My former mother-in-law, Charlotte, died today. She went the way many of us hope to, in her sleep, and in her 90s. But I am rather shocked at the depth of the loss I am feeling. She was a deeply good woman who was kind and forgiving. She walked beside me, a quiet, unassuming but constant presence, through some of the hardest and most painful years of my life, and she was always there. She forgave me my youthful pride, and she quietly loved us, through and after the loss of her son, my former husband, my children’s father. Her loss is being deeply felt in our hearts.
I humbly offer this piece I wrote about her a while back, when I realized what a gift she was to me, and to my children. If there is a merciful and loving God, then David was there waiting for her this morning, and she is wrapped in light and free of pain.
Our hearts are broken today.
I owe my former mother-in-law an apology. Years ago, back when life was safe and normal, and my then-husband was allowing me the luxury of staying home with my babies, I had a very unforgiving opinion of my then-mother-in-law. I’ve long-since revised that opinion privately (and to her), but it occurred to me I wrote some very harsh and frank pieces about my interactions with her, and while I have experienced the shift and nuance of that relationship changing, my written record, and what stands as a testament to my character, has not reflected those changes.
My MIL and I are very different people. Our life-experiences and generational perspective are worlds apart— and while that can probably be said of most women in our stations, here it’s particularly true. She had my husband later in life, and is actually older than my own grandmother would have been. It was easy for me to forget that she wasn’t of my mother’s generation, and actually had children the same age as my parents. It made for a complicated dynamic which I was not mature enough to fully understand. It’s likely I still can’t. But I at least wish to acknowledge my own complicity in what was so frequently a complicated and difficult relationship.
My MIL is a good person. Even when we seemed to be at cross-purposes, she was never unkind. She loves my children greatly, and has gone out of her way to always make sure they know it. When we’re young and have the hubris of still thinking we know ‘everything’ we can miss the subtlety of differing forms of expression. I made this mistake— a lot. Because my MIL did things differently than my own mother, differently than I would have, I felt secure in disregarding her perspective. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must have been to her, and I wish to apologize.
Throughout the colossal disaster of her son’s and my divorce, she continued, though I’m sure her heart was daily breaking, to reach out to me. It was actually in the painful shards of mutual loss of her son that I think I finally was able to see her as a mother and woman. Her continued kindness, despite my own howling pain, came to be something stable and reliable, and I am grateful to her for not giving up on me.
Now, nearly four years out from the divorce, and living across the country, we don’t see each other anymore. I still try and make sure she gets pictures of the kids, and I could certainly be better about having them call her. She still offers support and sends the kids cards and occasionally video chats with them. I’m grateful for her willingness to continue to help my ex-husband; it’s through her support that he is working on his recovery and able to successfully be a part of his kids’ lives, even if at a distance.
She has seen more than her share of heart-break, and as time has marched on, I have found my respect for her growing. I don’t know why some folks gets heaping piles of heartache in this life while others skate through… I may never understand. I am, however, deeply indebted and grateful to this particular woman, who has provided an example of compassionate love and forgiveness in the face of more than her share of tragedy.
I hope that sets the record straight.