My mother-in-law’s birthday is today. She would have been 72 years old but she died from lung cancer almost five years ago. I only got to know her for one short year. I don’t even know if technically she would be considered my mother-in-law since her son and I weren’t married when she died. We didn’t get married until another two years after that. But she knew before she died that we would stay together. And get married. I knew also.
She and I got to spend not just one but two hurricanes together. And got to know each other a lot better. The fall of 2004 brought hurricanes Frances and Jeanne to my area. She lived in an older house in a part of our county that didn’t have a good utility system. Her electricity was sure to give out quickly and take long to get reinstated. So for the first hurricane, she came to my house, which was newer and built better than code. My kids were away, in the Poconos, for the Labor Day weekend with their dad so it was just me and her, her son and a good friend of ours. And we had a good time. The power went out; we played table hockey in the dark and hung around. We talked and laughed. She told stories about her past and stories about her son and his brother and sister growing up.
When the second hurricane, Jeanne, came around, we stayed at her son’s house, a mile from mine, because his power came back sooner the first time. And again, we spent a lot of time together. And it was fun. Even with all of the health issues that came with her cancer, she was someone you wanted to be around. And I loved hearing the old stories about my future husband.
She gave me an early Christmas present that year. It didn’t matter that I was Jewish. We were out running errands, the three of us, and she decided that she wanted to get me an orchid from Home Depot. I picked out a nice medium sized one. But she would have none of it. She picked out the biggest, prettiest one there. I protested. It was hugely tall and expensive. I didn’t want her to spend her money on it. Especially since my track record with orchids was not good. They always seemed to die in my hands. But she insisted.
A couple of weeks later, she died at her home surrounded by her children, granddaughter and me. It was one of the most beautiful and awful things I have ever been a part of. And I’m glad I was there.
I am so lucky that I knew her. And that she knew that her son and I would be together. I like to think that knowing that gave her some comfort and happiness. When she was dying, one of my predominant thoughts was that I wanted her to know that I would take care of her son. That she didn’t have to worry about him. Not that he couldn’t take care of himself but that I would be with him and that he and I would bring our two families together, as hard as it is at times, and make a new family.
I am not a very religious person but I believe that we go somewhere after this life. And this belief allows me to think that she knows all of this. And that makes me happy.
The orchid sits on my back porch where it gets the afternoon sun. It has grown and it blossoms every year. Lizards like to sit within the folds of the leaves and underneath the mulch. I’m always surprised when they jump out as I’m giving the plant a little water. Right now there is a long sprig shooting out which means that in a few days I’ll have some blossoms.
I don’t think a day goes by without my husband thinking of his mother and missing her. I may not think of her everyday but I think about her a lot. Especially this time of year, when it’s her birthday and the orchid is blossoming.
Happy Birthday Marie. We miss you.