My mother-in-law is, without doubt, the most important woman in my adult life. Whether its cooking or parenting, aging or coping, I've been watching my mother-in-law for more than 20 years and learning from her about how to be an adult
Some days I think I've definitely learned a thing or two. Other days I at least feel that I have a clear idea of what I'm aiming for because I’ve seen her struggle with all that life brings from grief to joy, from loss to growth.
If you were to see my mother-in-law in front of you walking down the street, you'd guess she was a woman in her 40s. She's got that kind of gait and lightness on her feet.
If you were walking toward her, you'd guess she was 60 or so. She has only a few strands of gray hair and an unlined face that only genetics and living well can give you.
She's in her early 80s and I treasure her the way only a twice-married woman and a motherless daughter can can treasure her mother-in-law. I lost my own mother when I was 32 and was surprised by how devastating the grief was. And, when I lost my first mother-in-law (through divorce), I was surprised how much relief I felt.
There's no way I could sum up everything, but here are a three things that I have learned and am learning from her.
It's all a part of life's tapestry. When she and my father-in-law lived in France, they were driving along a narrow highway and were hit by a rock slide. One came through the windshield and landed on my mother-in-law's head, resulting in stitches and a mild concussion. In the United States or the UK, where they're from, the rocks would have been restrained by wire mesh because they were clearly dangerous. My husband and I were outraged on her behalf. She was angry, too, of course, but her final word on the matter was, "It's all a part of life's tapestry."
I've always thought it was a wonderful frame through which to see life: the many threads, dark and light. The repetitive patterns. The splash of color. It's a way of seeing the world in perspective, the sort of perspective that having lived through the blitz in London gives to you.
Join the Casualties Union!
Just about nothing makes me happier than hearing about my mother-in-law's adventures in the Casualties Union, a charity in the UK that organizes casualty simulation for emergency training exercises.
She has been volunteering for several years, donning clothes and makeup, sprawling on the ground in awkward positions or resting still on a gurney for hours with gashes and pallor provided by makeup and characterization provided by her.
She has played a deranged woman, an unconscious woman, a bleeding woman, a woman who speaks no English, a woman with a heart problem. You name it and my mother-in-law has acted the part. One time she did so well that the emergency personnel were worried that she was actually ill.
She has more adventure during these drills, several times a year, than I have in several years put together. These volunteers take their work very seriously and provide great benefit to emergency personnel. But they also wring the excitement out of life and have fun.
If at first you don't succeed… Many years ago when her children were young, my mother-in-law picked up the flute. She put it back down again in the midst of a busy life, never really having mastered it. And then, ten years ago, just when my father-in-law had been diagnosed with Alzheimers, she picked it up again.
She has followed the plan for the Royal College of Music and, in less than a decade, moved from Grade 1 to Grade 8. At each grade level she has had to be tested, facing a panel of judges. The tests involve sight reading, music theory (an oral test) and a solo performance.
If you saw Billy Elliot, you’ll remember the scene where he dances in front of the panel to be admitted to the College of Dance. That’s what I imagine she sees each time.
After Grade 8, all that’s left is preparation for a professional career. It’s an amazing feat to do all of that in less than 10 years and to do it after you’ve turned 70. She’s pretty much a legend in Dorset.
So, I guess it boils down to acceptance, adventure and perseverance. And one more thing, too. Luck. As in, I’m so damned lucky to have this mother-in-law in this life. What a privilege.
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