When I first met my mother-in-law she did not look like this. She was fifty-eight. It was 1984 and she lived on Fresh Pond Parkway in a dark brown victorian that was as dark on the inside as it was on the outside. Except for the kitchen which would get intense sun during a portion of the day. This is why she bought the house. She wanted sun and light and this room gave her that. The rest of the house did not but this one bright room was enough, it seems.
I did not spend a lot of time with her in these first few years before Garth and I got married. At first it was really just saying hello to her as I walked up the stairs with my husband-to-be to sleep in his too narrow bed that seemed to work anyway. And then to say good-bye as I left the next morning to head back to my senior year in college as Garth headed off to work.
By the time I graduated and left Massachusetts, Garth had then moved into his own place in Watertown and so my visits to visit were with him there and not very often over to Cambridge and to his mom's house. Only for birthdays or Christmas's really.
But in the summertime, when we would be down in Cohasset, in the suite in the Big House, I would take early morning walks with her when the tide was at it's lowest. We would head out to Brush Island, sticks in hand so that, when we landed on land, the seagulls would not hit into our heads because our sticks were the tallest part of ourselves.
We didn't really talk much about our current lives on those walks or the times we would sit on the beach together. She would talk about her past a little bit. Sometimes she would share her sadness at the things she missed out on, sometimes she would talk about the love she wished to have now. I wasn't a daughter-in-law yet, but in some ways maybe a daughter. And definitely a friend.
Garth would frequently tell me that this was not the mom that he grew up with. That her slightly disheveled hair and her quirky ways of eating, her obsessive need to get certain things done but her inability to actually get these things completed, that this was not who he knew.
But for me, this was the Mardi that I knew from the start.
Once we got married and had Braxton, I spent a lot of time with her. She would come to the house two or three times a week or I would meet her in Cambridge or at the Science Museum. She loved her time with my boy and was so good with him. She bought him books about dinosaurs and birds and he learned the name of every bird when he was still so young.
But then one day, after she left my house to head to see her parents, who lived in Concord, she arrived back an hour later, having never made it to them and disturbed and crying. She had gotten off at the wrong exit on route 128 and then got back on the other way. And then off and then on and then off and then on again, in a perpetual figure eight because she was not sure which way to go would be the way to get her where she needed to be.
How she finally figured out how to get back to me, I really do not know but Garth and I did know that she was struggling worse and worse. It was sad and it was hard. And by the time I was pregnant with Teagan she was living with us.
And then we found Mary.
Mary started working with my mother-in-law during the day, but as time went on, Mardi needed more and more care and we bought out Mary's contract with the care organization she worked for and then she just worked for us. Or rather for Mardi.
My time with Mardi became less and less. I think this was partly relief - Garth had been her guardian already since Braxton was born in 1990 and I had been her caretaker. Helping her with her bills and her shopping, making sure she got where she needed to go. Visiting doctors to figure out what was going on with her health and her mind. Plus we had two kids now and I was in law school and Garth was working hard and Mardi had Mary.
We would see her on Christmas's or birthdays or when we were all in Cohasset. But things had changed for me and Mardi.
After her own dad died, Mardi moved into the Big House. It was hers, from her dad, and a place that I know held incredible significance for her. It was important that she live in this place. That this was her home now. And so Garth had it winterized and Mary and I went shopping for furniture and picked out fabric for curtains that we knew she would like in oranges and greens and teals. And the house became her home. Her's. And Mary's. And my brother-in-law, Gregg's.
And then the times with her were fewer still.
Once I remember walking in waist high low tide to Brush Island - with my kids and my dog and a friend of Mary's who would help out when Mary was away - and Mardi, not having come on this familiar adventure, was up on the lawn and lost as to where she was going. I ran up from the beach and took her back to her room. I changed her clothes and helped her get washed and made sure she was safe in this space that she knew. I was a daughter-in-law but no longer a friend. Just a caretaker really. I had lost that first connection when we used to walk in the low tide together. We had lost the way I knew how to be with her.
I would sometimes think about this. About when we first met and were friends for a time. And about those years I spent with her and the care I know I gave that, over time, faded from my memory as it probably completely disappeared from hers. And I felt myself distance myself from her more. And from Mary and from Gregg, too. I didn't fit. We didn't fit, my family and I.
I think maybe we were too big. In energy and spirit. And I think I felt a resentment or an animosity around Mardi. That we didn't belong even though I do not think we tried to belong.
And so, by the time the Big House and the Boat House and the land that held these homes and generations of memories had passed to the brothers three, and Mardi had moved, with Mary, into a home that was bought by Gregg, we were separate. Coming for birthdays and Christmas's but that was really all.
She said to me once, while she was still living with us in Newton and my belly big with Teagan, that she wanted to die before her mind got worse. And would I help her. I said I'm the daughter-in-law, I can't do this for you, you have to tell your sons. And then it was too late for her to make that choice.
And so my mother-in-law faded into her mind just as she faded from my mind in many ways. I often wished she would have died, projecting my own feelings and beliefs onto her and feeling that I knew that she would have been happier having left us sooner.
But I didn't really know that to be true.
And then she did die. Three days before her birthday. And, as I said aloud the words I feel so sad that she did not have the full life she should have, I knew that I was wrong. And in getting it wrong I missed seeing her clearly for many years. For this was her perfect life. This was the soul contract she had made, this was the space she chose to sit in with the people she planned to play this beautiful game with.
And in this choosing she created community.
In Gregg And in Mary. And in all the caretakers that came to love her and care for her over twenty-four years. And in her dog and her cats. And her sons. In her grandchildren who didn't really know her well. And in me.
And so now she sits in distant slumber. No longer in human form and now free to choose the next life that she will lead. Garth shared with me that he read that the moment of death, while we think it is sad, is actually a moment of rejoicing and freedom. That our soul is lifting out of the confines of a body that held us tight so we can walk the journey we need to walk. But that moment of freedom, it is joyful and beautiful.
As is my mother-in-law. Margaret Bemis Rose.
She was a life well lived. She is a soul well loved.
Mardi with Garth.
With my dad at the rehearsal dinner for Garth and my wedding. I love this photograph of her.
With Gregg at our wedding. The dress she wore was white and she dyed it her favorite salmon color for the wedding.
Mother, Wife, Friend, Sister, Daughter, Dancer, Rower, Runner, Dog and Cat lover.