At 8:30 this morning my former mother-in-law and grandmother of my two older children passed away. In fact, she really always remained my mother-in-law. We didn’t get divorced just because her son and I divorced. Melinda was just sixty-nine years old. She fought and won a battle with breast cancer in her mid-fifties. The chemotherapy, however, caused damage to her heart. She struggled with many heart issues over the past few years, but had a heart pump installed last year at the Mayo Clinic which seemed to help. In recent weeks, she was diagnosed with both liver and pancreatic cancer. I last spoke to her last Sunday when she called me to make sure that the kids were taking the news okay. I told her that I was going to try to get the kids up to see her over spring break. She told me that she hoped she’d at least have some of the summer still. I guess none of that was to be. I do think, however, that she still went peacefully and with acceptance for her coming death. She was a very courageous woman, even when facing death.
Melinda was a wonderful grandmother and at every turn, one of my biggest supporters. My daughter was her first grandchild, born while I was in law school and living in the same town as my in-laws. Although Melinda still had her youngest child at home, I believe “Uncle Ben” was about 12 when Hannah was born, she took care of Hannah during the day during my first semester back at law school. Now that I have two teens and a baby at home, I realize that it was no easy feat for her to juggle a pre-teen and a baby. Melinda is partly to thank for my going back and finishing my law degree, even though she always really thought I should have stuck with my visual arts dreams (and as of late, I realize that she was probably right on that account). In the seven years I spent single after my divorce, Melinda helped me many times, always willing to come down to my home (five plus hours south of her house) to take care of my kids during my week-long business trips, which were necessary in my career as an acquisition editor and then publisher for an academic publishing imprint. Melinda didn’t just “stay” with my kids during this time. She fearlessly drove them around this traffic-laden metropolitan area to irish dance class, gymnastics, and guitar lessons, sometimes all in the same night. She was able to balance the chaos sometimes better than I could. At the same time, she always told me how proud she was of me and my career. Even more so, she always told me that I was a wonderful mother and that she admired my parenting skills. I don’t think that anyone else in my life gave me such positive feedback and support, particularly during those hard years as a single mom. She didn’t abandon me after the divorce, but got in my corner and backed me even more. For this, I’ll always be grateful.
This morning, after I received the news of Melinda’s passing, I was in the shower wondering what Melinda might be doing. Melinda was always an outgoing person, in contrast to my extremely introverted nature. Once while accompanying me on a trip to my local suburban grocery store, Melinda got to know about five new people before we even arrived at the check out lane. By the time we reached my car, I was certain that she knew more people in the city where I lived than I had met after living there two years. She also would get to know the other Irish Dance parents or the other parents at the St. Paul Conservatory of Music, where my daughter took classical guitar. She would tell me all about those parents when I returned home from my trips. In fact, that is how I ended up becoming friends with some of the other parents who had kids in activities with my kids. So, this morning, when I thought about what Melinda was doing, I thought, well, she’s certainly already met up with those who have gone before; her mom and dad and sisters. Right about now, she is probably already meeting some new folks, with a smile on her face. She is likely not spending anytime thinking “why am I here?” or “what have I left behind?” but is soaking up the amazing joy and love abounding in the new and better place, making herself right at home. And when I get to this place, whenever my time comes, I will be comforted to know that she will be waiting there for me, already ready to introduce me to all of the friends she’s made.
Farewell Melinda. I will miss you, but I know we’ll meet again.