In the week after she was first hospitalized, we rode a roller-coaster of emotions. One step forward, two steps back - yet we assumed that her health problems would be resolved. We went through the motions of our lives between visits. When she elected to return home under hospice care, I was distraught. Many of my friends believe this is due to the fact that my own mother died just over 10 weeks ago. But my relationship with my mother and my mother-in-law were very different and I feel her loss differently. I loved my mother-in-law, not as a substitute mother figure, but for the person she was: intelligent, analytical, straightforward, practical, passionately supportive of her family, as well as her personal interests and, yes, decisive.
I met my future mother-in-law when I was 18. I can't say that we had an instant rapport. Our relationship evolved over time. She intimidated me a bit early on. Before she married, she'd studied bacteriology, earning a master's degree at a time when fewer women went to college, much less studied science. She worked alongside her husband, supporting his career as an academic, and raised 4 children. When her children grew older, she pursued an avid interest in birding, keeping meticulous records of almost 4000 "life birds." Her interest took her on trips all over the world and created a vast network of friendships. She restricted her travels during her husband's long illness but maintained her interest in birds until the end of her life. Her garden, which I wrote about here, was designed with birds in mind.
|There was a large collection of feeders, of which those pictured above represent only a portion|
|Plants were selected to attract and support birds|
|Birds could always be found at the feeders|
|And splashing in the birdbath|
She had a book by her bedside entitled "On Wings of Song", a collection of poems about birds edited by J.D. McClatchy. I flipped through the book while sitting with her during the final days of her illness. I'm not normally one to quote poetry, but one poem in particular resonated with me.
NEVER AGAIN WOULD BIRD'S SONG BE THE SAME
By Robert Frost
He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tune of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as it may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would the bird's song be the same
And to do that to the birds was why she came.
Because of her, I'll never hear birdsong the same way either.