I promised in a recent post My Neighborhood Chore Stalker that I would elaborate on my amazing mother-in-law. Today would have been her 82nd birthday. We gave her back to God last August 2nd. It was hard to let her go, but in some ways we had been letting her go for a very long time.
Some people complain about their mother in laws, but I was blessed to have the lady who made the template for what a mother in law should be. Sadly, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 1993. For the last 10 years of her life she spent her days in a bed in her local small town hospital being cared for by her husband, excellent nurses, friends and family.
In honor of all you mothers out there today I want to share with you the notes I wrote and read at her funeral. While they are obviously personal and you will not know all the characters, I hope it will inspire you to not give up on being the best mom you can be. For those of you who have daughter and son in laws I hope it will challenge you to be the best mother in law you can be too! Happy Mother’s Day! Your role matters! God invented it!
A Mother In Law as God Intended
I have been blessed to have the best Mother-in-law. My mother-in-law, Dortha Heyen, was always one of the most positive people I know.
When I was in high school and my parents and I showed up to watch her son Robert play basketball, she invited us over for snacks and conversation. I know my parents were very impressed at her hospitality. I did not know then how much her hospitality would bless me for the rest of my life.
Seven years later, her son and I started dating again; by this time I already a young daughter of my own. She once again welcomed me into her home with the most gracious of spirits. I immediately made connections with her. When we were married a few months later, she welcomed us with open arms into their amazing family. I never felt second place. She always respected my role as her son’s wife and never tried to interfere in that relationship. Janell, Wynn and I often agreed that our mother in law was not like our friend’s mother in laws. In contrast to many, ours did everything she could to encourage us as young couples and specifically, me as a new farmer’s wife.
She “showed me the ropes” and did so without making me feel inferior in any way. We worked along side each other in harvest, cooking food and driving wheat trucks. In wheat drilling time, we would cook more and bucket the wheat into the drills alongside our husbands. She loved wheat-drilling time and tried to always make it to the field when they were filling the grain drills; she didn’t mind the work, she called it her “ab workout”
She would say positive things about every aspect of my life. Several times even telling me she loved my eyebrows!!! I always thought my eyebrows were a bushy mess but since hers were very pale and thin, she just loved mine and told me I was blessed.
She looked at every thing with a positive slant and sought to put a positive spin on whatever was said. I have so many examples of this it would be hard to name them all, but I would like to share a few.
She would come for a visit and then insist on helping with the dishes. I would tell her that I hated for her short visit to involve dishwashing, and she would reply, “Oh I just love washing your dishes, your china is so pretty.” If she volunteered to vacuum she would respond to my protests with, “I just love vacuuming your new carpet, it is so nice.”
If someone would mention a particular business or service as being a waste of money, she would reply, “well they have to make their living too.” She was always trying to view life from other people’s perspective.
Dortha would tell the best stories and would captivate her audience. The best was during a harvest rain when we would gather around and she would begin telling them. I know Orlin had probably heard them all, but he would toss his head back and laugh and smile at her like a young boy who was enthralled with his girl.
She could also recite rhymes and often did this for the children. Their favorite being “Whirly Buck, the bumble bee” which she said while having them lie across her lap and she did a special little dance with her fingers on their backs. Dortha had her disappointments, her struggles, and her family members who weren’t always the easiest to get along with but she smiled through it all.
Looking back, we all realize that Parkinson’s was beginning its assault on her by the time we were married. Her friends told me they noticed slight changes in her surrounding the time of our marriage. The year Emma and Elise and Natalie were born, Janell and I knew she was different. She just couldn’t hold the babies like she did Libby and Benjamin.
Her storytelling started being interrupted by her not being able to recall the punch lines. She quit moving her arms when she walked. She also wanted to rest instead of reading to the children. I think that is when my heart broke the most, because I knew the real Dortha would always choose entertaining her grandchildren over anything else.
I began to hate Parkinson’s and while Dortha didn’t like it, she never really complained. She didn’t understand what her body was doing, but she kept smiling and laughing and trying to do all she was accustomed to doing. It became hard to do so, but we had to ask her not to carry the babies, and to sit down and let us do the cooking and clean up. This was not always well received since Dortha had never sat down a day in her life. She was a doer and a servant and she wanted to continue this even though her body didn’t cooperate.
The past nine years have been hard ones. All but the two eldest of the grandchildren do not remember Grandma before Parkinson’s. When they hear stories of her accomplishments, they are amazed. We all have questioned at one time why God allowed Dortha to suffer for so long in her hospital bed. On one of my visits several years, I was given the answer. She was still here, because she was still teaching us. She was teaching all of us to be positive, to be full of grace and gratitude, despite our present sufferings. She was teaching her grandchildren compassion for those with physical infirmities. I know our children never feared away from people with handicaps. They understand the need to visit the sick, to minister to them in song and to sacrifice comfort and convenience to celebrate with Grandma in her little hospital room. Several of Dortha’s grandchildren are pursuing health care careers today, I believe in large part due to their awareness of the needs of the ill and the benefits of compassionate care.
We have all learned the blessings of church, community and dedicated nurses as so many have ministered to her and to our families. We have also tried to keep on living life to the fullest, just like Dortha would do. I know whenever I am cooking for my family and using her recipes, I also feel the happiest. I understand what she meant now by that statement. The fulfillment one can receive by meeting someone’s most basic of needs; the need for food, and seeing the pleasure it brings and the fellowship that develops from time spent with others around the table. You see it is not food, but rather nourishment that we need and Dortha provided that for all that were blessed to know her and I will praise God for creating Dortha, my mother in law, the best in the world.
I look forward to joining her at our Lord’s Table.
What do you think makes a great mother or mother in law? Write me and tell me about those special ladies in your life.