This past Saturday we had a small graveside service of internment of ashes for my mother-in-law, Dolores. It was exactly two months after she had peacefully passed in our presence. In some ways it seemed sad that it was so long between her November 1 celebration of life service and this final goodby to her physical presence. On this side of heaven that is. But mostly, it seems fitting to have been able to go through Thanksgiving and Christmas before going through the finality of the graveside service.
Dolores loved holidays of any kind. And she was always buying little decorative items, mostly from the dollar store, and giving them to us. You never knew when she was going to hand you a plastic sack and say, “here’s a little silly something for you.” Santa clause salt and pepper shakers. Christmas tree soap. Tropical palm tree container for liquid soap. Tea towels, hundreds of tea towels were given and received. Honestly, sometimes I got irritated at all the “stuff”. It was the kind of stuff that caused clutter, and I have a hard enough time with neatness without adding more chaos to the mix. When we cleaned out her apartment we found even more holiday trinkets that she hadn’t yet given away.
Yes, sometimes it all just seemed like silliness, the way she handed out these bargain store finds. I’m ashamed even as I write this, resisting the urge to abandon this post all together. But it is my confession. I also confess that as the holiday season came and we went through the preparation, the decorating, the festivities without her, those little touches of thoughtfulness became her presence of love and joy in a way I hadn’t recognized before. My daughter, who has the gift of thoughtfulness, was the first to point out how much she was appreciating all of these trinkets. The toddlers, Eloise and Avery, especially loved all the whimsical touches. Dolores would have loved seeing the girls enjoy the snowman soap dish!
Why couldn’t I have had the same appreciation when she was alive. When she was getting a kick out of buying all this stuff, and giving to us. Why couldn’t I recognize and appreciate her thoughtfulness for the gift it was to her, and could have been for me. I’ve been mulling this over, working through guilt. Praying about where I might be missing the beauty in others. What has come to me is that sometimes it is so hard to separate relational dynamics from the relationship in such a way that the challenges don’t get in the way of the relating. I was so appreciative of being able to share some special moments with her in her last few days, as I shared in an earlier post. But, there were also years in which we had times of tension and misfires in relating to one another. As I reflect on this, A vision comes to mind. I see myself looking through a chain link fence, watching a baseball game. If I focus on the fence, the game is hard to see, almost impossible to enjoy. But, if I relax my mind’s eye, the wire shape of the fence sort of disappears as I look for the action on the field, where the enjoyment is. I wish I had relaxed my mind’s eye more in my relationship with my mother-in-law. I hope I can do that better in the future.
Something to chew on…