Maybe it’s not disease or crime or tripping over the cat that kills us. Maybe it’s change.

In this winter of impossible snows, devious ice, and sub-zero temperatures that stab through bone, I am thinking of my mother-in-law (MIL). Hoping to escape just this sort of mess, she moved from Minnesota to a townhouse in North Carolina not far from us. We visited her regularly, took her shopping and to the doctor, and even taught her to use a computer—for word games. She loved words and proper English and only watched two television shows: Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. She read five books a week.

Then came one December when ice coated the trees in Greensboro, snapped the power lines, and sent us scurrying for the last room at the Sheraton. By then, MIL was on oxygen so my husband and I trundled her frail 80-year-old body and her massive oxygen machine to the hotel. We shared a double. She read, and we watched movies.

One evening, during Men in Black, I glanced over to check on MIL and found the most befuddled and horrified look on her face. Her book had dropped from her hands. Her mind had overloaded; she couldn’t take it all in. A world of alien insects commandeering human bodies and snarky talking dogs. She never recovered.


The next month she passed away. I suppose we could attribute it to the second round of stress fractures in her back and her tired body simply saying, “Enough of this.” But I still blame the men in black and that obnoxious pug.

Before that winter, I never understood why the elderly refused to leave their cold, powerless homes; why they chose days of shivering in a place they knew over being carried in the arms of a strong, hunky firefighter to a clean, warm shelter.

Before then, I had laughed at MIL when she took one look at the mouse we had just attached to her new computer and screamed, “Improvement? I can’t use that thing. I don’t want to learn anything new.” So she didn’t. She turned her back on the mouse and the computer.

Now, I live in Minnesota, where weather changes in a blink and ice is no stranger. Like my mother-in-law, I have discovered there are things I don’t want to learn either. (Do I have to jump on the next social media bandwagon?) Still, I try to step up to new challenges. But to be on the safe side, I avoid Men in Black.