Early Saturday morning my mother-in-law passed from this life.
It wasn’t unexpected, but it caught us totally by surprise.
She was 90, almost blind, almost completely deaf, and a very frail 60-something pounds.
She had been asking on a daily basis how much longer it’d be before she said adios, saying that people just lived too long.
Since her passing, I’ve found myself devastated.
For most of the 50 years of our life “together,” I didn’t even like her.
In fact, many times I put it in even much harsher terms.
So why has this hit me so hard?
My own mother passed this life a lost girl in a 90-year-old body, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.
A gentle soul, she stayed sweet to the end. She wandered the hallway of Sunshine Terrace trying to figure out when her long-lost husband would come back and how on earth she was going to feed all these people!
I really didn’t know my mother very well. In fact, she once wrote me a note telling me that whenever I listened to Bach’s Piano Concerto (a favorite of mine) to understand that that’s when our minds were simpatico.
She apologized for not really getting to know me. That was in 1965, just after my husband and I moved away to California.
She offered her opinions to me only in the context of food.
We visited often, and I know I was a comfort to her.
I know we loved each other.
Now my mother-in-law was quite the opposite!
She injected her opinion in every way possible, especially when I least wanted to hear it.
It was difficult for me to accept in the early years of my marriage and our early child-rearing days.
Oh, she could be brutal and hurtful, and then she’d turn around and shock you with her generosity, always of the monetary sort.
She did not like to hug anyone or be touched by anyone, and I never heard her say words of comfort.
She only told my husband recently that she loved him, though he knew she did.
Why were those words so hard for her to say?
I grew up in an age when women were supposed to know their place.
We were supposed to stand to the side and back a little of our menfolk, while always being in charge of everything.
That wasn’t an easy task when you worked full time.
So I left home from a place where I had to figure out everything on my own without guidance into close proximity to a woman who told me everything to do.
She could routinely sweep her eyes over my house to hurumph over a dustball she could find in the corner of the kitchen.
So I had to learn to clean. I needed to learn to iron.
I needed to learn to be skilled at many things. I learned from her how to become self-sufficient.
And so because of her I learned to grow up.
I finally was taught by a wise counselor to accept the things I could not change (don’t you love The Serenity Prayer?).
I forgave my mom because she did all she was equipped to do.
It took me longer to forgive my mother-in-law, but I did.
She actually grew to love me; I’m sure of that, though she never expressed it to me.
But she depended on me for many things, and that takes trust.
I’m sure to her that trust meant love. And so I grew to love her, too.
As I age, I can only hope my daughter, my son, my daughter-in-law, and my beautiful granddaughters can understand that I’ve done what I am capable of, too.
I love them dearly and hope I’ve taught them lessons of life as I know it.
And I’ll never stop telling them all how much I dearly love them.
I learned all I know because of these two women who loved me.