The first time I met my future mother-in-law, she insisted on taking me shopping. She raised two sons and was hungry for female companionship. I worried about disappointing her because I am not a shopper. Department stores stress me out. I very much dislike wading through racks of fancy clothes. I rarely carry a purse, and I don’t want to go anywhere near a fragrance counter. I recognize that this is a silly, first world problem, but my mother-in-law, while frugal, loved shopping. Wanting to make a good impression, I went with her. She bought me clothing, which I accepted as graciously as I could.
Soon afterward, my husband and I moved across the country and started a family. My mother-in-law always remained involved. She visited, sent care packages, and supported us in so many ways. She encouraged me and would occasionally offer gifts that sparkled. I always appreciated her tokens, whether they were to my taste or not. I knew it was her way of female bonding.
Earlier this year after a stroke, she learned that she had advanced cancer. She made the decision to move to our area for her care, so she could spend as much time with us as possible. As we talked about goal setting for physical therapy, she kept coming back to one thing. She wanted to go to Macy’s on her own.
Let me back up a little. Many years prior, her eyesight deteriorated through macular degeneration. No longer able to drive, she relied on her husband to take her to Macy’s, often not on her terms. When she moved, she wanted to reach the point where she could hire a car and go on her own. We offered to take her, but she declined. There were so many decisions to be made about doctors, living arrangements and finances that she was unsure about, but what she was crystal clear about was the idea of going to Macy’s and looking at blouses for long as she wished without family poking around her. Macy’s became the ultimate symbol of her will to recover. Unfortunately, this outing never happened.
When she passed away, I offered to pick out the clothing for her burial. I didn’t want to select something from her limited wardrobe, so I pulled myself together and did what she wished she could do. On Halloween morning, I stood outside Macy’s in the pouring rain waiting for the doors to open. I had so many emotions running through me, and I held a warm cup of tea to steady myself. A man dressed as a banana came to unlock the door. I took that as a good omen. I was the first person in, and I walked past an army of smiling, eager sales clerks. I didn’t think I could get through explaining to them what I was looking for, so I decided to go it alone.
At first I looked for a dress, thinking I’d find something in the color she wore to my wedding which suited her so well. I walked section by section, and saw how much there was to sort through. I started to feel overwhelmed. I wanted it to be perfect, but everything felt flashy and loud. Nothing seemed like her. I worried that I was in over my head.
I took a deep breath.
She liked a touch of femininity, but she was sensible – a college professor and savvy investor. A dress was the wrong way to go. I needed a sweater and pants. I came upon a pretty cream sweater embossed with a floral pattern. It was simple yet elegant. I found black pants to go with it. Feeling emboldened, I moved to the jewelry area and picked out a pearl necklace. Lastly, I hit the shoe department. I really struggle in shoe departments, but I pushed on and decided on a pair of black flats. After rounding out the other needed items, I checked out and was on my way.
My mother-in-law was laid to rest on a beautiful, sunny fall morning. The service was intimate and heartfelt, and I think she would have enjoyed the lovely yet not ostentatious flowers. I hope she would have approved of my choice of attire. As for Macy’s, I plan to stop in now and then, wander around, think about my mother-in-law, and enjoy the sparkle. And if I do ever need to pick out a handbag, I trust that she will guide me to the perfect purchase.
Do you have a mother-in-law? What types of things do you do together to bond?
This has been an original post for World Moms Network by Tara B. Photo credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
What a heartwarming story, Tara. I was married to my husband for over 20 years before my mom-in-law accepted that I wasn’t going to leave her son, so she might as well start being civil to me. The breakthrough only came after my dad-in-law passed away. My husband and I flew up to help her with the funeral arrangements etc. (we live in Cape Town and my in-laws lived in Durban). When we got home from the Service we realised that (very uncharacteristically) there was nothing for lunch, so my husband and I were going to the supermarket quickly. She took hold of my hand and said “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?” to which I responded “Of course not, I’ll stay with you if you want me to”. I sat next to her on the couch, holding her hand, until my husband got back and we made lunch for us all. From that day onward I finally felt accepted … and maybe even loved, by her. It took roughly 1 year from my dad-in-law’s passing until we finally persuaded mom-in-law to move to Cape Town. We purchased a home with a “granny cottage” so we could live on the same property, yet maintain our own independence. She lived in the main house with us for several months whilst she had the cottage renovated. Sadly, the day after she moved into her own space, she got so ill that we had to take her to hospital … and she stayed there until the day she died. 🙁 I’m extremely grateful that we had those last few months together. In the end there are no regrets. Now I’m the mom-in-law, and I’m trying to the best of my ability to be a loving and supportive one. I have new understanding for my mom-in-law too! My only son now lives in Frankfurt, Germany, with his wife and her family. It IS tough to let your only son go, but it must be done.