Note: This story was written a few days ago as I reflected on my mother-in-law.
Saying goodbye is never easy. We’re on our way to my mother-in-law’s funeral service. I’m in the backseat while my husband drives and our grown son sits in the front with him. It’s a two-hour drive and I like that the two of them choose the music for the ride—either on SiriusXM or an iPod.
My husband and I last saw his mom six days ago on a rainy Thursday. During this pandemic, hospitals aren’t allowing visitors, but somehow one of her nurses, a friend of one of my sisters-in-law, worked it out for the family to visit. The doctors and nurses knew her time was limited. She was being transferred to a hospice facility that afternoon and we were allowed to visit her. We wore our masks, had our temperatures taken and were escorted to her room in the skilled nursing unit one and two at a time. There were five of us. Two of my other sisters-in-law saw her the night before. We knew this was a true gift and were grateful to the medical caregivers for the chance to see her.
My mother-in-law was a mixture of sass and sentimentality. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone tougher or more determined when she had her mind set on something.
I married the youngest of her five children, so she was a seasoned mother-in-law by the time I came into the picture. She welcomed me into the family with a quiet, understated kindness.
I liked to kid around with her, teasing my 93-year-old mother-in-law about staying out of trouble and being sure to compliment her hair. I’ve officially been in the family more than three decades (and unofficially years before that) and never had I seen her with anything other than a full head of silvery, gray hair. My husband once said she started graying at 30.
Villa got her hair “done” every Thursday – washed, curled and set – the hair of a generation or two before us. She always looked impeccable. Someone had styled her hair just a couple of days before we saw her in the hospital.
We didn’t have the kind of relationship where you get pedicures and chat over a glass of wine. We were far apart in age, as well as in personal interests, but we found common ground. Her favorite thing was cooking and baking for her family. She was never happier than when her large family was sitting at her dining table in her home, complimenting her pound cake or pecan pie. I often asked her for recipes of dishes that I loved. We talked about Days of Our Lives—what was going on with Bo and Hope. I had watched for years but no longer did; she had watched for years and still enjoyed the daytime soap. I asked about the farm and how the baby calves were. She would tell me how they were bottle-feeding Daisy because the mama cow was too sick to nurse her. Once I offhandedly mentioned that I needed to get a couple new serving spoons and she reached into her kitchen drawer and handed me two silver serving spoons that looked old enough to have been her mother’s and I think she said they had been. I was touched. They’re just spoons, but I cherish them.
She treated everyone mostly the same which isn’t always the case, which I learned from doing a study of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. She was also low drama. I appreciated these things about her.
She lost her husband 15 years ago and lived by herself in the family home they’d moved into early in their marriage—until just seven weeks ago when she broke her hip and then contracted pneumonia. I thought she’d live to be at least 100.
As I was leaving her room on that last day that I saw her, I leaned my masked face down to kiss her on the cheek and I said, “I love you, V.” Her eyes were mostly closed and she spoke in a low voice she had been using all morning, as if she were dreaming, “I love you, too. See you tomorrow.”
I will miss her.