Today we are burying my husband's grandmother.
There are many kind things I could say about her, that she was brilliant and sweet and kind, but mostly when I think of her, I think of a conversation I once had with my mother-in-law.
I don't know what prompted me, but I was compelled to tell her how much I appreciated her, as a mother-in-law, as a mother figure, and as someone I am deeply grateful to have in my life. She told me she tried to model herself as a mother-in-law after her husband's mother. She told me how much she appreciated her mother-in-law, and how she hoped she would be able to live up to the example she set.
The role of mother-in-law is rarely described with such love and respect. Mothers-in-law are often the butts of jokes, the go-to for gossip and snipes, and a common and expected familial adversary. It's understandable. Mothers have firm opinions on their children and what's best for them, spouses have firm opinions on the same subject, and these are rarely completely in agreement. But my mother-in-law loved hers, and I love mine.
We should all be so fortunate as to be remembered, particularly while we live, as models of how to exist in a difficult and essential role. We are all of us, always, existing in difficult and essential roles, and I doubt many of us manage ourselves with the grace that my husband's grandmother did at even the most difficult times. We would all be fortunate to be so loved that our passing causes so much grief. We should all be so wise as to understand these difficult roles, and to find models on whom we can base our own aspirations.
I do not believe the dead suffer. I believe that experience is relegated only to the living, and to grieve is indeed to suffer. But this kind of grief, the loss of someone who loved so well, and who was so well loved, has a kind of sweetness to it. A gratitude that her suffering is ended, that her burdens and now ours to bear, and a hope we shall endure it not only with a dignity that would make her proud, but with joy, as well.
In the days since she passed I find myself missing my own grandmother, as though this loss has cut open that wound. My heart aches for my grieving husband, my father-in-law, his five brothers and sisters, for all their children and spouses, for everyone who loved her and has had their heart broken by her loss.
Someday, I hope to be the mother-in-law that mine is, and that hers was. If that is the legacy I have from her to pass on, I will cherish it.
When we return home, rather than starting a new book with the children, I think I'll read to them from the books of stories their great-grandmother wrote, about her childhood and children and life on the farm. Her great-granddaughters loved her, and hopefully through these books, as they grow up, they will continue to get to know her better. I hope I will continue to know her better, too.
El molay rachamim, shochain bam’romim, hamtzay m’nucha n’chona al kanfay Hash’china, b’maalot k’doshim uthorim k’zohar harakia mazhirim, et nishmat Janet bat Howard shehalcha layolama, baavur shenodvu tz’dakah b’ad hazkarat nishmatah. B’Gan Ayden t’hay m’nuchatah; lachayn Ba-al Harachamim yastireha b’sayter k’nafav layolamim, v’yitzror bitzror hachayim et nishmatah, Adonai Hu nachalatah, v’tanu-ach b’shalom al mishkavah. V’nomar: Amen.
Read about my grandmother here: In Memory of Judith Jay
Read my most recent post here: Using Privilege To Bend the Moral Arc of the Universe Towards Justice
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