Saturday, June 21, 2008


Ever since I got married, I have been aggravated by the mother-in-law stereotype. From the moment I met her, Stu's mom was a dream come true - geniunely kind (though she admitted years later that she worried about my driving when I picked Stu up for a date and sped away like a lunatic; I don't know what I was thinking - maybe caulking?); always thoughtful - she sent cards for everyone's birthday and special occasions; never passive-aggressive - she was perfectly willing to say out loud how she felt about things, but she did it in a loving way. When she got cancer, Sam graciously accepted offerings of prayers and help but rejected a Woe is me attitude; she researched her disease and its treatments, she entertained a variety of remedies, she admonished her daughter and daughter-in-law and even her daughter-in-law's mother & sister to take care of themselves in body & spirit. She was the poster girl for Do It Now, from trying new foods to spending time with family to going wherever she wanted.

Today is Sam's birthday, she's been gone for two years, and I wish terribly to see her again. I want her to know that I have started writing more, for people to actually read, (she always told me I should); I want her to know I have my own classroom again; I want her to know I'm finally kind of starting to consider some form of exercise (maybe); I want her to know I've gotten pretty confident about my parenting skills (she frequently commented that I was a great mother). I want my husband to have his mom back.

Stu & Sam, WSU
August 1988

For her memorial service, April 2006

My Mother-in-Law ~ from stephanie
Most people would be happy if they never had contact with their mothers-in-law. In fact, most people I know thought I was joking when I mentioned how much I loved my mother-in-law. But once they met Sam and saw how she interacted with me and her grandchildren, they knew it was no joke but really a rare blessing.

This woman made me feel so welcomed into her home when I just a new college girlfriend to her cute young son. She figured out what kinds of food I liked and had them available when I visited. She set out towels for me, bought me little presents, and loaned books she thought I would like. And she talked with me all the time, about everything – family, movies, religion, football…I thought she was being kind & friendly (which of course she was), but I know now she was also making sure I was an acceptable wife candidate for her baby boy. She was a shrewd judge of character and, while loving & forgiving, unwilling to settle with less than the best for her family. If I had realized this earlier, I would have been nervewracked every time she came near me. But her style was gracious, and I never knew my every move and word was being watched and weighed. I feel so honored to have passed her scrutiny.

I loved her quiet reassurance and encouragement. When I worried about having babies, raising smart children, balancing my classroom world with attention to my family, and just generally surviving everyday life, she simply told me I was capable. On my better days, I channel her example and pass on that calm wisdom. The rest of the time I break a sweat trying to get close.

My grief is not so much for myself but for her boy, who wanted so much to cure her, and her girl, who wanted to be with her, and her husband, who faced an empty home after half a lifetime with his best friend, and my babies, whose hearts have been broken too many times in their young lives. I will miss her everyday and selfishly wish she were still here.

Now let’s all stop bawling and do something fun, because if I learned anything at all from Sam it is that we should spend less time being sad and more moments being joyful.

Happy Birthday, Sam