Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Gift

My sister sat at her desk, in the middle of an open office full of fellow employees. She was sobbing uncontrollably. They were certain she had just learned of our mother's death. They were wrong.
I have been married nearly 40 years. My wife and I have followed her parents from Tenafly to Fort Lee, first in houses no more than a mile distant from one another and later in apartments two floors apart. As my mother in law likes to remind people, she was there first.

For a long time my wife and I joked that my mother in law liked me as much, if not more, than her own daughter. It was not that they had a bad relationship. It was simply that we had an even better one. She is a lady, a person of dignity and grace, never intrusive but always there when needed. Even now, closing in on 90, she is an integral part of the functioning of our family. She has been and remains a jewel.

My mom has not been so fortunate. A decade older than my mother-in-law, my mother remains alive but unattached to the realities of the world. The last decade has been a terrible decline, simply horrible for my sister and me to watch. My mom has little or no concept of her children, or grandchildren and the stories we relate to her of our triumphs and travails fall silently to the floor, like unattended and unfed orphans.
My mom lived for family, her universe made up almost entirely of her concerns for our welfare. As so many of us feel the devotion and love of a parent, so my sister and I believed that we had struck gold with both our mother and father.

 There was nothing our mom would not do for us, no task too severe, no financial contribution too substantial. Even as my sister and I became independent and at least modestly successful in our own lives, our mom would greet us with her hands outstretched and some money begging for a new home. When my mom inevitably asked if there was anything else she could give me, my standard retort was "small bills, unmarked."
As she aged and we helped her manage her finances, she would often mandate our acceptance of a gift with but one proviso: as long as I can afford to live, I can afford to give.
When my sister's son wed,  I was there when my mom gave his fiancee a wedding gift in an envelope. She burst into tears when the envelope was opened, staggered by my mom's beneficence. "Welcome to the family and get used to it" I thought to myself.
As my mom's problems multiplied in recent years, and my mother in law could see and hear the impact it was having on my sister and me, I could sense how much she understood our pain. She knew how badly we wanted, even for one day, to have our mother return to us.
My wife and I recently celebrated our daughter's engagement. And one of its trappings is the purchase of the wedding dress. Yesterday was the day for our daughter's first fitting. She brought along both her mom and her grandma, my mother in law, for this event. When the time came for payment for probably the most meaningful outfit my daughter will ever wear, my mother in law insisted that this be her gift. It was an overwhelmingly generous act.
When I learned of what she had done, I called to give my heartfelt thanks. This is how she responded:

"It is what your mother would have wanted to do. It is a gift from both of us."

I stood in the middle of my office weeping while relating this tale by phone to my sister. For even as my daughter had received a magnificent present, so too had my sister and I. We had, at least for an instant, been given back our mom.


Anonymous said...

Oh boy…. I've gone through an entire box of kleenex.
A beautiful piece about two exceptional women.


Marcia Allar said...

Make that another box of Kleenex. I was lucky enough to have known your most wonderful and loving mom.

Robert said...

I have received a large number of e-mail comments regarding this post. I share a number of these below:

So, so lovely! Thank you for sharing. That made my day!

Made my day too. Thanks.

A beautiful story. Beautiful people

Beautiful. Thanks for sending

What a truly beautiful tribute to your moms!!

Beautiful and so true!

Magnificent gift for you all!

It's lovely. Really lovely.

A lovely, heartfelt tale of the agony of losing a parent , who continues to live.

Now you've got me crying!!!! You had the best Mom .... and Dad!! They were the role models you followed!!! Obviously, your Mother-in-Law has the same heart as you and your Mom ... gold!! What a beautiful thought to say the dress was from both Grandma's!!! Your Mom would have wanted that for sure!!!

How powerful.
How beautiful.
Hang on to your memories. It makes it a little easier.
Thanks for always sharing

Beautiful and touching

And now the tears are falling down my face!

Incredibly written. How sad yet beautiful it is

That was really special totally crying

Honestly, so powerful and moving.

It's making me cry

So beautiful ! A sad but beautiful tribute!!!!!!

Robert said...

Some more comments received:

A great gift.

Beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes.

I have many,many sweet childhood memories of your mom, and it's so sweet to know that her spirit lives on.

Wow. What a beautiful story. Truly a gift from both of the moms. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Robert said...

More comments.

When I look at Alex's dress I will think of this.

Beautiful! How fortunate and unusual are both our families.
We have experienced a lifetime of love and generosity from
our respective mothers/mothers-in-law.
That's the gift, for sure.

Anonymous said...

that’s a great piece!

Cathy Farber said...

Bob, this story is a gift for all of us. Thanks for making my day and Mazel tov on Alex's engagement.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Both the story and the writing.
Really heart warming.

Anonymous said...

A real tearjerker! Because of you I always say to my kids "can I do anything for you". Hope they will appreciate me one day as you did your Mom.


Anonymous said...

I am speechless and weeping with such respect and love for your being able to appreciate your own mother in law, for her altruistic, beautiful gesture to include your incredibly precious mother. I am in awe of the special relationship you have with all of the women in your life. Your parents provided this legacy for their children, a very special gift that can not be bought or sold, but passed down through each generation of your special family. Thank you for sharing this very special tribute.