Today would have been my mother-in-law’s, Mary Dell (aka MeMa), 87thbirthday. It’s hard to believe she passed away two years ago—sometimes it seems like longer, sometimes like yesterday. She would be so excited about her first great-grandchild, even though she may have been a bit disappointed that she wasn’t getting the great-granddaughter she’d been hoping for. But she would have been good with a baby boy because she’d raised three sons, and dearly loved her five grandsons.
I think of her now, drinking my cup of coffee out of the glass mug with the letter ‘H’ and Hillcrest etched into the side. It was one of the promotional items that she received after her stay at Hillcrest Convalescent Center in Durham during her final year when she was in-and-out of hospitals and nursing centers. After MeMa’s death, I wanted to get rid of the cup because it reminded me of the sadness of watching her decline, and the tension of those days. But MeMa was a pragmatic person and she would think it’s foolish to toss out a perfectly good mug, especially since it was free.
She had that same attitude about her monthly senior citizens’ luncheons put on by a local funeral home. She looked forward to seeing her friends there and raved about the food. When her sons, and truthfully her daughters-in-law, made cracks about the funeral home’s targeted marketing, how they were going after their next most likely customers, MeMa became irritated with all of us. She would say, “It’s not like that. They’re really nice and the food is great—we don’t have to pay for it.”
That funeral home handled the arrangements when she died and now we have one of their canvas bags that’s a great size for carrying shoes when we travel. Just like the mug, she wouldn’t want us to get rid of it. Seeing it now brings a smile as I think of her monthly luncheons, her spunky responses, standing her ground with her sophisticated children.
One of the things she really enjoyed was shopping. A good visit was when we carried her out to eat and then went to a sale at Belk’s. Our most memorable shopping trip was when I took MeMa and Mama to find their dresses to wear in my son’s, Brooks, wedding. Honestly, I’d dreaded it because I had to manage Mama in her wheelchair—finding dresses for her while also assisting MeMa.
After a prayer and a slow deep breath, I headed out on a Saturday in January with both grandmothers of the groom. Within a few minutes, we found matching style dresses with jackets that were in each of their sizes and different colors: Mary Dell’s a rose color and Mama’s purple. I managed to maneuver Mama into the tight fitting room, get her into the dress and helped her stand long enough to check in the mirror. MeMa changed in the next stall then came to stand beside Mama.
When they both looked in the mirror, Mary Dell had a huge smile and said to Mama, “Look, Mary. We’re twins!”
How happy we were to find pretty outfits for both grandmothers. When I look at the wedding pictures, I always remember that moment in the dressing room, Mary Dell’s delight.
The Christmas before MeMa died, she stayed for a short time at Parkview before she returned to the hospital. I took my Golden Retriever, Madison to see MeMa and Mama. They both loved my dog.
Last July when Madison died, I had this strong image of her sitting on the grass in our front yard, sniffing the breeze as she loved to do. But then the image broadened to include MeMa sitting beside Madison, smiling and happy. MeMa was wearing a Capri set, made out of the rose-colored dress that she wore in the wedding.
That image was comforting to me—thinking of MeMa and Madison in a meadow, surrounded by wildflowers on a sunny day, like the place I envision as heaven. It occurs to me, that the ‘H’ of my coffee mug could be reframed as ‘H’ for heaven. I don’t have to insist on just thinking of the negative. I can see that those final days, though dark with MeMa’s decline, were a natural part of life and the way we leave.
Now I’m thankful that I can replace the final scene at the hospice bedside, with the new image of MeMa and Madison basking in the sunshine of Heaven.
How About You?
Are there ideas you have that could be reframed to provide a healthier perspective?
How would that help you to accept all that is life?