The first time I met my mother in law was Easter Day at a family gathering. Dan and I were engaged and planning our wedding, but at the age of 28 we had skipped a lot of formalities such as meeting each others extended family, even though we had known each other for two years. We met at Eddie Bauer and were co-workers, then friends, before starting to date. Once we starting dating our relationship progressed quickly to an engagement. There really hadn’t been tome to meet family. However, in the years before we met, my husband to be had gone though a rough patch and his family was protective of him. So, this family gathering, and first time meeting, held layers of emotion for everyone. I was fairly positive I’d like all of them, but not at all certain what they would think of me, engaged to their son, brother, uncle, before they’d even met me. I knew my mother in law-to- be had called my mother to inquire her opinion of this engagement and pending marriage. A protective mamma bear looking out for her youngest man-child.
That Easter gathering occurred at my sister-in-laws house. A two story aluminum sided house on the NW side of Chicago, in the same neighborhood they’d grown up in. Just up the street from the St. Paschal’s, the family parish and school. The house was filled with people, most of them young, many of them kids. Everyone pitching in, man and woman, young and old, to watch the little kids, prepare the food, and then clean up afterward. I fell in love instantly with every last one of them. Thankfully, the feelings were mutual.
Twenty six Easters have passed since that first one. And, while Easter was grand, Christmas at Busha and Papa’s was glorious! The meal included prime rib and an array of German and Polish dishes that have become family favorites, recipes I try to recreate for our kids. In the early days of our marriage Christmas at Busha’s was a day long feast of food, homemade cookies, and gifts! Busha spent weeks baking and decorating and preparing for a gathering of her four grown kids, their spouses, and eight grandkids, not to mention the many extended family friends who would stop by. As always, everyone helped. Some of my fondest memories are of washing dishes after that Christmas meal, and delighting in a series of family stories told year after year.
In time Busha had to give up hosting the family meals and then we divided them among us, I had Thanksgiving, others had Christmas and Easter. Bush still cooked what she could and brought it to the meal. But these last few years she has not been well enough to cook. And then since February she has been on a long slow spiral down. She gave up and relinquished her spirit, crawled into herself, and drifted away. Parkinson’s had ravaged her body, her mind, and her spirit.
What I remember about my mother in law is her love, her smile, and her caring nature. She loved her family. Even though my kids were the youngest of the grandkids she loved them as if they were her only grandkids, she loved them all that way. In many ways she was more of a mother to me than my own mom. She helped me in the early days of motherhood, assuring me when I doubted, reminding me that the colic would not last forever, watching the kids now and then and feeding them food they still talk about! When my daughter went through a finicky clothing phase, she continued to love anything her Busha bought for her- and would wear it! My mother in law and I could talk together with ease. For a number of years I took her to one of her many doctor’s appointments and afterward we would go out for lunch. She loved beef barley soup!
No doubt she could be difficult. But most of her difficult side was spared on us. Dan and I rarely saw that side of her. In fact Dan could almost always make her laugh, or smile. He had a way with her, and she with him. But of course, he was her baby, her youngest.
She loved generously, graciously.
After a long battle, she died on Friday. Tuesday is her wake, Wednesday her funeral. I am not going, although the rest of the family will be there. I am staying in Michigan, caring for our three dogs, working, doing what I have to do. This is a peculiar decision, we know. But it seems to be the decision that puts my husband most at ease. He can be fully present for his mothers wake and funeral without worrying about our dogs. (Of course, our kids will be there, too). My job is to tend to our old dogs, give them their meds, and their walks. My mother in law would have been the first to suggest this. She was always about the practical, the least fuss. Adaptive. She would totally understand.
Honestly, we knew this day was coming when we left Chicago last spring, I said goodbye to her just before ww moved to Michigan, knowing I’d never see her again. But, she lives on, as she was, vibrant, the Busha, in my memories, my heart, my love…
Rest in peace, Busha! And, give Papa my love.
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