Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me. – Ruth, 1: 16-17
These beautiful words from the Old Testament Book of Ruth are often read at weddings. The thing that is interesting is that Ruth did not utter these words to Boaz, the man who would become her husband; instead, she uttered these words to her mother-in-law Naomi, the mother of her first husband who died. It is one of my favorite bible stories. Having a good mother-in-law is a gift from God.
There’s almost nothing good about divorce. I can tell you this from experience because I went through a divorce and it was the most difficult time of my life.
Having said this, I am compelled to add that I have been blessed to have not just one, but two amazing mothers-in-law. Both accepted me into their lives with open arms and for that, I am very grateful.
Sadly, my first mother-in-law passed away far too young from cancer, not long after David’s and my divorce.
In contrast, I want to tell you a bit about the 97-year-old woman who has been my mother-in-law for the past 22 years.
The first thing you need to know about her is that her goodness comes from her deep faith in God, and she projects her faith every day in her behavior. Here’s an example.
I never knew Bill’s dad without the Alzheimer’s disease that eventually took his life. He passed away a few years after Bill and I married. We were in Chicago, along with all of his family, helping make the arrangements for the funeral service. I remember Wilma giving the minister a rundown on her family.
“I have four children,” she said, “and nine grandchildren.”
I began counting the grandkids silently. His sister had three, Bill had three, and his brother had two.
“Wilma,” I said oh-so-helpfully, “you only have eight grandchildren.” I counted them out for her.
“No, I have nine,” she said. “You forgot to add your son Courtney.”
Seriously, I tear up even as I write those words. That meant so much to me that she included Court, whom she barely knew, as one of her grandkids without a second thought. I have tried – I hope successfully – to emulate her sentiments as I’ve loved all of my grandkids, no matter what the relationship is on paper.
As I’ve listened to her stories over the years, I’ve learned a lot about this exceptional woman. She has always tackled life head on without fear. She grew up in a small town in Indiana, but when her life took her to Chicago, she didn’t flinch; she learned to drive in Chicago. She was accepted at a southern university to study music (Kentucky?), but turned that down to attend Purdue because she couldn’t imagine life that far away from her family.
She met her husband while working as a secretary at U.S. Steel. The handsome man noticed her and wanted to ask her out, but he was too shy. So he had a buddy tell her that Rex McLain wanted to take her out on a date.
“Well if Rex McLain wants to take me out on a date,” she said firmly, “then he can ask me himself.”
As you would expect, when someone lives to be 97, the course isn’t always smooth. Her kids didn’t necessarily take paths she anticipated. Her grandkids provided her their share of worries. But in the end, she accepted everything – and all of them – with typical grace and love.
When I spend time with her, it is easier to understand my own husband. Stubborn. Smart. Kind. Honest. Loyal.
Don’t try to tell her what to do, because the more you push her one way, the more likely she is to go the other. Just like Bill. That’s why it was her idea to sell the family home a few years after Rex passed away and move to a senior retirement community. Everyone gave a great sigh of relief, but it would have been useless to try to talk her into that situation before she was ready. She knew exactly what she was doing.
And she would have my hide if she knew I wrote this tribute, so please don’t tell her!