…my mother-in-law, that is.And now she is at rest in God’s loving embrace…where my father-in-law has patiently awaited their reunion for nearly a decade-and-a-half.
My sister-in-law Lil “hit the nail on the head,” according to her husband James, when she spoke of her mom’s life of service. Bearing and raising 12 children, 7 girls and 5 boys, was no easy feat to be sure. With the help of their dad and his mom, life with a big family was manageable.
It’s true that my mother-in-law served her family well. It’s also true that she did so with “joie de vivre.” While she may have verbally disciplined and even nagged like any mother of 12 would, it was never abusive. There was never any guilt trip. No “whoa is me.”
Once I dinstinctly remember my mother-in-law striding through the house in search of an errant son, who quietly snuck out the back door. “Gunfunnit that kid!” (Hawaiian-pigeon-english for “Confound it that kid!”) is something I occasionally heard as I sat waiting on the living room couch for my husband, then boyfriend. That was some 45 years ago.
My mother-in-law, in her 40s when we first met, was spry and quick on her feet. She stood several inches taller than me, was warm and welcoming. I could only imagine what she thought of me, the first girl her eldest son ever dated, and just a week after he’d returned home from 4 1/2 years in the seminary. But neither she, nor his father, ever took us to task over our blossoming relationship.
When I wasn’t attending college classes, I was at my future inlaw’s house hanging out with more family members than I’d ever experienced in my own home growing up. The youngest of 9, most of my brothers and sisters had flown the nest to earn their own living, before I was even out of elementary school.
Since my husband was the eldest, I became like an older sister to his younger siblings. It was a position I relished for they seemed in awe of everything I did. I’d never experienced such unmitigated admiration and love before. It was heartwarming and humbling.
Through the years my inlaws have never waned in their affection for me. In fact it has only deepened with time.
We were best buds, my mother-in-law and me. She and I spent hours together during visits to Hawaii to see the family. We shopped, we lunched, we teased, we laughed and we had serious talks too. Since I was an “out-law” and lived away, she felt comfortable conversing with me as though we were best friends sharing small secrets. Nothing major. Just coffee shop talk.
What will I miss most about mom?
I’ll miss the twinkle in her eyes as she laughed and laughed…without reservation.
How we’d sometimes lean into one another when she asked me to repeat something I’d said.
The trust she’d place in me to help her find just the right outfit to wear to a special occasion.
Quickly agreeing to join me for a bowl of saimin at our favorite restaurant.
The look of love in her eyes as she gazed up at my husband…her son…priceless.
Her unassailable, maternal love for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
The camaraderie and affectionate love she shared with us “out-laws.”
How she treated friends, acquaintances, even strangers like “ohana”…family.
Sitting around her small dining table where she served us all the foods my husband, daughter and I couldn’t acquire stateside.
Joy in her everyday routine…church visits…outings with friends…piano and ukulele lessons…lunching with daughters…or granddaughters.
James, my brother-in-law, joined me in shedding a few tears about our mother-in-law’s passing. We agreed that she made each and everyone of us feel special. She cared how we felt…she asked after our welfare.
Mom always credited dad with their children having evolved into the warm, loving people that they are. And I always insisted that she had a hand in the matter as well. She liked to think she lacked the smarts to have made such a contribution. I assured her she was no dumb bunny.
I shared commonalities with mom. Our nationality…Chinese/Hawaiian. Our less than ideal childhood years. Our superstitious natures. Our iffy self-esteem. Our adulation of our spouses. Our untethered love for our offspring.
Mom was a role model. By example, she showed me how to love my daughter. By example, she showed me it was best not to utter words that I would later regret having said. In this I am still striving, for when I am blindsided by someone’s misplaced remark it is difficult to remember mom’s advice. By example, she showed me that service can be a loving venture…if one truly loves those she serves.
I will never again hear mom’s query…”How are you doing?…Are you taking good care of yourself?” Or her followup remarks…”If you don’t care for yourself, you won’t be able to care for your family. They need you to take care of yourself.”
She might have considered herself a simple, ordinary woman with nothing of note to recommend her.
Having known my mother-in-law for 45 years, I can say she was undeniably…the most extraordinary woman I have ever known…bar none!
I love you mom, and dad, for having always made me feel…
…more than deserving of your eldest…