It’s been a decade now since my mother-in-law, Lourdes, passed away. I married her baby son 26 years ago in November. It was never a great relationship. She was the ‘matriarch’ of her family but had grown up the baby in her own family. She had grown up in a large family of Spanish/Taos Indian descent and being the baby she had grown up used to having her way and being the center of attention. Her baby son had always been a treasure for her. She was pregnant 16 years after his birth and being older found comfort and love in his attentive care. He had married when he was 20 and divorced about 6 years before I met him. I found myself constantly being told about previous memories from his marriage and everyone was “civil”, but it was one of those families where the elephant’s under the rug and everyone walks over it like a speed bump near their favorite shopping place.
There would be many heartbreaks of their disapproval of me or probably the thought that no one was good enough for her son. I was determined I would prove that wrong.
My own mother had some pretty awful mother-in-laws. My mother is Korean and both of them were pretty vocal about mixing of white and other ‘races’. I was described by my own grandmother as that little ‘porch monkey’s children’. I didn’t really understand what that meant but that hillbillies in West Virginia had their own sayings. I would learn. My stepgrandmother referred to us as my son’s wife’s children…ugh! My mother always held her head up and was kind. When my stepgrandmother broke her hip and couldn’t get to the bathroom by herself, my mom was the one who wiped the trail of pee from the bed to the bathroom. She had just been widowed that year but she found pleasure in serving. After helping her thru breast cancer and the hip injury, my stepgrandma changed her attitude. I remember still today her telling me how sorry she was as she lay in the hospital bed about her treatment of my mother and how much she loved her and how we truly were her grandchildren and she was blessed to have us.
My story would end much the same. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and went into remission with treatment a year later, but in 2004 after my own mother’s stroke during a procedure, we were informed Lourdes had cancer in her spine and brain. They both lived in Florida and while I went to rehab for my own mother, now paralyzed and without speech, we took care of Ken’s mom. I drove from the East Coast to Orlando for a few weeks and then I moved in with my two children. The other daughter-in-law, Bonnie, lived down the street and between the two of us, we kept her healthy and her spirits up. I would lay with her at night as she retired to bed and she would stroke my head and thank me for being there .I just cried. My own mother was withheld from me after weeks of going thru rehab with her. I raised the youngest brother and the middle one had always been jealous because he lived with my grandma and dad after our parent’s divorce. In an Asian family, number one son is #1. My mother always struggled with that issue. So I was pretty broken when I went into my mother-in-law to tuck her in one night and she asked how things were going and I broke down sobbing. She kept patting me on the back and kissing the top of my head while she lay there and spoke a wonderful gift into my life. She said, “Cheryl, I pray God blesses you the way you have blessed me during this time. I am sorry for anything I did to you, but I want you to know how much I love you and until you get to see your mom again, I will be your substitute mom.”
I would help care for her for 4 months. I taped many conversations and prayed she would live until her next wedding anniversary which was Christmas Eve. She died December 10, 2004. The week before we sang praises in her room. My son read her favorite psalms. I finished all the tapes and gave them as a Christmas gift. Each family member received a recording of her speaking about how she felt about them and their favorite picture of her in a travel alarm clock. I knew how important hearing her voice might be later.
My mother cannot speak anymore and is paralyzed on her right side. She is not the energetic, servant heart she was before, but she is still with us. I got her back about 7 years ago. It’s not easy. I also have my two grandsons and daughter living with me. But, there are times when I lay next to my mama and tell her how much I love her and forgive her for all the pain we endured together. She cries, strokes my head and kisses my face and we weep that things are not as we hoped but we love one another. She was the first one who changed my diapers and now we change hers. She came to America hoping to have a better life and raise a family and she did. She can’t read and write and now there is no voice, but I hear her still. I hear her in the love she gave and that I also followed as I loved others that were many times, not lovely; I pray for her deliverance but I am always grateful for her presence.
So to all mothers, both stay-at-home and working. Don’t think your children don’t see and learn. We’re watching your offerings of love, your perseverance, your willingness to serve and we will be going forward doing the same and remembering what we learned as we weep, hold you, and await the day we must walk through this life and do the same. Your voice will always be there as it was the day we took that first step and you celebrated our step into the world and nursed us when we fell.
Do not grow weary in doing good, the Word says, for in due time you shall reap a harvest if you do not lose heart. One mother’s gift of life would bring us our Messiah and He would bring eternal life for all who desire to walk loving, giving and serving purely for its own sake. May He bless you today.