We lost her slowly over the past few years, one story, one day, one memory at a time. On Friday, we lost her completely.
My mother in law has been ‘Mom’ to me for more than 31 years, longer even than my own mother was in my life. She was opinionated, could be a bit obstinate, periodically intolerant and occasionally unforgiving, but mostly she was kind, gentle, funny, full of common sense, decency and the gentleness that comes only from deep strength. And she was a phenomenal cook.
When I first joined this Wiley family, Mom took me in, listened, supported, and accepted me. Though we were very different in nature and belief, I never felt anything but loved by her. And when after many years our first son came home to us, it was my mother in law who walked with me and talked me through those first hours and days, then weeks and months and years. As a grandmother, she couldn’t be bested. She was all there for our children and for us, yet never intrusive and never judgmental (at least not openly!). She gladly stuffed 700 eggs on Easter so that each child would have 100 eggs – color-coded to ensure equal distribution – carefully hidden around her yard. And when all the eggs had been gathered, there was an overflowing basket of goodies for each child. Her Christmas shopping was something to marvel at, each grandchild, son, and daughter in law treated equally and to the penny to ensure there was no favoritism felt or implied. She and my father in law would make the rounds at the homes of each of their boy’s families, playing Santa, relishing the tearing open of the gifts and being the most incredible, most wonderful people to our families. Our kids knew that even if we failed them on Christmas morning, Grandmom and Granddad would always come through.
Mary Elizabeth was a rockstar, somehow managing to navigate the world on her own terms while never belying her deep-rooted decency. And this she passed down to her beautiful three sons and her seven wonderful grandchildren. And, I hope, with 31 years in her inner circle, some of her wonderfulness rubbed off on me.