Monday, May 26, 2008

Remembering Nancy

Memorial Day. It was started to memorialize those killed in the American Civil War, and expanded after WWI to include all casualties of war or military action. In its current incarnation, it is a day when many Americans visit the buiral sites of loves ones, war victims or not. Also, it is a prime day for picnics. And opening pools.

I won't get into how we as a culture rarely respect our war dead, much less our war living. Whole 'nother post.

I want to talk about my mother in law, Nancy. She was the glue of her family. She was funny, incredibly smart, and quick-tongued. She was kind to everyone she met, unless she wasn't. She was not perfect, but she was incredibly loved. She was survived by her father, her siblings, her husband, her son, and her daughter. She was 53 when she died. I had only been dating her son for about six months when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. By the time our one year anniversary rolled around, she was gone. She spent much of the five months between her diagnosis and death trying to cajole Hubs and I into marrying in the hospital chapel.

Memorial Day sometimes means standing over a grave, and asking yourself for the millionth time, "is this real?!? I still cannot believe it. How can it be that she is gone?" You leave flowers, and you cry tears anew. And it's not much to say that you've taken this day to remember, because God knows that you never, ever forget. The absence of that person is too large, a black hole that looms ever-present. You learn not to walk too close to its pull, because going into that dark again is too much. You cannot live that way. But you want to make sure that no one else forgets, either. Even people who have nothing to remember.

How do you memorialize your missing family members to the ones they never met? How do you teach your kids about Grandma, gone long before they even entered the world?

I try to memorialize her each day in the way that I parent. I often wish that she were here, although god knows if she were this would be another my-MIL-is-so... post. I try to think about her values, how she raised her son, and I eke out all the stories of her that I can. I want my kids to know about their Grandma in heaven. She was a phenomenal lady. Which of course leads to the next logical worry-- how do I teach them about Grandma in heaven and stave off the staggering realization that someday Mommy will be there, too? (And every day I pray that my kids will someday know this pain, the alternative is that they will have gone first and that is too much to bear.)

It is a heady responsibility, carrying this torch. I know that she would be so proud of her son, and of her grandchildren. And she would be proud of me.

Because the way that I try to memorialize my mother in law is by trying to become the new glue of our family. It is me that urges each visit back home, even though the family she left behind has changed forever for her absence. It is me that encourages family activities, and me that tries to make sure my kids have meaningful relationships with my husband's family even when that is diffficult for me personally. It is what she would have wanted. It is how she would have wanted to be memorialized. With a strong family, replenished by the addition of my two beautiful children. Each day that I invest in that family is Memorial Day.


Heather said...

What a hard thing to go through so early in your marriage. My MIL was hospitalized shortly after my husband and I started dating, with a life-threatening illness. She's been lucky so far, in that she has recovered, but we never know when things could go south again.

My daughter frequently tells me she misses Grandpa K (my grandfather who died in 1989). I'm not sure why she thinks she misses him, but I seem to have brought him to life for her even though he's been gone long before she was born. I just say "I do too" and we leave it at that.

Kirsetin said...

How fortunate your kids are that you carry this torch. Thank you for sharing this truly touching post.