I’m sitting here trying to understand.
Four days ago one of the most active and health conscious people I know fell over and died.
We were putzing along with our lives, spending Sunday cooking and cleaning when we got a phone call that my mother-in-law was gone.
It doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t have happened. She was touring Scandinavia with two of her best friends. We had just gotten pictures of her toasting with aquavit and of the stave church they had visited.
Every fall we go to a fair and buy hundreds of pounds of produce –that was going to be my original post, a tally of all the wonderful foods I had made and preserved, all sparkling in their jars. Piles of blanched veggies bagged for the freezer. What recipes worked out this year, which hadn’t. But half the recipes I use were hers – a few weeks ago she had given me a carrot rhubarb marmalade to try this year. But a big part of the fun was getting to talk it over with her, on the phone, in text and pictures, chatting about how much money was saved and how much better the food tasted. She always had stories about things her Mom had canned and tips and tricks to try next time. I’m giving away what’s not done. I can’t bring myself to keep working on it.
Peter and I will be celebrating 20 years together in the spring. And over that time Mrs. Churchill and I have been known to regularly butt heads. Peter has described her and my relationship as ‘zesty’. He’s even been heard to say (safely, muttering under his breath) that she and I were both obstinate and opinionated.
But we had our rituals whenever we were together – we both felt a tall can of apple cider was too much, so we always shared. She bought us matched glass mugs that fit exactly one-half a can. This past summer we bought one of every type of apple cider in the liquor store so we could figure out which was the best. Each afternoon, with our mugs in hand, we lounged in our Adirondack chairs reading while the children played. Every time we travelled together we searched out yarn stores. We both loved the chance to pet, ohh and ahh over new finds (and if they were on sale? Bliss!) Peter feared that one day he’d totally lose us – we’d wander into a yarn store and never be seen again. We had been trying to take a weaving class together for about 4 years. We were talking about how to make sure it would work out for next year. We were all about tea rooms! She was one of the very few people I’ve ever met who loved tea rooms as much as me. The opportunity to sit with a pot of tea, whether a new flavour or old favourite, and enjoy a scone or snack was basically never passed up. We often shared those too – then the calories don’t count.
She was one of the best people I know at truly living in and enjoying the present – the pleasure she took in that cup of tea or that perfect little petit-four was equal to a great ski run or golf round. Every morning she lit a meditation candle with her breakfast and read a spiritual passage to contemplate during the day. When she was grieving for her husband, she got the most insanely difficult knitting pattern I have ever seen so that it would occupy her whole mind. She called it her Grieving Sweater and wore it proudly. She read Marie Kondo’s “The life changing magic of tidying up” last spring and was so very pleased with how nice all her clothes now looked in her drawers (probably that only thing untidy in her house).
Her social life was more active than a teenager’s! She was involved with the Retired Teachers’ Association, her sorority, her church, her bridge club, skiing, golfing, yoga… We often called only to be told she couldn’t stay on because she was having friends over for a meal or movie. Or she was on her way out to the theatre, a concert, or poetry reading. Or teaching a Syrian family English. Or tutoring disadvantaged children in reading.
She was 73, but I fully expected she’d be at my funeral.
Now we have no idea when she’ll be returned from Sweden to her home town.
We’re in limbo, grieving, disbelieving, shocked.