Well, we flew across the country to see to the final rest of my mother-in-law. We arrived home spent. I am emotionally and physically exhausted. What an incredible week. We saw family we have not seen in years. We hugged and cried, caught up and shared laughs and tears. It was a week spent rediscovering what it means to be “family.” And we all feel so very, very blessed to have been together. Yes, we came to bury my mother-in-law, but we also shared in the joy of a life well spent. We also reignited our joy at belonging to such a wide and varied group of people who call themselves “relatives.” I joined this family 36 years ago when I met my husband. It was the life-changing moment of my existence. Meeting him changed everything in my life. The Lord knew where I needed to be, and who I needed to walk beside for my lifetime. I cannot even properly express how blessed I feel.
There were some amazing moments. Moments that caused us to pause and reflect. We spent so much time telling one another how much we loved each other. Because we all came to see how fleeting this life truly is. I know I have been quoting our former pastor for a long time, ” We are not guaranteed our next breath,” and we truly felt that with the experience of her sudden death. Mary was my husband’s last remaining parent, and they were both the eldest child in their respective families. It was like the old guard had passed. As my mother-in-law’s tomb was being sealed and my husband prayed over her, my eldest son whispered to me, “Now you really are Grandma Kaiser.” The mantle of the title settled onto my shoulders. (My husband and I are both the eldest of our siblings, too). And it was as if this generational shift sort of settled into place. It was palatable. And my eldest realized he now holds his dad’s former position in the family. Weird experience – and so hard to articulate.
The Rosary the night prior to the funeral was a little chaotic. It was held at the Chapel near to Mary’s final resting place. It was the first time we saw some family members. We were all milling about in the vestibule of the chapel, hugging and crying. My mother-in-law was in her casket in front of the altar, with it open, and we all ventured up to pay our last respects. My first impression was, “Wow. She looks amazing. So young, So happy. So peaceful.” And actually, seeing her made me happy. She was no longer suffering. She truly seemed at rest in such immense peace. It somehow took the sting away from her death. And I was able to present her in death to two of her great-granddaughters, who insisted on going up there with me. And they were not afraid. They both made cute comments about her sleeping so nicely. The older of the two even patted her hand. And I spent time with my sons, as they knelt there, weeping. It was such a beautiful experience. The prayers of Divine Mercy and the Rosary were so very comforting. Watching my grown sons cuddling their nieces, kneeling and praying the Rosary together, made my heart sing with joy. The fact that their grandmother died, and that was what brought them to this joined faith expression, made it even more poignant. I think, for me as a mom, this will be a memory I will always hold dear.
I was asked to do the first reading at the funeral. And I have to say, I was scared. I normally do really bad at funerals. I usually get physically ill in some way. The last one I attempted, of a family member, I spent the entire time with a trash can in the church hall, laying on a pew, listening via intercom. I was fine for the burial afterwards, but the funeral really did me in. LOL. For my mother-in-law, I really wanted to be there. For her. For my husband. But mostly for me. It was important to me, to show my respect for her. She has done much for me, in mothering me, throughout my 36 years of knowing her. She taught me so many things about being a wife and mother. Don’t get me wrong – we often butted heads. But I dearly respected her, and loved her for raising the perfect man for me! She was a crafter extraordinaire. I do not craft. At all. I have two left thumbs. But I am taking a crochet class here soon with friends. I am going to try, again. LOL. Anyway, I was asked to read Proverbs 31 – the Ideal Wife. Sigh.
There is an entire movement dedicated to supporting a Proverbs 31 woman. I have belonged to several groups, extolling the virtues of a Proverbs 31 Wife and Mother. I have done Bible studies on this verse. It is an important verse for all women. Because I was so intent on doing this successfully, I asked my two daughters-in-law to accompany me to the ambo, or pulpit, and to stand with me as I read. I thought it was fitting that the three women who married into the family (through my husband) should honor my mother-in-law. And they could catch me if I fell over in a dead faint! LOL!
The Church where the funeral was had prepared a typed page for me to read. And I read it. It was butchered and chopped up. I commented to the person who was helping us if I could use a different version. She brought me two more. None of the offered versions fully described a Proverbs 31 woman. And that was my mother-in-law. They were editing out all the skills she had mastered – sewing and weaving among them. And I realized it was because our society does not support women who choose to be skilled in these attributes. Those of us who opted to be at home, even homeschooling our children, are usually made to feel somehow less because we do not work outside the home. But Proverbs 31 fully explains, and extols, and honors, the womanly skills and attributes of being a wife and mother, which our modern world has somehow denigrated. And so, I asked if I could use my Bible, the one I had been practicing the verse out of, the one I had written notes all over from my Bible study, the one I had highlighted the virtues of womanhood in. And I was told I could. And it felt so right. With my mother-in-law in her draped casket before me, and my 2 daughters-in-law behind me, it was near to perfect.
The attribute that was the most important to me, aside from all the ones listed in Proverbs 31, is the one which says, “But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30). And this is what was being left out of much of the chopped versions. What does “fear the Lord” really mean? Does it mean we cower in fear from this mighty God Who will smite us? No. Not in the least. “Fear of the Lord” is love and respect. We respect God and His statutes. We keep Holy His Name. We value His teachings in our lives. We make our faith our #1 priority. We believe all He has provided for us; we celebrate His Word. We believe in His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. We love our Lord with all we are. My mother-in-law placed her faith as the pivot point, the center, around which all her life operated. She feared the Lord. She did so in a loving and wonderful way. Was she perfect? Even she would tell you she was far from perfect. But she had a love of God and she focused daily on her salvific walk with Him. She listened to sports, and a couple of TV shows, but mostly she listened to EWTN every day, and she prayed her Divine Mercy chaplet twice a day. She stayed home most of the time, so she was free to pray constantly. And she did. Every. Single. Day.
So I was able to read from my own bible, filled with my own notes, surrounded by the women in our family. We all struggle with Proverbs 31, because the world today does not respect, or even support, these virtues. Much of the crafting most of us don’t even know how to master any longer. Spinning and weaving? Few of us rise while it is night to prepare food for our families. We don’t plant our own vineyards. But we are not afraid of the snow (Proverbs 31:21). We try to serve the poor and not be idle in our homes (verses 20 and 27). Those skills can still be found. We can adapt them to modern times (like vacuuming instead of beating rugs and sweeping). But the most important tenant is the “fear of the Lord.” Our faith is what determines who we are. We can struggle to be competent housekeepers, but our biggest struggle lays in becoming women of God. My mother-in-law struggled – she often spoke of it. But she persevered. Daily. Without fail.
May her memory be eternal, and her name among the angels.
I really believe she gained her heavenly crown – a daughter of the King.