One year ago today, my mother in law, Velma, left this earth and returned to her heavenly home. As I sit down to write about the blessing that she was (and always will be) in my life, my heart is completely filled with love and many emotions are welling up inside me.
After knowing her for 39 years, and being her daughter in law for 35 of those years, it is easy to see the transition of our relationship, although for some years it was difficult. Words can never express what I feel for her, and the empty place in my heart knowing that I will never again see her face, hear her voice or laughter. I will never again feel her hand holding mine or her arms around me.
However, I will always feel her love.
Pulling a line from one of my favorite romantic comedies, “Sweet Home Alabama”, Velma was “a complicated woman.” She struggled through a horrendous childhood, one that she spoke of often to me; however, she never fully acknowledged or released the evils and pain she endured. Instead, she focused her entire being on raising her six children…5 sons and a daughter. She loved them intensely, and wanted to give them a secure home, in the only way she knew. That was through homemaking. She kept house like no one I ever knew, and her cooking and baking were her shining glory. That was how she showed love…by nurturing. Velma had her flaws, as we all do. Deep in her heart, she knew she had these flaws. She compensated by DOING for people…in so many ways.
When I first met Velma, I was dating her son, Joe, and I was just 17. She nurtured me…helping me to feel accepted and loved, by inquiring about me and my family, and always feeding me something special. I remember, she would sit me down, and ask if I wanted a steak. Then she would reach in the freezer, pull out a steak, and fry it for me. I never had my own steak before…my family always ate “family style”, so that impressed me. She made the most awesome sausage and pepper pizza I have ever tasted…her pizza dough recipe was the best, and the tomatoes and peppers were home canned. Simply delicious. And her cookies, Swedish tea log, bread pudding and pizzelles. Yum!
Remember… Velma had six children. That lead to crazy unforgettable Holidays, filled with her children, grandchildren, food, love, laughter and lots of noise! The whirlwinds of activity were overwhelming, but how I miss those times! Those were the years that changed the “in-law” relationships to “family” relationships.
Velma’s greatest gift to me is her wonderful son, Joe. (my awesome husband) All of my brothers- in-law, sisters-in-law, and their families are also a blessing to me. We are a family of heart…separated by circumstance and miles. But we are always there for each other, in mind and spirit.
When I was a very young newlywed, Velma was very intimidating to me. Since her cooking, baking and cleaning were the best (her favorite line…”that’s the way I do it”), and my self-image was zero, that was an uncomfortable time for me. In my own mind, I could never live up to Joe’s mother, and I felt inadequate as a wife. This feeling continued through the birth of my two sons.
I always felt I had to be “perfect” in every way…clean house, perfect wife and mother, perfect food, etc. And I knew I wasn’t perfect, so I had a real dilemma in my own mind.
Two things happened that changed and molded our relationship.
The first thing was something that probably shouldn’t have happened. Joe and I were experiencing extreme pain and difficulty in our marriage. I went to my mother-in-law in despair, and shared what was happening. (through the years I learned not to share those kinds of things concerning our marriage) I later learned that while I was at work, my mother-in-law showed up at our front door, and confronted Joe. She let him know that he had a good, loving wife, and in no uncertain terms, gave him a piece of her mind. When we talk about it now, Joe gets a chuckle out of the memory. I feel the love; in finally being aware that she loved me, and thought I was a good wife to her son.
The next thing that changed our relationship was mortifying to me at the time. I had been a stay-at-home mom, and then had to work part time. With two young sons, I just could not get it all together. My house was a mess, and I left it that way when I left for work one morning. A few hours later, my mother-in-law, who had our house key, had decided to drop over to bring us a few things. Oh, did I tell you how many times she stopped over with bags of food and “supplies”? So she called me at work, from my dirty house!!! I had never felt so exposed and embarrassed. She let me know that the house was now clean, and there were some groceries she brought and put away for us.
At that moment I realized, I never had to pretend to be perfect for her again. She loved me no matter what.
And I learned to love Velma no matter what. Because through the tense times, hurtful words spoken, and all that occurred due to human frailty and weakness, I was able to feel her love. She loved her whole family immensely. And because of that, she left a legacy in her children and their spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
On the morning of her death, she was found, peacefully unresponsive, with hands still holding her rosary. Although my family did not arrive in time to hold her hand to say our last good byes, she was surrounded by other loving family members.
She will hold our hearts forever.
We love you, mom.
We know you are in heaven with Jesus and the angels He allowed you to see while on earth. We know that you are enveloped in His pure love, peace and joy that can never be felt on earth.
We will carry you in our hearts until we meet again.