My friend, my mother-in-law, Phyllis, died on March 8. Back in 1994.
I didn't really understand her importance, or the impact she had on my life, until after she was gone.
As she lay dying in the hospital, I juggled dual roles. I was helping simultaneously as honored birth coach, on another floor in the hospital, helping my friend, Lisa, through the birth of her first child with the assistance of my friend, Liz, the doctor involved. It was a crazy evening and the birth/death dichotomy was smacking away my uninvited tears. I remember taking the stairs by twos, back and forth between the patients and their hospital floors, and thinking, "This is BIG stuff."
Have you ever had the devilish thought: "How can I miss you if you never go away?" Phyllis was like that for me and I probably uttered that under my breath more than a few times over the years as she pulled into our driveway, unannounced. She knew she wouldn't be interrupting, that we would be outside, that she would find me with the children, playing four square, or catch, or working in the yard. She didn't have to call ahead, and much later, that thought came as comfort to me.
She was always, just, "on the way to the library" or "returning from the bank" and always, ALWAYS, had some little thing for me, for Kate, for the boys. A paperback, a magazine article, Legos, hair ribbons, a ball, a casserole, peach pie. She was always short on advice and long, long, long on loving gestures, offers to help, to listen, to walk.
We talked, regularly, about the antics of her only son, my first real love, the father of my children. She always understood me, shared my frustration, schemed to make it better, pushed forward, withheld judgment. And she never made excuses for him.
One day she told me, flatly but firmly, that I had a right to be happy. Although other loved ones tried (thank you) she was the only one who had the key to unlock that blocked epiphany. We were on our way to McDonald's, my three beautiful, blue-eyed and blonde, precious children singing and yacking in the back seat. I finally heard her, and turned around and saw them in all of their potential, and decided that day to end my formal relationship with her son, and also, on some level, with her. She drove me to the lawyer's office, and later to the courthouse when I committed her son for substance abuse treatment. She waited with the children in the car. She gave me a strength I wouldn't accept from anyone else.
There are many family members in my life that I similarly treasure. Each plays a role and the older I get the more I recognize the gifts they give me.
God bless you, PDM. On behalf of my children, and mostly on behalf of the child I was when I knew you . . . thank you. I will never, ever, forget the gift of you.