decided to travel the three and a half hours north to see her more regularly. Quality of life. And if seeing her grandson and her two “boys” (as she refers to us) gives her joy then so be it. Least we can do. Meanwhile we get to form some final and lasting memories of our mother, mother-in-law and grandma.

Needless to say it’s hardest on my husband. He lost his dad twelve years ago, and is now facing the harsh reality of losing his second parent any day. For me, it’s going to be rough. I’ll be reminded of my own mother’s passing, I’ll think of the day when my dad joins her and that I, too, will be all alone. No more calling “home” for advice or that friendly, non-judgemental ear. You know? That unconditional love? For our son, he’s only four and a half years old, it’s difficult to say how he’ll react. He was only nine months old when his Nona passed. Nothing to remember. But he knows his grandma, and he even left her one of his plush animals at the hospital so she wouldn’t be alone. It’s hard to tell whether he loves her and how that manifests in terms of loss. We’ll see. Maybe, just maybe we’ll get to practice this with our oldest feline family member first. He’s been getting weaker and weaker and at almost nineteen, he’s way past his prime. But yeah, loss we’ll experience. Part of life, the ultimate consequence of it, actually.

Alex (my husband) lamented the other day that being middle-aged meant having more and more death around you. Hopefully we’re better equipped to handle it than when we were kids. But I understand how he feels. Pretty soon, our generation will be the “oldest” one, the one at the frontier so to speak, the next one in line to… kick the bucket? Pick out the good suit? People sometimes ask me why I chose to write two books in a row about death, first Nilas’s story, the loss of Casper, and now Hunter’s, and Ethan’s coping with that. Sometimes I think people misunderstand. Neither of those books are about death, or dying. They’re about living, Nilas’s is about the memories he holds of Casper and their life together and how he can best celebrate that memory by living his life to the fullest. For Hunter it’s all about maximizing the quality of life, rather than the quantity, to bestow as many good memories on his little daughter Amy as humanly possible. Quality over quantity.

So if you pick up any of those two books, by all means, shed tears, but make sure they are cathartic, because those stories celebrate life, and for as long as we have memories of our loved ones, they live on, forever, through us.

Have a wonderful weekend,

Hans

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PS2: I was recently invited to a great podcast called The Wrote Podcast. Click here to listen to the episode.

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