A tribute to honor one of the greatest women I’ve had the privilege to love, my mother in law. My children called her Sue Sue, not grandma, and it stuck. We miss her every single day and often wonder how much sparklier life would be like if we were still lucky enough to have her around. I often lean over and say to my husband Alan, “What do you think Sue Sue would make of this?” She was that grandmother who reached into her purse for presents from the Dollar Store as soon as she walked through the door in the early years. When they got a little older, it was dollar bills from her wallet. She got down on the floor with them and played games when we were stuck inside during hurricanes. Alan always said she loved running in the streets, which means being out and about. I guess that’s where I got it. She had more friends than I could count. She was my favorite guest at my 35th birthday party. About two glasses of wine in, she took off her wig and tossed it into the crowd. We took a break from chemo and cancer, and danced the night away. Nobody loved a party more than Sue Sue. She was the proudest mother on earth. She kvelled (v.) at the mere mention of her boys, and her grandchildren. I had the honor of caring for her at the end of her life, and was holding her hand when she drew her last breath. She will always be larger than life in our memories. I wrote this eleven years ago today, and she died shortly after.
I saw magic happen before my very eyes–a once in a lifetime moment I will cherish forever. I have watched Alan be so incredibly tender with his mom during this; her third cancer. He’s been patient beyond what I ever imagined possible. I think he surprised himself. I watched him scoop up his mother and tuck her into bed, while my sixteen year old son Dylan watched from the doorway. I heard the nurse’s gasp. It literally took her breath away. It was the most tender moment I’ve ever experienced. I almost felt like I was invading their privacy by witnessing it. I can only imagine how sacred that must have felt for Sue Sue.
Does Alan know that he just taught our son the most important lesson of his life? Does he know that boys watch their fathers so they know how to treat the women they love? Does he know that actions speak louder than words? Does he know that his tender touch wrapped his mom up in the blanket of love that sustains her as she so courageously faces her fate? Does he know how much I love him? (that it’s more than I ever thought possible) They say you should watch a man with his mother and you’ll know how he’ll treat you. I’m not sure who they are, but they’re right. Does he know that it is a mother’s dream to have her son stand beside her, for better or worse. Certainly a parent has earned that. It is now his time to help her find her way through life, and in this case, death.
I am reminded of a book entitled Love you Forever; by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw. Didn’t every mother of a boy get that book as a baby present? It tells the story of a mother watching her son grow up over the years. First, he’s two, and then nine, then a teenager and finally a grown man. Every night when he falls asleep, she goes into his room and rocks him and sings, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
Sue Sue has always been so proud of Alan. She loves the man he has grown into and what good Jewish mother wouldn’t be proud of her son, the doctor? Alan has literally stood by her side, and walked her through each of her 3 cancers- breast, lung and this brutal uterine sarcoma, which has returned with a vengeance. He went to her doctor’s appointments with her and asked all the right questions so she’d get to hear all the right answers. He took notes for her to review and even translated them from medical speak to English. He spoke with all of her doctors regularly and flew to Sloane Kettering with her for a second opinion when a course of treatment had to be determined. He sat with her and listened, which helped her think through the BIG decisions; in much the same way a therapist asked questions and lets the patient come to their own conclusion. He was certainly her first call when she had a question, and sometimes there were 10 calls. He bought a condo for her in Boca when she couldn’t, so she’d be close. He didn’t want to give her an allowance or make her feel uncomfortable about her income. It was the best solution so we could all sleep at night. He has been loyal, generous, and always respectful of his mother’s feelings. He is the son I would imagine every mother hopes to have. I hope that in some way I have helped him to be in touch with that kind of love.
He has cradled her in his arms and rocked Sue Sue through the scariest of times and always been her safe place. Alan is the one person that can get through to her, and always has been. He is her first born and a brilliant doctor. In the book I’ll Love You Forever, the boy grows up. One day his mother calls and says, “I’m very old and sick.” So her son came to visit her. When she opened the door, she tried to sing the song. She sang: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always” but she couldn’t finish because she was too old and sick. He picked her up and rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And this time, he sang this song to her:
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my Mommy you’ll be.”
This is exactly what I saw with my own eyes. It was stunning. I am acutely aware of how difficult it must be for Alan to watch his mother slip away. She is in horrible pain. She is weaker than she’s ever been and so afraid. All I want to do is wrap my arms around her and tell her everything will be ok, but I love her too much to tell her something I know isn’t true. So I hold her hand and I pet her head. We come into this world and our parents care for us, and often when we leave, the tables turn on us and we care for them. I’ve watched the latter part of this cycle of life and it’s bittersweet.
Today was particularly unbearable. Sue Sue slept almost the entire day, when she wasn’t vomiting. She looks so peaceful when she sleeps. I crawled into bed with her, cuddled up to her, and watched her sleep. Her face was soft. Her breath was warm. At one point, she asked me, “What am I supposed to do?” and I told her, “There is nothing for you to do Sue Sue, just rest.” That’s it? That’s all I could offer? Yes, after spending an entire day thinking it over, that is the kindest advice I can offer to someone I so dearly love. It is time to rest and let sweet dreams carry you to a place you so richly deserve Sue Sue. You have our blessing. We’ll love you forever, we’ll like you for always, as long as we’re living, our Sue Sue you’ll be.