My Mother-in-law passed away last week, on Tuesday. My husband was with her when she passed, and the kids and I visited her in the hospital a few days earlier. She was suffering from pneumonia, and as usual when I saw her I was struck by how frail and tiny she seemed.
She wasn't always so...vulnerable.
When I was first dating her youngest son, I actually found My MIL, Fran, a little intimidating.
Fran was a woman of strong opinions, always up to debating her beliefs. When she was bothered or angered by an issue, she wasn't one for subtlety. You always knew just where Fran stood. Sshe was equally fierce in defending those she loved. She told me once, which I never have forgotten, "When I meet someone, I remind myself that there's good in everybody. Sometimes you just have to look harder to find it."
I really missed those discussions later in her life, when her hearing failed her and she grew quiet and withdrawn. I think that was the first indication most of us had that something was wrong. We knew she didn't care for hearing aids--a relative of hers had apparently made do with old-fashioned, unreliable ones, and so Fran didn't put much stock in them--but Fran always took an active interest in local politics, her family, and the world around her . . . Until one day, she just didn't any more.
Alzheimer's had taken her from an active participant in life to merely a spectator.
I was also intimidated by Fran's fashion sense and complete confidence. I have fond memories
of hurriedly applying makeup just before I knew we would be seeing Fran, because when we visited, I knew Fran would be perfectly put together.
As she dressed for church--Fran sang for many years in her church choir--she would have her hair done, her lipstick perfect, lightly spritzed perfume, the whole works. I have a hard time finding two earrings in my jewelry box that match.
At her funeral, pictures of Fran as a young woman show Fran pushing a stroller, the baby bundled up against the cold, while she herself sported an elegant peacock coat, hat and heels, her hair perfect, fit and trim even with such a young child in tow.
I am trying to remember if I ever pushed a stroller in heels. I suppose I must have at some point? I rally did try to look my best, of course. But I'm sure I never cut quite such a dashing figure.
Fran majored in dress design in college, and even sewed her own bridesmaid's dresses for her own wedding. I remember her daughter, my SIL, sporting lovely maternity wear during her pregnancy, thanks to her mother's skill with the needle, also.
In the hospital, during that last visit, Fran's hands shook with palsy. Parkinson's and failing eyesight had robbed her of her sewing years ago. She couldn't speak and could barely sit up in a chair when the hospital staff, aided by a special belt, moved Fran from her bed.
Her husband, as he had for 59 years, sat by her side. In the last few years, he'd gone from loving partner to full-time caretaker with amazing grace. As his son noted at the service when we said good-bye to Fran, he'd kept true to his vows in every sense, in sickness and health, till death parted them.
There was no viewing at Fran's funeral. I was glad for that. The Fran of my memories is not the fragile creature of the hospital bed, but the vibrant, opinionated woman I gained as my second Mom over twenty-one years ago when I married her son.
Rest in peace, Fran. We love you.