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Before She Died She Tugged My Beard

My mother-in-law was one of the toughest nuts I've ever had to crack. From the very beginning, she "knew" I was a disingenuous, advantage-taking parasite. She did not like me, my background, vocation, heart or mind. She had it all figured out and no one was going to change her mind; her daughter had finally met the biggest loser in the world. And I had a beard!

From the very beginning, I knew that I had my hands full. She was tyrannical, relentless, bitter and downright mean. They say when you marry a woman; you are marrying your wife's mother, also. Now that was a scary thought. But deep inside I knew that if this woman was capable of love — she would grow to love me, no matter how long it took.

For many years, we would travel about 1,200 miles to spend a couple of weeks with "mom" (that is what I called her). Even though she referred to me as "the gigolo," my mustache as the "shoe brush" and was embarrassed to be seen with me, I was determined to find love in my heart no matter what it took.

I told myself: It's easy to love someone who is easy to love. But to love someone, who by all measure is "unlovable," would be to find a place inside myself that would not only be a gift to mom but also a gift to life itself. Later, I was to find that the biggest gift of all was to me.

As years passed, mom became more tolerant of me. She would ask me for help around the house and would even ask my opinion on certain things. When she recovered from eye surgery, she even asked me to give her a driving lesson. After she scraped the entire side of her car backing out of the garage and drove over a meridian in a parking lot, she admitted that it probably was time for her to let someone else do the driving.

And there were the times she would nonchalantly share her chocolate candy with me. But just to remind me that I was still on her "list" she would stick out her tongue at me as she grimaced with that most unpleasant frown. I guess I was making progress.

The time came when it was clear that mom, at 83, could not get along by herself. So my wife and I drove one last time to her home and prepared for the big move.

We brought her to the Northwest and rented an apartment for her in a small quiet retirement community. We all agreed that she would live near us, but not with us. Mom was safe, sound and secure. She was content to walk around the townhouse grounds, view the flower gardens, hear the birds and smell the crisp, country air.

After 16 years, she had come to see, and know, her one-time, advantage-taking parasitic son-in-law as an honest, loving man who had stayed by her daughter and by her, as well. She would even pat me on the head from time to time and tell me I was a good boy.

It was hard to leave her in the hospital after her stroke, especially since the doctor had little hope for her recovery. The next day I went to visit her. I knelt at her bedside and prayed with and for her. Though she could not speak, we prayed together.

She gently and sweetly lifted her hand up to my face. As she looked into my eyes, she gave three slight tugs on my beard. Though she had no words, I could hear her heart. Each frail tug spoke the words, "I love you."

Through this woman I learned an amazing lesson about love. Goodbye, Mom.