Last Friday, my mother-in-law passed away. Just one day before her 40th wedding anniversary to my father-in-law. She was only 59.
We were in Chicago. My husband was at the hotel with D while I was working the booth for one of my clients at BlogHer. He sent a text asking me to come back to the hotel as soon as I could. I got the eerie something-is-wrong feeling and asked why, when he said “my mom just passed”. Gut = kicked. Then panic. Who’s going to cover for me? Where are my things? I need a cab NOW. It took a half hour to get back to the hotel, and not knowing what else to do, we just started packing our things and checked out. In the middle of rush hour traffic in downtown Chicago. Not our most brilliant idea, but we didn’t know what else to do. Go out to dinner and just leave the next morning? Neither of us felt like eating or sleeping. But sitting in traffic, as it turns out, wasn’t any better for our nerves. It was about 10:30 pm before we made it to Indianapolis and decided to check in to a hotel rather than drive until 2:30 am.
Not being able to immediately be with family in times of tragedy is pretty devastating. But I’m glad we were together at least, because I nearly took that work trip alone, in which case I would’ve had to try to get back to STL before we could leave. And he would’ve been alone with D for at least 24 hours, waiting for me.
Once we arrived, things were pretty chaotic. The family has lived in that area their entire lives. They’re members of a church, with an extensive church family. Before we even got there, the fridge and counter tops were packed to the gills with food that people had brought. On one hand, it was nice for the family to feel the love and support of so many, and on the other, there were times we thought about turning off the phone and locking the doors because it was just too much. Too difficult to be “on” and feel like you needed to entertain folks while they looked at you with sympathy.
When my grandpa passed away last year, that was the first and only time I’d been directly involved in funeral arrangements. For those who have been fortunate enough to still not have that experience, I will tell you this: It’s a lot of work. So much so that I would much rather everyone be required to plan their own funeral so their spouse or children don’t have to do it.
Because we were so late getting into town, my husband’s two sisters did most of the planning. And for that, he was especially grateful. He didn’t want to have to make any of those decisions. They picked out the casket, her outfit, the flowers, the guestbook, the photos, the slideshow, the music, and pretty much everything. And it was all so very lovely. The services were held on Monday afternoon, at her church, with the burial immediately following, and a dinner at the church after that. She had more flowers than I had ever seen, and so many people came by – in the middle of a work day – to pay their respects. My parents even attended to help baby-wrangle so I could sit up front at the service. Each child and one grandchild wrote letters about their favorite memories, which the minister read during the service. Three of the other grandchildren gave tributes by singing, and it was especially heartbreaking when two of them broke down after the first verse of Amazing Grace and had to return to their seats, crying.
For those who may be new here, my MIL battled MS for more than 20 years. It’s a terrible auto-immune disease, one that affects people differently, and has no cure. She’s been in a wheelchair for the last 15 years, and for the last nearly 10 years, hasn’t been able to use her hands or arms. She was in tremendous pain, especially these last couple of years.
Over the weekend, a cousin remarked that he felt so guilty going to church with her, because it would be 2 hours of pure hell for her to get up, get into her wheelchair, and get ready for church whereas it was just so effortless for him to get up, throw on some clean clothes, and go to church. She went through so much pain to do something so simple, yet there she would sit with a smile on her face, just happy to be there.
And that’s just how she was. No words could adequately describe the kind of woman she was – kind, caring, thoughtful, classy, funny, strong-willed, and smart as a whip. She could get fired up at the littlest things, but cry at the drop of a hat if she was worried about someone. And she was ALWAYS worried about someone, no matter how sick she was all the time. She was always there for her kids, and never missed a sporting event or art show or spelling bee competition for the grandkids.
Losing a parent is never easy and I hate that she won’t be around to dote on D and watch him grow up. I know she was looking forward to that. And despite his shyness with strangers right now, he would ALWAYS light up whenever he saw her. He always had a smile for her, while everyone else got the evil eye from him. The last time the three of us visited was at the end of May for D’s birthday. And this is the last pic of them. She was in terrible shape, unable to sit up straight anymore, and in constant pain. But she had a smile on her face anyway, and I know we’ll cherish this pic forever.