My mother in law passed away on Friday. I should say my ex mother in law, but she would prefer I say “my ex husband’s mother” because I didn’t divorce her. Our relationship started out on bad terms. My husband was 23 and I had just turned 18. We meet at the Baptist College (now Charleston Southern) in Oct. We secretly eloped and got married in Dec. That in itself is a very long story. His parents lived in Georgia at the time so it was easy to keep the secret. They moved to Charleston shortly after that and we had to come clean.
His mother was very upset. His parents had already broken up two engagements and were determined he would not get married until he graduated from college. She felt I was too young and came with a lot of emotional baggage. She was right on both counts. She eventually accepted the marriage. Our relationship started to grow after my son was born. She was my mother in law for 17 years before the divorce. It was a difficult time for all of us. A few years after the divorce, we started to correspond and talk.
She was a very spiritual woman. She was also very wise. She was honest to a fault. She said what she thought. She was raised in an orphanage after her mother died. She told us mother worked herself to death taking care of her children after her alcoholic father abandoned them. After she married, her husband went into the Navy and was sent to the South Pacific. She wanted to do her part so she joined the Marines.
Family was the most important thing to her. She had three sons. Her youngest died in a drowning accident when he was five years old. She took art lessons after his death and found her solace in art. She became a well-known local artist, had her own art school, and studied with several renowned artists over the years.
The service was held graveside, and as I drove to the cemetery today I reflected many things. I lived on James Island for many years. I have always loved it there. The cemetery was not far from her house on the island. I drove past the house where my husband, children and I last lived as a family. I drove the roads I had driven drunk many nights. I passed the church we attended before we left for seminary and the one we attended when we came home. I left that church in Oct. of 1986. I would not return to a church until 2009.
The service was very touching. The Scottish bagpiper opened the service and closed it with Amazing Grace. All of her grandchildren read poems that she loved. My daughter read a poem she had written for her grandmother. The Marine guard was there to present the flag, play Taps, and offer the gun salute. All the Marines on this day were women. Very fitting for a women who joined in the first years of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. I found myself crying from the very beginning and I am not one easily brought to tears.
Now please bear with me but I must share this thought. The “In Remembrance” paper we received gave her name, birth date, and time and place of the service. And at the bottom read..”Officiating..Reverend F. Ted Atchley, Jr.” And so my ex husband officiated the service for his mother. It served once again as a validation that this was NOT his calling.
We all returned to her home and enjoyed a traditional southern meal. It was nice to see some of the family and friends from out-of-town I haven’t seen in years. I took a moment to look at the many paintings around her home. I have several in my own house and I cherish them.
This was my second funeral this year. Two months in 2012 and already two funerals. I hope this doesn’t set a precedent for the year. Next week will be four years since Jan’s death. The week after will be three years since Mama Pearl’s death. My friend John says he believes all our grief lives in the same spot in our brain. When we experience grief it touches all the places of grief we have experienced in the past. I felt that today. Jan, Pearl, my Mother, and some others were all in my heart during the service. I felt that loss so deeply, but more importantly, I felt their presence and their love.
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince