How can the sun rise if she’s not here to see it?
Being a daughter-in-law can be weird. I think we can all agree on that.
You raised him, I’d banter.
But you married him, she’d counter.
Over the years I carried my petty gripes to her like so many green apples in a pail. The way he grumbled about a new shower curtain, came in late for dinner, snored in bed at night.
Tell him, she advised. You are the lady of the house.
I’ve watched her sing infants to sleep, hem a skirt, turn warm soil into a blooming garden.
I’ve listened to her explain how every meal should start with soup, even in the middle of summer.
Instinctively, she knew autism is a listener’s language.
Long before she understood the diagnosis, she understood the boy named Jack.
Every Sunday morning, she sat at the table peeling ripe yellow pears. Knife facing palm, which everyone knows is the most dangerous way to cut fruit, she sliced it into pieces and passed it around.
Time and time again he brought her Bunny, the most precious of belongings. The keeper of his sleep, the soother of anxiety, the stuffed rabbit whose ears and tail were subject of fierce forefinger-and-thumb rubbing on the baddest of days.
He brought Bunny for fixing. Without a word—not even a tsk tsk about why a teenager sleeps with a stuffed animal—she got up and went to the sewing machine in the basement. In the cool darkness, she repaired this boy’s heartache by way of needle and thread.
After we learned the “news,” in quotations, the news that life is dear and the end is near, this boy Jack texted me.
“Can you tell Grandma this?”
“What, buddy?” I typed back.
“Grandma, I’m going to miss you. I realize for the past few days that bunny is so fixed. Sunday mornings will not be the same and I have kept thinking about you every single day.”
Now she is gone. The matriarch, this mother of six, grandmother to twenty, the autism whisperer.
As sickness prevailed and her body weakened, I watch her last child, the dark-haired man with gentle eyes, tuck pillows behind her back.
I watched as he wheeled her to bed, arranged covers just so, and thought, despite a few sour-apple moments, I’ve chosen my partner well.
This is her most precious gift—the gift of clearing away life’s clutter so we can see what was right in front of us the whole time.
Days before her final moment, she sat upright in a wheelchair. Bolstered by fresh energy, she ordered her house back together via vacuum, Windex, and mop.
A rally! we thought.
A reprieve from the vicious disease ravaging her white blood cells, we hoped.
In the end, it was nothing more than good old fashioned practical sense. After all, if a bunch of people are about to drop by the house, it darn well better be clean.
This, in a nutshell, is my mother-in-law.
The glue of the family—the soup-maker, storyteller, Bunny-fixer.
And she is gone.
She is gone now, yet we see her in the most unexpected places.
The fabric that frames our windows, silky curtains reaching the floor.
An errant Tupperware lid, leftover from a dish of ravioli pressed into our hands.
She is the lullaby before bedtime, the fresh bite of juicy pear, a tender patch of earth turned green.
She is gone, and still the sun rises.
It rises because it doesn’t know what else to do.
It rises because everything must come to an end, no matter how sad, broken, restless, angry we are.
For now, we are all of these things.
In time, we will understand. Even the darkest night ends with light.
Until then, we will remember the woman who cooked and loved and planted and advised.
Forever the lady of her house.
“I couldn’t believe I was so blessed with such a grandma like you and now I’m really sad to see you go.
This family will never be the same. I’m literally texting this with sadness. Thank you for being the best grandma ever. I’m going to miss you deeply.”