Family dynamics are the invisible force behind every caregiving journey

Caring for my mother-in-law

My mother-in-law passed away last December. It started with taking her to medical appointments. She needed someone to advocate for her because she was having a hard time expressing herself, her symptoms, and she was being dismissed by the healthcare system, the typical “Oh she’s 84”. They actually missed that she had ovarian cancer.

I then started taking her to oncology appointments, radiation appointments, her first surgery. She came and stayed with us as she recovered from this surgery, and when she was well enough, she went back home. Then COVID hit and we could no longer see her in her retirement building. I bought her an Iphone so we could face time ‘though we had more conversations looking at the ceiling than anywhere else!

Her symptoms all returned-the cancer was back-and she was placed on palliative care. We (my husband and my kids) decided to have her move in with us-this was in October. It eventually became full care-24/7. Her last week with us was getting up every 2 hours to give her meds so she didn’t have pain. Having her home for her last breath, especially during COVID, was the best thing we did. We didn’t know if we put her into hospice, or if she was in the hospital, if we would be able to see her, to be at her bedside.

I was her daughter-in-law, not her daughter, but in the end, I think she really appreciated what I did for her. She was very grateful. For me, it was the right thing to do- family is everything. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my family and I knew what it meant to my husband, to my kids, to my sister-in-law. And especially during COVID, I didn’t want her to be alone. And I already knew she didn’t like hospitals. She was very scared of the system.

For us, it was an opportunity really, to bring her happiness as she experienced the end of life. In terms of my husband, I don’t even think appreciative was the word. Even for the kids, thank you wasn’t enough. They all tried to give me breaks, and they did things like cooking and cleaning. And I have to say, my husband stepped up quite a bit. When it came to the point of changing diapers, he would hold her up so I wouldn’t have to do it all alone. Even if I was getting up to give her meds, he would get up with me. It wasn’t all on me.

And it brought me closer to my mother-in-law than I ever was. She wasn’t my mother but I loved her.

Even as a family, we all came together to do this and everybody stepped up to do whatever they could do. Because it was COVID and we were in complete lockdown in Quebec, we ended up with a very full house. It was my son’s girlfriend, who lived with us during this time, my husband, my son and my daughter, and my sister-in-law was over every day.

My kids are older -21 and 23-and this was their Nene (grandmother in Armenian), and it was hard for them to watch her decline but they have no regrets. We did have an open conversation in the family early on-we asked the kids if they were ok if Nene came and passed away in our house. They were very close to her and I wouldn’t have done it if they weren’t ok with it. My husband has always been over and above when it comes to taking care of family, but before we brought her here, we wanted to talk about her taking her last breath here. I especially wanted them to be comfortable in the home afterwards. Everyone agreed it was the best option.

They found it hard for sure-they had their moments when they broke down-especially when they saw their Nene in pain. And my daughter, who was very close to her, wasn’t sleeping at night because she didn’t want to miss hearing her Nene  if she needed something in the night. And when it was all over, all said and done, my daughter said she wouldn’t have done anything differently-wouldn’t have done it any other way. She really appreciated having her grandmother there. Eventually we had to move her to the main floor and so we turned our dining room into a bedroom and my daughter was just sit with her watching tv together or they would take a nap together. She holds on to those things as good memories. And when it comes down to it, death is really part of life isn’t it?


All caregiving stories matter. Are you willing to share yours? Whether at the giving end or the receiving end of things, we want to hear from you. Just email me at: janevock@sehc.com and we can connect and you can share your story with me and our Elizz readers.

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  • Kelly Pantaleo
    Fri Aug 13 2021, 13:15
    My daughter just died as we were taking her down to a doctor’s appointment!!! When we arrived, she had already died of a heart attack!!! I have so many comments to make and so many questions!!!! Where do I begin? Who will listen to me!!!! I feel as if I have died right along with her!!!!
    • JaneVock
      Thu Nov 25 2021, 15:14
      Oh my gosh Kelly. I am so sorry to hear/read this. I know this was last summer. I hope you reached out for support and are taking care of yourself.