|Mary and Chuck|
My mother-in-law died today.
I remember the first time she met me – she didn’t like me very much. In fact, I believe she asked her husband what on earth her son saw in me. Which pretty much took me by surprise because, frankly, my friends’ parents love me. Except that I had never met a boyfriend’s parents before. Add to this the fact that said boyfriend was the youngest of four children, the “love child” if you will, and one can easily see that I was more or less doomed from the start (even if I had remembered to pack my make-up for the trip down to Miami, which, of course, I didn't)
In typical Dawn fashion, I treated this opposition as a challenge. I vowed that when I visited again in six months she would like me. Of course I succeeded.
Once we crossed over that hump and discovered our mutual love of clothes and all things fashion, I learned about my mother-in-law. I learned that my father-in-law was her one true love. I learned that she took the risk, at age 40 (in 1966!), to get pregnant because Chuck was, “a nice man and deserved to have a child of his own.” I learned that when she was told by the Catholic doctor/priest in St. Louis it would be her or the baby because the baby was breech, my future father-in-law took her out of that hospital faster than you could say, “Hail Mary”.
I learned my future mother-in-law had an enviable amount of self-confidence. One of my favorite Mary comments is how, when I asked her what it was about her that finally made my father-in-law, Chuck – a bachelor until age 48 – decide to settle down and get married, she responded with, “You know, Dawn, I was quite beautiful when I was younger.” Okay, then.
During my frequent visits to the Sticklen home in Miami, I watched in awe as the three of them took care of each other. Instead of telling each other, “get it yourself”, as was the typical custom in my household, they actually asked each other if they needed anything. Charlie did not race out the door to be with his friends the minute he came home for college breaks. Instead, we spent most of our time on these visits with his parents, watching T.V. and listening to his dad’s stories, “I remember the time my friend, so-and-so, of course, he’s dead now….”
As the years passed and it became apparent to everyone that Charlie and I were probably going to get married, Chuck and Mary moved up to Missouri to be closer to, of course, Charlie (OK, and also his brother and sister and their families). The four of us became even closer, and I knew that if Charlie could have this kind of relationship with his parents, he would probably turn out to be an OK husband and father. So, I said”yes” and Mary proceeded to help me plan the wedding of the century. Well, at least the wedding of the Sticklen Family.
In 1993, our first child was born. As the pitocin kicked in and the doctor observed things were finally moving along, he told Mary it was time for her to leave the delivery room (Chuck, of course, was already down in the cafeteria drinking coffee. Probably also wishing he could find a decent cigar somewhere.) Mary reluctantly left the room, but I could still see the shadow of her feet right outside the door. Naturally she came racing right back in there the minute she heard Sarah cry. Instantly Mary was in love all over again.
Mary Sticklen loved my family with every fiber of her being.
Of course she loved all her children and grandchildren, but if my sister-in-law and brothers-in-law were standing here they would tell that you I’m not lying when I say that her love for Charlie and Sarah was immeasurable. I have never seen a mother or grandmother love her son and her granddaughter as much as she did my husband and daughter. She may have not been perfect, and I’m not going to lie, she made me crazy sometimes. But as I sit here writing this, tears are streaming down my cheeks because I can honestly say that I have never seen love like that before. And I will miss her.
These past few months have been difficult. Her health was not good, and it pained me to see her that way. We moved her here in December, and for the first time I was able to see her whenever I wanted to. Unfortunately, it was harder and harder for me because I knew that she knew she was slipping. And there was nothing any of us could do but try and keep her comfortable. Finally, a few weeks ago we made the decision to move her to a skilled nursing facility. Ever on the lookout for her next companion, she told my brother-in-law, “You know, there are some handsome men here, but when they see me coming in the wheelchair, they take off the other way.”
Yes, I will miss you, Mary Sticklen. I will miss going to Saks at Plaza Frontenac and hearing you ask me, “Is this anything?” as you hold a tomato-red tunic (your best color when you are tan) up to your body. I will miss going to Chico’s to buy you a jacket and some earrings, knowing you will think it’s just perfect (“How do you always know just what to get me?”) I will miss taking you to lunch (which of course you always paid for). I will miss listening to you tell my children the most amazing stories that you made up at the spur of the moment. I will miss your asking me for advice (something I never thought would happen). I will miss having you to thank for raising the most amazing son who is now the most amazing husband and father. And I will be forever thankful for that day when you told me you were wrong about me and you couldn't have picked a better wife for your son.
I will miss you and I truly love you.