Recently, the stomach bug hit our house. With a preschooler and kindergartner, it was a minor miracle we had never had it. As we were coming out of it, my mother-in-law texted me: “Made you some chicken soup — ok to drop it by this morning?”
I gratefully agreed, and later that day texted to tell her she makes the best chicken soup in the world. “I am so glad you enjoyed it — your favorite angel helped me make it,” she replied.
I knew exactly who she was talking about: my mother. My mother passed away almost 11 years ago, and my mother-in-law never had the chance to meet her. Her son and I hadn’t been dating all that long when my mom’s cancer began to gain the upper hand.
While they never met in life, my mother-in-law has felt a closeness to my mother over the years, has felt her presence, in fact. She has told me that at the momentous life events she has shared with her son and me, she has been keenly aware of her missing counterpart.
My mother-in-law was at our wedding shower and then at our wedding, dressed in a beautiful navy blue dress. She danced with her son with tears in her eyes. She drove us to the airport when we left on our honeymoon. She came to the hospital when both of our girls were born, held them in her arms in their first few hours of life. Always, she says, she’s felt happiness, joy, and gratitude, but sadness, too. She feels acutely that someone who was meant to be there is not.
I am amazed by how my mother-in-law has welcomed my mother into her life, and grateful for her willingness to talk with me about it. Of the chicken soup, she said: “I didn’t have time to boil a whole chicken and didn’t know if I would be able to make anything good. But I said to your mom, ‘Nancy, Laura needs us. Let’s make this soup together.’ ” And according to her, they did.
She calls on my mother often: to pick out a gift for me or when she is wondering about how to help with something. She asks for my mom’s guidance, and they figure it out together. The first time my mother-in-law baby-sat for us overnight, our firstborn daughter was just 4 months old and a finicky character already. When I raced in the door the next morning much earlier than anticipated, the scene was serene. “I didn’t watch her alone,” my mother-in-law said. “I had help.”
After you lose someone you love, one of the most excruciatingly painful moments comes when you realize that life moves on without them. It feels wrong, unfair, disloyal. But over time you understand that that person stays with you and your relationship continues, just in another form.
I don’t know if my mother really helped my mother-in-law make that soup. But I believe she did. And so does my mother-in-law. If we still lean on my mom during difficult times, still consult with her when making decisions, still celebrate with her when life is good, then she isn’t really gone, is she?
I am touched by my mother-in-law’s efforts to make room in her life for my mom, and I believe that through her, my mother has shared the experience of being a grandmother. While it wasn’t my mother’s arms that held those babies in the hospital, wasn’t her eyes that watched a 3- and 5-year-old dance their way through their first ballet recital, wasn’t her standing over the stove making soup, my mother was present, in the heart of the woman who was there.
Laura Shea Souza is a writer and communications professional in Stow. Send comments to email@example.com.
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