Last night, 2 AM, I lay in bed wide-awake listening to the roar of thunderous clouds overhead. Then, came the slow plop-plop of raindrops against my windows and on my roof just before the sky let loose its cascade of heartrending tears. I knew at that moment, she was dead. There was no way in Hell she was going to go quietly. Peacefully, yes, but quietly… never. While Earth mourned her passing the Universe rejoiced by blazing bolts of lightning across the night sky in her honor. My entire room was awash in light. I would swear I heard her opening my bedroom door. Margaret, my ex-mother-in-law, came to say good-bye... or was it hello? A woman I loved, almost as deeply as my own mother, crossed over last night at the age of 96 and Mother Earth was grieving her loss.
She came to the United States from Germany with her parents and two brothers, none able to speak English. Her younger brother died of Scarlet Fever before he was ten. She labored on the family farm, attending school until she was old enough to work as a housemaid in a very elegant and affluent home in the nearest city, during a time when servants actually used the back stairs to the kitchen. This is where she met her future husband, Herb, of over sixty-five years. He only had an eighth-grade education, but together they worked hard, raised two boys and became millionaires. She never owned a fur coat. She never wore expensive jewelry. They lived in a modest home. They saved their money and were more than generous with it when times were good, helping us pay for our daughter’s out-of-state college tuition. Herb died about fifteen years ago, but she would often see him standing by her bedside at night saying, “I’m here to remind you.”
Marge had more class in her little finger than I could ever have in my entire body. My mother and she would talk for hours about their grandchildren. In the thirty years I knew her, she never swore or raised her voice in anger, but you knew where you stood with her. She was always, always good to my children. She was everything you would want your grandmother to be. Homemade cookies sat on her kitchen counter for every visit. Toys were kept in her basement, closets and toy chests for her grandchildren’s pleasure. She volunteered at church, making books in Braille for the blind. She cooked food for the sick and the dying. At the ripe old age of 82, she joined a health club so she could swim laps and walk the track. She lifted free weights until the age of 94. She lived to see her great-grandchildren into their teenage years. She was truly the Matriarch of the family, strong and unyielding, yet loving and kind.
When my son was born he was rushed to surgery within two hours of his birth. Marge stayed with me every minute, never leaving my side, even after we received word that he was going to live. She sat with my daughter, four at the time, on her lap for hours on end, keeping her entertained. When I had a miscarriage she came to my home and for the first time in her life, shared her own story. Up until that time, no one in the family but her husband knew she had also lost a child.
My children were in town last weekend to see her for what turned out to be the last time they would see her alive. Halfway through their two-hour visit Marge realized she hadn’t applied her lipstick and proceeded to do so. The nurses said she was the only patient on the floor who even brought lipstick, let alone wore it every day. My daughter said, “It remarkably changed her appearance. Leave it to Grandma!”
She looked frail and tiny; her arms completely bruised from failed attempts at inserting IV needles. She complained that this was the longest she had ever gone without getting her hair done and it was bothering her. She wanted to take part in active conversation, but didn’t have the breath to contribute. She definitely seemed more torn up over the fact that they were seeing her with her hair undone and no make-up than the fact she was having trouble breathing, just one of the many traits that we all love about her. My children told her that she had been an inspiration to all her grandchildren and that she is the strongest woman they had ever known. She thanked them and told them that it meant a lot to her.
Leaving the hospital room on Saturday, my son and daughter turned and blew good-bye kisses in her direction. Their Grandmother’s last words to them; “I love you. Have a good life.”
My heart hurts…