She didn’t come to dinner last week. It seems that she may never do that again. I thought, as her time in the frail body she inhabits nears an end, it might be appropriate to post this earlier essay again.
Your People, My People
Most Sunday afternoons, my seat is immediately to her left at the dinner table. As the dishes are passed, I make sure that she gets a small serving of each item. I cut her meat to a manageable size. Move the glass closer to her so she doesn’t have to struggle with it. The salad is topped with her favorite dressing. While dinner is in progress, every once in awhile I’ll explain a comment someone else has made. And then, even if she doesn’t finish her vegetables, she always wants dessert. As the meal comes to an end, I even remove her bib for her.
It’s not who you think. Yes, there are children at the table who need help, but they get that from their mom, or maybe their dad. Often, even their grandma (the Lovely Lady, herself) helps with their care. The person sitting to my right is the children’s great-grandma, my mother-in-law. She was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis several years before I came on the scene and time has not been kind to her. Gnarled hands, with fingers which are misshapen and bent to the side, sit at the ends of arms with artificial elbows and shoulders whose cartilage has now dissolved almost completely. Her pain is constant; her inability to do the mundane tasks we take for granted, such as buttering a roll, leaving her dependent on the same sort of help required by the toddlers at the table.
I won’t go on about the hardships, nor will I dwell on the demands she makes. Her life is now one of waiting for other people to fulfill her needs. She can be a hard taskmaster. I’ll gladly do my part. Why? She is my Lovely Lady’s mother. More might be said, but it doesn’t need to be.
Recently, one of the cable television channels introduced a new program, with which they think a lot of people can identify. They believe the audience will be agog with excitement each week as they air this show about spouses at war with their in-laws. “Monster-In-Laws”, they call it. Not only is their usage of the language incorrect, but the premise itself is odious to me. I will not watch even one minute of this abomination. Ever. I know they will attempt to offer a solution as each thirty-minute episode winds down, but that’s not how they’re selling it to the potential audience. On other fronts, too, I am sick to death of “mother-in-law jokes”; tired of the assumption that we have no choice but to do battle with our spouse’s parents.
I guess you know that once in awhile, I get a “burr under my saddle” about a subject. I try to keep from taking it out on you folks. But, I would be derelict if I missed the chance to urge each of you to show respect to your in-laws. Love them. Care for them, just as you care for your spouse. They raised that person you married, got them through school, provided for them. In a manner of speaking, your mother-in-law, your father-in-law, is your spouse. They certainly are a part of their life, both past and future. As you disrespect the in-laws, you disrespect your wife or your husband. What? That’s not an easy task for you? Too bad. It’s a debt you owe to the one you love, the one you promised to “cherish from this day forward”. So, take the time; make the effort. I’m still finding that, over time, it’s a debt that gets easier and easier to pay.
My mother-in-law is failing quickly as she approaches the end of her time on this earth. Only the Lord knows how much longer she will be with us. But the Lovely Lady loves and cares for her. So do I. So will I.
“But Ruth replied, …Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.