We woke this morning and started the routine as normal only to have the phone light up. Usually it’s my oldest checking in before any of her college activities…or my daily text with a friend…but today it wasn’t.
Today, the kids’ grandmother, my late wife’s mother, passed away. It’s not that we didn’t expect her to pass sooner rather than later, to be a bit indelicate. But we had planned to go see her today as it was. Whatever disagreements or criticisms or other silly things may have gotten in the way between us in the past, the fact remained that Andrea’s mom Laura was always smiling and sunny. Sure, she had a tendency to loudly and angrily have conflicts with her husband, but it was mostly a bit humorous and usually quite silly.
When we first moved to California Laura watched the boys while Andrea and I worked. The arrangement didn’t stay and we worked around our schedules, but that was the memory the kids all had of her.
They also had the ideas that their grandma had instilled in their mother, that the holidays were like a decorator’s book. The tree perfect at Christmas. The dinner table neatly set, placecards on the plates, butter carved into rosebuds, all for the family Thanksgiving. Their Mom decorated the house that way, too. It was always impressive.
I first met Laura in 1991, after New Year’s and I had just started dating her daughter. It was a difficult, nerve-racking visit because this truly was the first relationship that had been serious enough I met the parents. Andrea was outgoing and beautiful and she talked up her Mom like she was friendly and funny and that they were just best of friends. When I got to their home she was every bit that Andrea had described. It helped that both Andrea and her sister had talked up this unknown boy that neither parent had really heard much of, from, or about in the couple years their daughter was in the Midwest. I shared having been raised in Nebraska, so that was a plus for me, I hoped, and I was always raised to be pleasant, thankful and giving when I visited anyone’s home.
When I walked in Laura was smiling, happy, and friendly. (Andrea later informed me she’d gotten into the wine rack about an hour before we arrived so that helped) She gave me a hug and was filled with questions. I was informed that Laura, during WWII, as a very small child, was moved to my hometown while her father was overseas fighting. She was apparently just down the street from my Grandma’s house, though Laura’s mother never met or spent time with any of my family.
I didn’t make the greatest first impression, I don’t suppose, but as time grew on I became closer with them. When I married Andrea just about two years later, they had welcomed me into their family. Laura had told me on one occasion that they couldn’t have been happier with the son-in-law they had because of how I treated Andrea. I wasn’t sure I agreed because of the roller coaster our marriage was at times, but it meant a lot they felt that way. When Andrea passed away Laura was as worried about my well being as she was about her own and her daughter’s. Before she got ill and the genetic disorder we never knew she had started to take pieces of her away, she would ask how the kids were and if I was okay, in that order. As time grew less and less available and she deteriorated we saw less of her, but every time we saw her she had the spark in her eyes that I remember from Andrea. The spark would fade quicker and quicker each visit and that saddened the kids and I but we liked that we could set it alight, even if just for a bit.
We thought we had more time, which I know is always the case. We had planned on visiting Laura on Sunday and never got the chance. Like her daughter, it seemed she just couldn’t hold on any longer.
We will miss the amazing decorations and the butter roses and the Martha Stuart books that mirrored the home we visited. But more we’ll miss the woman who brought us all those things and the joyful memories that came with them.