Our family has never taken exotic vacations. Probably the most exciting place we have ever taken our children is Washington, DC. Most of our vacations are to visit family, either in the mountains of North Carolina, the coast of Georgia, or in the bulging metropolis of Atlanta. We find that taking vacations to visit family suits us just fine.
One of our last trips to Atlanta was unfortunately for a funeral. My mother-in-law, Jane, had died suddenly from a stoke. She was working in her garden one fine spring day, and with Jesus the next. So that unplanned trip to Atlanta was filled with joy and anguish, memories and tears.
It has now been three years since Jane passed and I am finding it difficult to head to Atlanta again. As we drive through the barrenness of South Carolina, I am taking some time to process my emotions.
Naturally, I am sad. For 20 years, we packed our bags, loaded up the car, and drove to Atlanta to see my mother-in-law. And now our bags are packed and the car is full and we are once again driving to Atlanta, but she is not there. It stinks.
I know there are many horrible mothers-in-law out there, but Jane was not one of them. She was an ideal mother-in-law. She never, not even once, was critical of me. I’m sure she noticed my faults (there are many) but she bit her tongue and never pointed them out. She was always complimentary of our children and she thought we were doing a great job raising them. She was a great mother to Brian and she gave him the best gifts because she really knew him, inside and out. She loved us totally and completely.
Jane loved to garden, and she and I shared that in common. Since we did not make the seven hour trip to Atlanta very often, she and I emailed a lot. We would share our gardening projects, what was blooming in our gardens and how we had worked all day and we were pooped. I would send her pictures of Hannah’s dance recital or Gregory’s latest LEGO creations. It was a beautiful friendship, even if over email. We cherished the time when our family was together.
Her last email to me was two days before she died. Brian had a birthday coming up, and she wanted me to buy something for him from her. She concluded her email with – “Take care, I love you all, have a great week. Mom”
And then she was gone.
Today I’m headed back to her hometown and I will miss her. I will miss going to eat at Sweet Tomatoes with her and then strolling the aisles of Hobby Lobby with her children and grandchildren. I will not get to roam around her garden with her pointing out what is blooming. There will be no trips to museums or restaurants or stories about her cats. She won’t be at the table, full of pride and joy, sharing a meal with her children and grandchildren.
She won’t be there, but her legacy will. I have known unconditional love through Jane, a love that overlooks a multitude of my sins. I have confidence in my parenting through Jane – her voice still tells this insecure mother that I’m doing a great job. And I can feel her pride, looking down at these grandchildren that she loved and celebrated so much.
Jane won’t be there, but her memory will.
So we race down the miles, hurtling toward a city where Jane won’t be. She’s not there, because she is with me, in my heart.
And that is the very best place for her to be.