Happy Mother's Day! And I am truly having a wonderful one. My son, Jacob, surprised me by driving home from college last evening for a late dinner and to have Mother's Day breakfast with us. And my husband is spending his day with me working in the garden. What could be better!
If you've been following the Mothers and Daughters Blog Roll, you know that it's been all about traditions and memories. Today I want to remember a woman who is uniquely responsible for the love, happiness, and joy that fills my life every day: my late mother-in-law, Frieda. Without Frieda, well, my husband wouldn't be here now would he? ;)
I'm one of the the few people I know who wishes that she had more time with her mother-in-law.
I first met Mother Frieda during a weekend visit to my parents-in-law's home in Florida when my husband and I became engaged. She was already in failing health and shortly after our visit, her health declined precipitously. She had a massive stroke the day before our wedding and another six weeks later. We flew to Florida when she was transferred to a hospice, where I remained, joined by dear friend Marsha, to care for her and to perform the sacred Jewish rituals for her, the chevra kadisha, when she died. The time I spent with her was important to us both. Marsha and I recited her favorite Hebrew prayers and recite the Mi Sheberach, the Hebrew prayers to ease suffering and improve health.
During the times she was lucid and able to communicate, our family was able to express our love and appreciation for her, and to reassure her that her husband would be coming home with us to live. This had been a great source of anxiety for her, as my husband's elderly father was newly blind and though very independant, she had been his "eyes" for many months.
After my father-in-law died in 2004, I returned to their home several times to clear things out and prepare their home for sale for my husband and his brother. During those trips, I learned much about the wonderful, intelligent, forward thinking, and kind woman that she was. As I read through notes she wrote in her careful handwriting for lectures she gave at Elderhostels about important women in history, women of valor, Yiddish themes, and the importance of family, I discovered that her values, her belief system, her views about family and her role in her world were more like mine than she ever knew and I wish that we had had more time to explore and share our philosophies and perspectives. I know she would have enjoyed that, as I would have.
Marsha had once again accompanied me to Florida to help me with the onerous task of sorting, shipping, packing, and disposing of all the things they had cherished. My husband's parents lived into their ninth decades and were avid travelers and collectors. My most poignant memory is of the afternoon that Marsha and I were cleaning out the walk-in closet in their bedroom. I was gathering my mother-in-law's shoes into a large garbage bag when a tissue and a piece of writing paper fell out of one of them and landed on the floor with a thunk.
Wrapped in the tissue was a diamond ring in a platinum setting and the note, folded up into a small wedge of paper, was addressed to me. We quickly went through all of the shoes and found more "treasures". Over the course of the year before she had died, in the toes of three different shoes from three different pairs, she had tucked her diamond engagement ring, her original wedding band (not the one she usually wore, but the ring that no longer fit over arthritic knuckles), and another pearl ring. Each was accompanied by a note, thanking me for my kindness and sensitivity for things I had done for her.
After we returned home from our initial visit and during her last year at home, I had sent care packages to her every couple of weeks... sanitary undergarments, lotions and scented body washes, and other things I knew she needed. She was a fastidious woman, always particular about her appearance, even when she was infirm. She always called to thank me when the packages arrived, but her notes and the jewelry were a tangible indication of how much she cared for and appreciated me and how much those boxes of goodies meant to her. My only regret is that she was not there with Marsha and me when we found them. Then again, maybe she was.
Happy Mother's Day, Mother Frieda. We remember you fondly. Oseh Shalom bimromav. Hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu.