My mother in law passed away Sunday night. As a consequence we find ourselves in Phoenix, Arizona to mourn her death where she died with family. She was aware that she was dying, having been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer some six weeks back. She was expected to live four to six months but obviously did not make it that long. There will be no funeral as she was cremated, but there will be a gathering of family and friends to remember her life. I am not sure if I will be asked to say anything about her life or not, so this may end up here only. I will do my best to communicate these thoughts in person if they cannot be done publicly.
It would seem, as a son in law, that my relationship with Mom should have been largely superficial and meaningless. Yet it certainly was not meaningless to me. She was the mother of the woman I love, so I had an inkling that time spent with her would be well spent. If nothing else, it would help me better understand the woman I married. In fact, our relationship spanned nearly thirty years, an extraordinarily long time. And I felt we had a relationship of some depth.
I first remember meeting Mom in Arlington, Virginia a couple of months after my wife and I began dating and long before she had become anything more than a new girlfriend. The location was The Orleans House, a steak house in Rosslyn known for its prime rib and tuxedoed waiters. Mom was in town basically to check me out. Was I good enough for her daughter? I never really found out, but I got the sense that I met her seal of approval, which should have surprised me. In 1983, I was not a terrific prospect. I had little inkling of my future career in information technology, and eked out a modest living as a production controller for the Defense Mapping Agency. At the time I could not even afford to live independently.
There is a big difference in being nurtured by a mother and acquiring one as a result of marriage. My own mother, who passed away in 2005, I found to be a challenge to love sometimes. We loved each other but our relationship had rocky spots. With Mickey there was no baggage. The woman I found I liked.
From the start she was not Mickey but simply Mom to me. This was because to me I sensed nothing but mom vibes from her. Moreover, I wanted a mother relationship with her and I sensed she wanted a son relationship with me. In some ways, our relationship was ideal. It did not have the baggage that I carried with my own mother. The same I think was true with her. We both got to enjoy the fruits of a nurturing mother-son relationship without any of its downsides. It was win-win. I sensed she truly enjoyed knowing me and including her in her life.
Mom was always uniformly kind and loving to me. In fact, it would be hard to have asked for a much better mother in law. She remembered my birthday with cards even when sometimes my own mother did not. (Well, she did have eight of us.) I enjoyed talking with her on the phone and often asked how things were going in her life. She often wanted to hear things about my life as well. She was very generous of her time and energy. Whenever we visited, she insisted on hosting us, and the spare bedroom wasn’t good enough. She vacated her room and we got her bedroom.
My only real regret is not having spent more time with her. In truth, over thirty years I saw her quite a bit, just not as often as I would have liked. Mostly it was hard for her to visit us, so we had to visit her, and we couldn’t do it every year. But I have come here enough over thirty years to still feel very attached not just to her, but to you all and to the Phoenix area. With every trip here I carry back wonderful memories of our time here, mostly with you. I remember bringing Rosie here when she was just over a year old and reveling in a traditional Hamilton Thanksgiving. It was such a change from Thanksgivings that I remember, full of good food, good company, and lots of laughing. To me, Phoenix is like a second home that I visit from time to time, and when I am here I always feel very much at home, loved and included. What I get from all this is that the Hamiltons are a close and loving bunch. You were raised right and a lot of that rubbed off on Mickey, and thus on my wife. In some ways I envy Terri because you all stay so close to each other. I love my siblings, but we will never be close in the way all of your are close. I think the intimacy you share is neat and special.
I’m going to miss Mom. She filled in those parts of my own mother than I wanted filled. Particularly after my own mother died in 2005, I found I appreciated Mickey even more. I thought that Mothers Day would be sad, but it was not because I still had a real mother in my life, and I could pick up the phone and wish her a happy Mothers Day, and send her a Mothers Day card too. Having her around made dealing with the loss of my own mother much more bearable.
The irony is that I did not tell her most of these things when she was alive. One thing I did say to her, mostly on the telephone, but in person when I had the chance was simply, “I love you, Mom.” And of course she would tell me, often unsolicited, that she loved me too. So I guess that says it all. I am sorry though that I never shared these particular thought from my heart with her. But I think she felt them.
I leave you with thoughts I echoed at my mother’s memorial service that may be of comfort to you. I find six years later these thoughts are not only still a comfort to me, but still ring true. It is simply this: she is still alive inside of you. She is not here in the flesh, but she is with you in spirit. Moreover, there is no getting rid of her. She is absorbed and integrated inside of you. She is in every step you take and in every breath you take. You were changed forever simply because you have known her. She remains, literally, a heartbeat away.
To Jesse: my deepest condolences on the loss of your wife. To Bill, Fran, Peggy, Jim and Bob: I don’t know what it’s like to lose a sister, but I am devastated for your loss. To Dave, I have walked in your shoes and know what it is like to witness the decline of your mother up close. You have my deepest empathy and I am so sorry for the heartache, stress and your enormous loss. To all of you: I hold you and your sorrow closely in my heart. I can only wish I had the opportunity to have known Mickey like you have known her.