Remembering My Mother-In-Law


It’s been two years on the Jewish calendar since I delivered this eulogy.

I met Edith Wingens some twenty-seven years ago. If I said it was love at first sight for either one of us, I’d be lying. After all, I had come to take her son and she was, naturally, wary. I understood that then and being the mother of three sons, I understand it even better now.

But, there we were.

So, when Gary told his mother that I was the one, she said the three words that every young man wants to hear from his mother upon imparting such news, and they were, “Are you sure????”

But Edith was nothing if not an adaptable. And, we found our way. She was a force of nature, a whirling dervish, a person who made an entrance. I am a bit more reserved, laid back, a person who prefers to slip into a room unnoticed. She was a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors and I am slightly more monochromatic. As it turned out we were perfect foils. We didn’t clash but we sometimes collided. Gently.

When Gary and I were first married Edith said, “Helene, let me show you how to iron Gary’s shirts” to which I responded, “let’s show Gary how to iron his own shirts.” Edith replied, “I did NOT send my son to Harvard Law School to learn to iron shirts.” Well, I had also gone to law school and although the comment rankled, I smiled, watched the ironing demonstration with great enthusiasm and took Gary’s shirts to the dry cleaner the next day.

Edith asked me to refer to her as “mom.” I said I would love to but two years later –after Edith realized I hadn’t called her anything in two years– she said, “You don’t need to call me mom, just PLEASE call me something….”

Twenty six years later sitting across from me at my table after I had once again smiled and agreed to something I had no intention of doing, to all of our surprise Edith remarked, “From now on I’m going to be more like Helene. WOW I thought now we’re getting somewhere. “In what way?” I asked. She answered, “Well, when someone asks me to do something I’m going to smile, say yes and then do whatever I want to do.” It had only taken 26 years but I’d finally been snagged.

As the years went by Edith and I found common ground. Frankly, when I was 23 I thought a lot of what she said was foolish but as I aged, a lot of it began to have the ring of truth. And, there is no better common ground than grandchildren.

She began to tell me that I was a good mother, a more patient mother than she’d been and her praise meant a lot to me. I began to understand that having 20 people for dinner, which she did often, was no small feat. I became a better cook. She became freer with her compliments. And, when Edith compliments your food, you know you’ve arrived. I began to appreciate the strength of her character, her optimism, her iron will and her enduring friendships.

Often when I visited her in the hospital or rehab she would insist on proudly telling all who dared enter, “This is my daughter in law.” She would clutch my hand and tell me how happy she was that I had come and how did I know to come just when she needed me to?

One of our last interactions was at rehab. Talking had become difficult for her. We sat, mostly in silence, and then she said, “You have three wonderful sons.” “Yes, and you have a wonderful son also” I quipped. “As good as gold” she answered. But, I would argue better than gold because gold cannot buy the kind of devotion you have shown your parents, Gary. That can only come from the heart. Many sons have done well but you, Gary, surpass them all. From the moment your mother perceived your presence in her womb as a craving for herring you gave your parents such joy, such enormous joy. At the end, you doggedly pursued their comfort and dignity with tremendous compassion even when you were so tired you could barely hold your head up. You felt their pain and did everything in your power to ease it. I can only hope our sons have been watching…

Today, legally I am not a mourner but still I mourn. Edith, Omi, Mom, I will miss you.

As I said, two years have passed since I delivered this eulogy and I miss her.

I really do.

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