We joke about mothers-in-law a lot in America. Most of the jokes revolve around how judgmental they are, expressing a “you’re not fit for my daughter” kind of attitude. Jokes aside, mothers-in-law are actually right about that I suppose. Thorns don’t really fit the rose do they?
I’ve heard stories of bad mothers-in-law from friends and family and some of the stories are probably true to one degree or another, although it takes two to tango as the old adage goes. Yet while they must exist, bad mothers-in-law just haven’t been my experience. They’ve been like real mothers to me—not merely “in-law” mothers—and I’ve cherished the relationships I’ve enjoyed with them. I’ve been saddened when they were gone.
I wrote above “they’ve been like real mothers to me”…in other words a plurality of mothers-in-law…because I’ve had two of them in my life, both of them blessings to me. My second mother-in-law Mary Burke, who I wrote about this past December, was the “Christmas Miracle Lady”. I wrote then that Mary had recovered from a 10 day or so comatose condition in which she had drank little and eaten less to participate in a family Christmas celebration she did not want to miss. She was fully awake and cognizant and laughed and cried and saw all her kids, grandkids and great grand kids one more time that turned out to be the last time. More about Mary later.
I lost my first mother-in-law, Gail Shirk, back in 1988 through divorce. I loved Gail like a second Mom and there was no (outward at least) “you’re not fit for my daughter” attitude from her. I really felt like she loved me. She and her husband Al accepted me and adopted me like a third son and made me an integral part of their family. And I felt connected to them that way…right up until their daughter and I separated, ultimately to divorce.
It was like a switch had been turned off. I basically never heard from Gail again. My Dad always said “blood was thicker than water” and I guess he was right. But I suspect that turning off that switch was as hard on my former in-laws as it was on me. I tried to understand that in choosing sides Gail had to support and love her daughter over me. But I hated to lose my second Mom.
My first Mom, my “real, blood kin” Mom passed away August 1, 2017. The other day I felt a cool breeze caress my cheek while sweating through yard work. I thought of my Mom and still, a year and a half since her death, tears welled up in my eyes. For those who had a loving relationship with their Moms, you know what I mean. Losing a Mom, the lady that carried you, bore you, raised you, and loved you even during those times (like teenage years) when you hadn’t really earned her love…well, that’s one of life’s hardest experiences. At least for me it has been.
And so, as life generally demands, I lost my last remaining Mom, my second mother-in-law Mary Burke “the Christmas Miracle Lady” on Good Friday. She had hung on since Christmas when she temporarily re-blossomed, transitioning from a state of mostly sleeping to one of being “with it” during the family Christmas party she so dearly wanted to be a part of and so therefore was.
In hospice care now and shortly after the Christmas party Mary fell back into periods of being comatose and others of rallying but with a slow, increasing degradation until she contracted inhalation pneumonia (not uncommon in patients with Parkinson’s Disease as Mary was suffering from) and died several days later.
My third Mom, Mary, was a vibrant, positive, outgoing, intelligent lady who never had a bad word to say about anybody…at least that I heard. We could use a little bit more of Mary in our society these days. She was born of the Great Depression in late October 1929 but lived not to depress but instead to prop up all those blessed enough to know and love her.
I’ll let a part of her obituary speak for her: “Mary was a loving and supportive wife, mother, and daughter known for her warm, caring devotion to her family, for her appreciation of a good joke, for her quick, steel trap-like mind, for her love of travel and playing Scrabble, and for her sweet tooth especially her fondness of chocolate.” She was a good woman.
I was lucky to know and love Mary. And just as I was lucky to know and love and heartily miss Mom’s #1 and #2, I’ll miss Mary, my Mom #3. The world’s a worse place today without this mother-in-law.