Mum’s Not the Word; Love Is
When I first met my mother-in-law to-be, I was thrilled. Having been an Anglophile since my junior high crush on the Monkees’ Davy Jones, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to marry a tall, handsome gentleman named David Jones with a Mum from Manchester, England. How much fun we would have getting to know one another!
Even before the marriage, my illusions began to crumble. We wanted a small wedding, immediate family only and a few college friends. I asked my two sisters to stand with me, and he asked his two brothers. Mum insisted her twelve-year-old daughter had to be a bridesmaid too. And she “had” to invite her extended family, even though I explained there might not be room in the small chapel. I gave in to keep peace. After all, I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot. I had dreams of a special closeness with my new mother-in-law, like Ruth and Naomi, since my mother and I had a strained relationship, due to my recently becoming a Christian.
About a year later, Mum spared no expense to redecorate her living room. For Christmas I made her a special appliquéd pillow in her chosen colors. Our family had a tradition of making gifts instead of spending money we didn’t have. I assumed Mum would appreciate the time and effort that went into a handmade gift, knowing how tight our newlywed budget must be. On our next visit, I didn’t find the pillow in the living room. I discovered it in the dog’s bed, filthy and covered with hair.
After that disappointment, I built a wall around my heart to lessen the hurt. I did my duty as a daughter-in-law. I still sent birthday, Mother’s Day, anniversary, and Christmas cards. We attended the rare family gatherings. I endured being snubbed at my sister-in-law’s lavish spectacle of a wedding. Other relatives were happy to tell me the unkind things Mum said about me.
A heavy smoker, Mum contracted emphysema in her early fifties. She was also diagnosed with scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease which caused her skin and internal organs to gradually harden, making her appear decades older. She retired early from her high-powered job and became a recluse, especially after her once-inseparable sister cut Mum out of her life and would have nothing more to do with her.
During those last years, my atheist mum-in-law turned to me because she had no one else, so I tried to put the past aside and do what Jesus would—love unconditionally. I sat with her in the hospital and in her home for hours at a time. I listened as she poured out her dismay at the way her sister treated her, her concern that her children wouldn’t stay close after she died, and worry about her British knick-knacks, which she begged me not to throw away. She refused to talk about anything spiritual, except to complain about how all three of her sons were now Christians and she didn’t understand how that happened.
For her sixty-seventh birthday, which turned out to be her last, I invited her to a local English tearoom. She wasn’t feeling well, so my youngest son and I brought the authentic British tea party to her house. With tears in her eyes, she said, “This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”
My heartache over all the wasted years turned to pity for this shriveled, now helpless woman. I wished things could have been different, that she could have shared my treasured faith and hope. Because of that great divide, we never had the Naomi/Ruth relationship I dreamed of having.
I’m still an Anglophile, and I miss hearing her voice, for she never lost her Manchester accent. When he was very young, my son loved to tell people, “My Nana has a British accident.” I only kept a few of her knick-knacks—two china cups with painted historical knights, a small plate from Scotland, three thimbles, a Union Jack pillow, and my favorite, an old wall hanging of all the kings and queens of England.
Best of all, giving Mum unconditional love at the end of her life helped me put away all the bitterness of disappointment and at last, to find peace.
Katy Huth Jones has been a published author since 1992, but her writing journey has taken her in many unexpected directions, and her life journey in Christ has been one Providential step after another. She and her husband live in Fort Worth, Texas.