Monday, April 15, 2013


When we got married Husband asked his parents what they would like me to call them, and they said "Why, Mom and Dad, of course."

I hated that. I already had parents whom I adored, and it seemed wrong to call someone else by their nicknames, as if I were being disloyal to that love. So I spent most of the three decades I knew my in-laws avoiding the issue. I would call them "Husband's mother and dad" or their first names if I was talking about them to someone else. When the Boys came along they became Grandma and Grandpa. If I couldn't avoid direct address, I would say MOM or DAD in a slightly higher-pitched tone--it just wasn't natural for me to call these people Mom and Dad.

But a month ago the hospital needed a health history as our frail 91-year-old widow was being checked in for observation following her latest fall. "I'm her daughter-in-law," I told the nurse. "Is it okay if I'm the one who does this?" The nurse looked at me. "How long have you been married? Thirty years? She's your mother now, too."

Friday morning Husband got a call from the retirement village. We've come to dread the sight of that number on the caller ID and this call was no different. Still recovering from the fall of four weeks ago, my mother-in-law apparently had suffered a minor stroke. What did we want to do?

We had talked about this possibility during the rapid decline of the past few months, and we agreed that nothing was to be gained by a trip to the emergency room where she would lie on an uncomfortable gurney for hours. Instead, we called hospice.

That morning I sat with my mother-in-law and held her hand. With recent loss of appetite she's also lost any extra flesh she might have had and I could feel every bone in her fingers, every pulse of a vein. She looked at me, gripped my hand and tried to talk but could only manage frustrating nonsense syllables. Finally I began to sing in my unlovely voice, old hymns that she had so often played on the piano. She closed her eyes and slept.

The next day comfort care was in place, and when I visited she was in bed. She didn't rouse when I took her hand.

"I don't know if you can hear me," I whispered, "but I want you to know that I could not have asked for a better mother-in-law. You never came between Husband and me, and you always thought I was a better person than I actually am. Thank you for that, and for raising such a good son and for being glad I married him. I love you, Mom."

The final call came yesterday at mid-afternoon.

She loved her family, especially her three boys, intensely and and with unwavering loyalty. She loved stuffed animals and eating at McDonald's.

Her name was Jeanette, and she was my mother, too.


  1. Just beautiful. Relationships don't happen, they grow. I have been praying since they wheeled me past you at the hospital that day a month ago. Endings are usually sad, and beginnings are usually scary. It's what happens in the middle that really counts. Praying for your family.

  2. Family isn't always blood, and blood doesn't always mean we love any deeper. I think you were so brave and so loving, your MIL couldn't have wished for a more caring daughter than the one she had in you. I found your comment on FB and followed it here, I am so glad I did. :-)

  3. I hope when the day comes that I show as much love and compassion as you have. You're such a good example to follow. You all are in our thoughts and prayers.

  4. This was so beautifully said. Sorry for your loss.

  5. A lovely tribute. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  6. Beautiful. I've been in your shoes. You are a wise woman.

  7. Oh I am so sorry for your loss. Sending strength and peace to you and your dear husband. Hope he can take some time away now that tax season is done.

  8. I'm so very sorry for your loss.
    Thinking of you and your family.

  9. Praying for strength and peace and comfort for you and your family!

  10. Beautifully written as always...and from your heart! An amazing bond. Thanks for sharing.
    Seth Leeper

  11. You are such an amazing loving woman of God. Always someone I look up to. Thanks for being you. Love you!!!