My wife and I are sitting outside and looking at the bay water outside my late mother-in-law’s house. And we’re crying.
The world just hasn’t felt right lately. It feels off-kilter. It feels dimmer somehow. Ever since my mother-in-law, Mother Mary, passed away, everything has gone out of whack.
My wife is all over the map emotionally. One moment she’s laughing at a funny memory, the next moment, it’s full-on waterworks. And I’m usually crying right beside her.
I guess it’s hitting us now. I suppose we haven’t had time to let the grief fully settle on our shoulders. There wasn’t any time for grief until now.
When someone dies you are immediately distracted by decisions that need to be made. The decisions come at you from all angles like gnats. You talk about funerals, wakes, dinners, preachers, you look at photo books, plan outfits, you buy new dress shoes because yours look ratty.
You’re on autopilot. The mud and sediment in the proverbial glass of water haven’t settled yet.
Well, this week, the mud is settling, and I’m remembering too much at once. Such as when I first got married.
The most joyous period of my youth was spent on this pier, looking at this pretty bay with my newlywed wife and her mother. In some ways, my life was just beginning.
My wife and I spent the first week of our marriage in the upstairs bedroom of this house, overlooking this bay. And years later, when my mother-in-law became ill, we moved into that same bedroom to care for her. That’s when our world became all about Mary. And it was like that for a long time.
It was my wife who ran the caregiver show. She wrote the schedules, did the hiring and firing, cut the checks, and covered the weekend shifts. We took Mary to doctor appointments. We tucked her into bed. For cripes sake, I sang the elderly woman to sleep with my guitar sometimes.
What I’m getting at is, every day of our lives involved this woman. I didn’t realize the enormity of her presence until just now.
You spend your life with someone, anyone, and they become a main character in your ongoing story. You wake up and there they are. Before you go to bed, you pray for them. And even when you aren’t together, you’re sort of thinking about them.
Loved ones become a piece of you, almost like a body part. Their names are written on your tongue, their faces live in your brain, and their quirky mannerisms occupy a space deep within your chest.
Then, poof, it all disappears.
No more looking at the same moon. No more phone calls. No more spending months decorating that person’s house for Christmas. No more sitting around the table and drinking malt beverages.
No more watching television and laughing at the clever auto insurance commercials. No more heart-to-heart conversations. No more sharing peanut brittle before supper.
No more Harlequin romance books scattered around the old woman’s house. No more shouting to her from the other room. No more walking into the den and seeing the back of Mary’s silver head, sitting in her recliner.
It’s all over. Every piece of it. Like someone whitewashed over that old life we built and painted over the people we used to be.
I don’t mean to be Johnny Raincloud, but what do we do now that she’s gone? Where do we go? Whose house do we visit? What do we do with all the bags of rice in her pantry? Eat them? That doesn’t feel right. That was Mary’s rice.
Who inherits her old straw hat? What about her house slippers? Do you just throw those away? Her T-shirts? Her stacks of “Southern Living” magazines dating back to the Coolidge administration?
How do you walk into that empty house without remembering too much? How do you not stand in the entryway and remember the young man you used to be when this elderly woman welcomed you into her family?
Back then, you were just a kid, holding the world by the scruff of the neck. You were in perfect vigor. You were cheerfully unwise, and happily ignorant. Life was great.
But today that kid has been replaced with a middle-aged fool who I don’t even recognize in the mirror. And every day this kid wonders, has he lived his life well? Has this kid been a good man? Is he kind? Is he generous? Is he someone his mother would be proud of?
Has this kid told his most cherished people that he loves them enough? How much is enough? Is there such a thing as enough?
I’m sorry this isn’t a more upbeat column. Today this guy and his wife aren’t feeling very upbeat. I promise I’ll get over it and be perky again. But today the young man and young woman sit outside, looking at the mirrored bay water, forehead touching forehead. And they grieve.
You are missed, Mother Mary.