Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Today my mother-in-law was buried next to her "only love" --- my husband's father, who died 32 years ago. "Mamaw" had left specific instructions about her funeral service which were followed to the letter. The service was very simple yet very beautiful. I've never sang Amazing Grace with so much "feeling" before. Not having been blessed with a singing voice, I usually sing very softly -- for the benefit of those around me -- but not today.

My mother-in-law had "suffered" from Alzheimer's disease for five to six years. She'd been a very independent woman until her first symptoms appeared. But what she really suffered from was her family; her own children and grand children. Most families who have had a loved one with Alzheimer's know that most of the suffering is done by the family; the Alzheimer's "sufferer" is usually in a "happy place."

My mother-in-law was a dear, sweet woman. Her faith in God never wavered. She would do anything for anybody in the name of God. In our small town she was known as "that sweet Midge Ross."

We, her family, did not always serve her well. Without bringing skeletons out of the closed, I will say that my mother-in-law was not blessed with "good" children. Her daughter abused her emotionally and financially until the day of her death (March 20, 2008); her son, my husband, put her through "hell" during his addictive years --- before we met. Perhaps worst of all, I abused her by disassociating myself and my family from her daughter's family because of my own set of ideals and standards; my "code of honor," if you will.

When my two sons were in Iraq at the same time in 07, it occurred to me that perhaps it was that "code", those very ideals and standards, my unsuppressable need for justice passed on to my children, that put them in to harm's way. I have always had such a strong sense of right versus wrong, good versus evil; my life has been (figurative, never literally) black or white with NO shades of gray. That's not to say that I have lived any where near a perfect life--- very far from it.

Inherited from my father is my need to give. If I see someone in need, I will stop and try to help them (which really makes my husband angry). If I learn of a financial hardship, I will do what I can to provide resources. On a trip years ago to New York City, I saw a homeless man across the street and tried so hard to give him the 1/2 of my turkey sandwich I had in a to-go box from the "All Star Sports Cafe" on Times Square (his homeless/my extravagance). He didn't want my sandwich. When the family and friends who were with me saw what I was doing they ran across the street to "save me." I just wanted to save the homeless man. Or at least ease his hunger pains.

In my opinion, no one should ever hold themselves up as "better than" anyone else based on their financial status, job, material possessions, the automobile they drive. NO ONE is any better than anyone else -- Period.

Maintaining these standards and ideals has not always served me well. I have burned many bridges because people have violated "my" code. My husband's sister and her family not only violated "my" code, but society's "rules" of decent behavior.

In my mind they became people with whom who I could not allow myself or my (albeit "grown") children to associate (though they make their own decisions). We tried over the years to be examples for this family, we provided financial assistance to them, we "mentored" them, we tolerated as much as we could. We reached a point where "enough was enough."

Yet, I myself violated my own "code" by not spending holidays with my mother-in-laws' family; thus causing her heartache. All she asked of us in the last few years was "to just get along." But too much had been said, done, allowed to happen. Was it worth it for me and mine to stand firm if the result was to deny a sweet old woman a few hours of pleasure with all of her family by her side a few times a year. Probably not. Definitely not. I stand ashamed.


Sarge Charlie said...

Just so you know, your Mamaw sounds just like my mother otherwise known as Mamaw, including Amazing Grace at her service.