Monday, March 28, 2011
As excited as we are about moving to Colorado, there are many precious things we’ll be leaving behind. One of the hardest will be a firecracker of a woman who has been a major influence in my life. I knew her by reputation long before I got my first hug from her.
When I met her son, back in the mid 1980s, I never dreamed I’d marry him some day. He quickly became one of my best friends and I loved trading family stories with him. He was a long way from his New Hampshire home as we got to know each other at our southern Missouri college. He had four brothers, I had four siblings also. He understood the concept of never getting a bowl of the good cereal unless you grabbed the box from the grocery bag the minute it came home from the supermarket.
He told me about this woman he called mom, and how she grew up thinking she’d never have kids, because she wasn’t really into babies, but then was blessed with a house full of boys. She was the perfect mom for boys - willing to coach any sports team and able to cook huge, filling meals. She took to the task so well that she began to take in exchange students from other countries. To this day she has ‘sons’ who live around the world.
It wasn’t long before her son and I saw our friendship grow into affection, then full blown adoration. My family knew him well but he was determined that his family should know me too, before any lifelong decisions were made. He and I made a flight back to New Hampshire the January of our senior year in college.
That’s when I first met her in person. Surrounded by sons who towered over her, she kept it all juggled perfectly. Hot, delicious meals showed up on the table three times a day. Family sports were organized during the day, board games around the table at nights. She always had a smile, and was always ready with a hug or a punch on the upper arm, whichever was appropriate (remember, she had all sons…).
After our wedding in November year she officially became a relative of mine. In the next year I watched her with great respect as she suffered through the loss of the love of her life, always carrying herself with class and grace. It was an accurate peek as to what this woman would be to me in the years to come.
She was the one who comforted me when we lost our first baby to a miscarriage, and the one I was most excited to tell when we found out we were pregnant again. I have always known that if anyone understood the joys and pains of life, and how to plow forward, it was this amazing woman I called a mother-in-law.
Then her fortitude was challenged again, as her son and I decided to move across the country, away from her, so he could attend graduate school. She could have been bitter, since her first grandbaby was growing in my belly and just four months away from being born. Instead of cradling a newborn in her arms, she would have to settle for a phone call, and the precious sound of her granddaughter’s first cries. But she never doubted our choices. Instead, she helped us load our Subaru station wagon and gave us warm hugs and bags of cookies as we hit the road.
She’s always been there for us, in a way I hope I can be there for my kids some day. She’s a great example of how a mother can lose her son but gain a daughter, letting go of what she needed to, to let him be the man she raised him to be.
When my own mother died, and I was so lost in grief, this is the woman who stepped in. I wasn’t ready, right away, to have a replacement mother, and she understood that. She stood in, as whatever I needed her to be, and never doubted my path of grief. She’s known grief, and she knew how important it was to just be present.
Two years later, when I thought I had already endured my dose of life tragedy, our third child became deathly ill from an undiagnosed metabolic disorder. We never told her what to do, or where to be. She just booked the flight and showed up. Always there exactly when we needed her.
And so it shouldn’t surprise me, that when we are once again breaking her heart by moving this house full of grandkids she loves so much far away from her, she has not responded with hostility or anger. Just support, love and encouragement. She’s loved having them in New England for five years and has treasured every new memory they’ve made together. But she knows us, and knows what’s best for our family. She accepts it, even if it’s not what’s best for her.
Last week, when I was quickly becoming overwhelmed with getting our house ready to sell, the phone call came. She and my step father-in-law were on their way. They showed up early on Saturday and for two long days they painted and patched and led the charge of house repairs. And, of course, as she always does so well, she fed us.
I’ll never be able to adequately thank this woman who has been such a great life role model for me. She’s set the bar pretty high. But my plan is a simple one. I’ll do my best to raise her grandkids in a loving, supportive home.
And some day, when they go off and have kids, I hope to be an amazing grandmother myself.
I’ll know I’ve succeeded the day one of my kids says, “You remind me of Grammy Berna”.