Printed in USA Today, Sunday, March 13, 2012
I have to write about Doris Lamb.
Doris was my mother-in-law. I loved her dearly. When I met her, she was a rather shy person, private, not social at all. She had a mystery in her past that, to her death, she wouldn’t talk about. In her late teens or early 20s, her mother died in a car accident. Shortly thereafter Doris cut off all contact with her father and brother.
She would not speak to them again, she wouldn’t speak of them unless forced. She wouldn’t tell her husband, her sons, or me, why, but whatever happened obviously cut her all the way through to her heart. She essentially lost three people that day in the accident, though only one died.
She had been engaged to a man named Kenny as a young woman, but Kenny was killed in World War II. I believe he was the love of her life. The time she talked about him, she got teary eyed, decades later.
Without revealing too much that is not mine to reveal, her husband, my father in law, was not an ideal husband or father. The marriage was difficult, fraught, and she missed out on a lot of love. She did not miss out on loneliness.
Doris always wore crisp pink or blue blouses, a number of diamond rings, some of which she said were engagement rings from other men from years ago, and a smile. She was a real thinker, opinionated, stubborn, and we did not agree on all political and social issues but had a blood-boiling good time hashing them out.
What Doris did so well, so unbelievably well, though, was mother- in-lawing. I believe I have just made up a new word: mother-in-lawing.
Doris was endlessly kind to me, even in my younger years when I was too impatient, too stressed, and too bullishly head strong. She baby sat our daughter when I had to work half-time as a teacher, coming all the way across town, over freeways, a bridge and a river, in her old gray car. She babysat our twins and our oldest, when I was on interviews or photo shoots for freelance writing jobs I had with The Oregonian.
If my house was a wreck, not a word of criticism fell from her mouth. If I was a wreck, not a comment. Compliments only. Friendship only. Fun only. She never interfered. Well, except for that one time when she thought my husband and I were too hard on our daughter for breaking my sunglasses.
That time Doris let me have it. She left our house afterwards, quivering with anger, called my husband at work and let him have it, too. Then she called me and let me have it again. She was correct, we were not. She was protecting her granddaughter, and I loved her for it. My husband and I both backed way down.
She was a loving, caring grandma to our children. She was a loving, caring mother-in-law to me, one of the best, truest friends of my whole life.
Doris’ death was a year of horrors. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the downhill slide was hellacious. Hospitals, nursing homes, foster care homes, doctors, needles, treatments, poor responses, sickness, pain, fear, hopelessness, and back around again.
I cried that whole year for her, I still miss her. She died eight months after my own wonderful mother. It was a very bad year. I miss both of them still.
But what I do have with my mother-in-law is the memories. Doris loved me and I loved her, and she knew it. She was a gift to my life, my husband’s life, and our children’s lives. I honor her by talking to my children about their Grandma Doris and all the fun they had with her so she will stay alive in their memories, too. I tell them how much she loved them.
Happy Mother’s Day to Doris Lamb.
You’ve earned a first place reward for mother-in-lawing.