When a mother-in-law’s death brings tears to your eyes, that’s pretty compelling evidence that she was a mighty fine mother-in-law.
Marguerite Braddock Williams, my mother-in-law for almost 35 years, passed away this past week at the Batesville assisted care facility where she had lived for the past four years. She was 92.
Marguerite moved there — or more accurately I should say, we moved her — after it became clear that she could no longer live alone in her own home.
She wasn’t thrilled about the change at first, but she adapted and never got angry with us about it, although for the first year or so she would ask occasionally for her car. Eventually, dementia made her stop asking.
It was hard to see her transition from being so loquacious — in her prime, she could talk with my wife, Betty Gail, on the phone for an hour and still not run out of things to say — to speaking only a few words at a time, and only after being prompted.
Still, to the end, she knew who we were and she never stopped being sweet. She would beam when any of us — two daughters, two sons-in-law, three grandchildren or two great-grandchildren — walked into her room.
I felt comfortable around her from the beginning, even though early in my courtship with Betty Gail, Marguerite encouraged her daughter to date others. Marguerite assumed that I wouldn’t stick around very long and didn’t think it was good for Betty Gail to tie herself down to just me. That was one bit of motherly advice I’m thankful Betty Gail did not take.
What Marguerite didn’t know is that I listened to an older brother, who counseled me to be sure, when I got serious about a possible mate, that I liked her mother. Chances are, he’d say, that’s who your wife will become one day.
What did I like about Marguerite?
Darned near everything.
She was a good cook, skills she picked up as a home economist early in her adult life before switching to being a schoolteacher.
Her roast was tender, her spaghetti sauce the best I’ve ever tasted made by a non-Italian, and her Fourth of July barbecue chicken unbeatable. She introduced me to the Southern culinary mandate that every meal, except for breakfast, must end with something sweet.
I can only remember once when she meddled in my parenting, although I’m sure there were many more times when she wanted to. She was good at raising children, producing two daughters whom I’ve never heard utter a cross or unkind word at the other. Raised in a family where sibling rivalries and jealousies were commonplace, I found Betty Gail’s home life remarkably and desirably normal.
Marguerite had a servant’s heart as a wife, as a mother, as a grandmother, as a schoolteacher, as a woman’s club president.
Through all of her husband’s health challenges — a massive heart attack in his 70s, diabetes, macular degeneration, a fall that broke his leg and put him in a wheelchair in his last years — Marguerite was the faithful caregiver. She made it possible for Dean to have his wish and stay in their home until his death five years ago, probably sacrificing her own health in the process.
When we needed help with child care or putting on a company Christmas party, Marguerite always made us think there was nothing in the world that she and Dean would rather do.
Although Dean never much liked sleeping in a bed other than his own, Marguerite was more adaptable.
After he died, and before Marguerite herself fell and broke a leg that also confined her to a wheelchair, she stayed in our home for several weeks at a time. I will always remember that winter and spring fondly.
She went with us most everywhere — to church, out to eat, to community gatherings, even some business functions.
She was an easy house guest. We’d set up the coffee pot so she could brew a cup in the morning, take her to the beauty shop once a week so she could keep her hair the same shade of red as her only granddaughter, and keep her supplied with newspapers and magazines.
She wasn’t able to put together a family meal any longer, but she wanted to be right there with us in the kitchen, cutting up vegetables or setting the table. Late at night when I’d drag in from work, she’d keep me company so I wouldn’t eat alone. I’d miss her when she went back to Batesville.
On Mother’s Day, we had our last visit with her. We shared a box of chocolates, showed her the latest pictures of her great-grandchildren, and made her smile when we told her what a wonderful mother she has been.
Not long before it was time for us to leave, Betty Gail asked Marguerite if there was anything she needed.
“I want to stand,” she whispered back.
We weren’t able to accommodate that request, but three days later, God did.
Marguerite is standing up now in heaven, reunited with Dean and hoping we will join her some day.
• Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.