Many jokes have been made throughout time about Mothers-In-Law. In fact they have been the subject matter of books and movies forever. They don’t often come off in a good light. My husband always said when my son got married I would be a terrible mother-in-law. Well having a son makes me understand how my mother in law felt about my husband. When my husband died I knew she understood what I felt having lost my father-in-law at a younger age. But she lost a son. I also lost a son. The difference is my boy was an infant and hers was a 63 year old grandfather. I lost the dreams of a future. Who would he be? What would he do? Would he look like the others? I would see children that would be his age and think about what could have been Even now. Would he be in his last year of university or take that extra year like his brother. I lost the what ifs. My mother in law lost that as well but she was left with the memories.
My mother in law, Pat wears hearing aids. During the funeral three of my grandchildren presented readings. I was so impressed with them. Their bravery. My children all spoke about their father. Their words were their own and their individual styles showed in their speeches. Like most services there were readings and music. A video memorial. Meaningful aspects only we the family understood. And then afterwards came the realization that Pat was having trouble with her hearing aids that day and missed most of what was said about her son. Her first born. She asked for the kids speeches. My sons was a scribbled collection of notes on cards from which he drew talking points as he spoke off the cuff. The oldest daughter typed hers but had edits and arrows pointing here and there as she continued making adjustments as she read and reread it before the funeral. The youngest girl, I never even saw hers. There was a general feeling that we should get them to Pat but no one seemed able to do it. Until a couple of months ago. I finally set about doing the task which I knew would take an emotional toll on me.
I decided to type and edit all of the speeches as well as the readings. Explain why we chose the readings. The one from Ecclesiastes was also read at my son Ethan’s funeral. The 23rd Psalm was one my husband loved. A poem by EE Cummings held special meaning to myself and my husband. A piece of our history. “I carry your heart in my heart.” Enough said. And the song lyrics on the back of the program? It was the last song he e-mailed himself. Something he did all the time so he could print off the music in order to learn a song on the guitar or piano. “Spirit” by Chris De Burgh. As he sings about the spirit coming to take me home. Chris De Burgh was a man we both loved and went to see every time he was on tour. It was almost prophetic that Rene’ chose this song. Soon the project was underway and I printed out the words to all of the music as well. The processional song, recorded by Robert Plant (my first true love) and Alisson Krauss, was a cover of an old tune recorded by Doc Watson. One his wife Rosa came up with. Your Lone Journey. Rene bought me the CD when it first came out as he did with everything Robert Plant related. I guess Rene’ never really felt threatened by that other guy. The words cut so deep when you are grieving. One of the hymns we sang was “Your Borning Cry”. We also sang it when my twin grandsons were baptised. They each wore a gown my husband and I had also worn at our own baptisms. And so, it was fitting to sing the hymn. It is written from God’s perspective. He is there when we are born and he is there when we die. It is about the full circle of life. Who knew we would sing it for such different reasons in less than six months. The other hymn was made famous by Cat Stevens, “Morning Has Broken.” Originally a Christian hymn from the early 1900’s, it reminds us to give thanks for each day we are blessed to live on this great and beautiful planet. Rene’ came to a place in life where he knew what was important. He did give thanks for each and every day. As the service was ending, suddenly there was Rene’, up on the screen. Playing his guitar and singing. “The Dance” by Garth Brooks helped me through the dark times when our little Ethan’s life ended. It is true what he sang. We could have missed the pain but we would have missed the dance. Rene’ recorded that song for me as a gift. From him and Ethan. It was a fitting time to show the world a side of this man that few knew. A man who loved so deep. Who didn’t learn to say it when he was young although he showed in so many ways. If I had to come up with one word to describe my guy it is “thoughtful”. No matter what, he thought of me.
It is no wonder that this project took over a year. The emotions and tears that poured out of me were at times overwhelming. It was apparent that the first year was one of denial and avoidance. Keep busy, think of other things and you might just forget he was gone. I am here to tell you it doesn’t work. It does however put off some of the pain until you are able to deal with it in a better way. Not that I did that. I don’t know that there is a good way. But my mother-in-law just turned ninety years of age and it was important that I do this for her. He would have wanted me to do this for his mom. In the end it was cathartic in a way. For me. I was forced to face the reality that my husband had passed away. I was now alone. It was also very healing. Crying all the time is exhausting and that is why we take breaks from the emotional work. I cried more in the last two months than I did the whole prior year. Even now as I write I have to stop to wipe the tears. Blow my nose. Finally give in to the full on sobbing. I am stronger now than I was when Rene’ was first sick. Crazy as it sounds it was a shock when he died. He was terminal. Stage 4. That’s what they kept saying. The thing is when it happens to someone you love its hard to give up hope. In time comes acceptance. Reality sinks in. Time also softens the edges of grief. Shock protects us somewhat in the beginning because our brains just cannot comprehend.
In the end I decide to include my own obituary. Just for her. This other woman who gave birth to my husband hasn’t always been my biggest fan. Or vice versa. Again time changes things and we are all old now. Wiser. A little more mature. I guess I just needed her to know I was grateful to her for him. He was a pretty incredible guy and she must have had something to do with it. Not just that though one must give credit where credit is due. I also needed her to understand the man who chose me. Who put up with me. Who stuck up for me. Who rolled his eyes at me. Who also wanted to throttle me at times. But ultimately I needed her to know the many sides of a person she knew mainly as a young person. When you get married, even if you think you know someone, you really don’t. If you are lucky then you are blessed to have many many years to get to know them. Intimately. Their hopes and dreams. Their fears and insecurities. Their deep dark secrets and their biggest regrets. I can never truly portray the person I grew up with over these many years. The truth is we both changed so much. There aren’t enough words or enough ink and paper to ever explain who he was to me. But I tried.
So after all the typing, the editing. Writing and rewriting. Rereading. Crying. Printing… I found the perfect holder and put it all together. I brought it to her home and gave it to her. We talked for awhile and we shed some tears. Two woman missing the same man. As I drove away from her house that day I knew he was smiling down. I popped in a cd by Pokey La Farge and found the song we played at the end of the funeral. The one where we left the church to begin our new normal. The song that raised a question by the audio technician to the funeral director. “Are you sure this is the song they want played?” Its a fast and jaunty tune. As I drove I sang along to his newest fave. I can still see Rene’ glancing at me out of the corner of his eye as we listened to it in the car that first time. That smile of his. Daring me to disagree with the words as he asked “Sound like anybody you know?” Laughing together as we listened.. He got me. And he loved me just the same… Who could ask for anything more!
“She’s a pain in my brain, drives me insane, but I love her just the same, boys, love her just the same
What makes her crazy I don’t know, never seen anything like her before, there must be something in the water…”
Pokey La Farge