In Memoriam: A Love Letter to My Mother-in-Law
Martha Carol Kidd Witty Campbell (1944-2008)
She never went overseas to spread the gospel message to the nations. The only person she actually sat down and led to Christ (that I know of) was my husband. She hardly ever sat down at all. Still, Martha Carol was a great ambassador for her Lord.
She was always doing things for others. She adored small children and animals, and she loved people when they were at their worst as well as their best. She loved unconditionally - in every sense of the word. And she (thankfully) passed that ability to love so well down to her son. I know because I am the fortunate recipient of that love.
Her seven-year battle with cancer ended on June 10, 2008. She was only my mother-in-law for a very short eight months, but she was the best mother-in-law a girl could have. She never got to see her two youngest grandchildren. I was just six weeks pregnant with our older daughter when she died. I know she would've loved my girls, and I grieve every day that they will never get to meet her this side of heaven. Still, I know that my girls are the recipients of Martha's legacy of love, and I know that their lives will be better just because this woman they never actually got to meet walked the earth at one point in time.
There are a lot of regrets I have and a lot of things I wish I would've said to my mother-in-law while she was still alive, but I didn't. So I decided to write them down now. This hub is very different from what I usually write - much more personal - but I thought the underlying theme of unconditional love is an important one that needed to be shared.
Grieving from a Christian Perspective
C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest Christian writers ever - ever. And his faith is even more amazing when you consider that he was a converted atheist. Try explaining that to some of the atheists in the religion forums on this site!
Lewis was a bachelor for most of his life, and then he married Joy Davidman Gresham. She truly did bring joy to his life, but she died only four years later. This is Lewis's response to her death - his difficult faith journey through the grief. In Lewis's words: "Nothing will shake a man--or at any rate a man like me--out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself."
I read this book for the first time after I had a miscarriage in 2006 and again after my mother-in-law's death. If you are a believer who is hurting after losing someone dear to you, you must read this book.
Out of the Mouths of Babes
I found your funeral DVD yesterday and showed it to Amanda. I thought she needed to at least see your picture and be told a little about you. I asked her, “Do you know who that is?” She said, “Amanda.”
I smiled and gently corrected her, “That’s Amanda’s grandmother.” She immediately looked confused. “MawMaw?” That’s what she calls my mother.
“No, that’s your Daddy’s mommy.”
“Daddy’s mommy,” she slowly repeated, letting it sink in. “Grandparent?”
“Yes, honey. She’s your grandparent, although you never got to meet her. She died before you were born.”
Then she insisted on watching your memorial DVD – over and over again. And I wept. I wept even harder when, every time a new picture of you came on the screen, my two-year-old cheered and clapped. She actually cheered, “Yay!”
I was instantly reminded that children have a lot of wisdom for which we don’t give them credit. Is it because they’re younger that they’re closer to God, even if they haven’t personally accepted Jesus as their Savior (although I’m sure Amanda hasn’t yet reached the “age of accountability”)? Who knows? But that one little action reminded me that we do not “grieve like people who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, NLT). We can rejoice because we do know where you are.
You are home with your heavenly father and your loved ones that have gone on before, like my sweet baby Sean, for whom I also still grieve – with hope. I know you are taking really good care of him/her until Mommy gets to be with him (or her) again.
A Picture of Unconditional Love
Watching that DVD with my girls (even four-month-old Julie was captivated by it), I remembered so many things. I remembered you showing me how to make your famous sugar cookies, and I remembered you showing me the memory book you made when you were in high school (and yes, I do still remember the year of your birth – even if you did have it blacked out on your driver’s license and excluded from your grave marker). Again, I have to ask: Does it really matter how old you were? You died too young - at least from our point of view.
I remembered how excited you were about our wedding and how you walked right up to Liz Curtis Higgs at her conference and told her proudly, “She’s going to marry my son.” I wonder if you ever knew how much that really meant to me – you so readily claiming me as your own, when my relationship with my own mother is so damaged and strained.
I know it hurt you that your son and I lived together so long without being married, and I truly am sorry for that. He wanted to get married. I was the one who was resisting because of fear. Still, you never let our actions and the pain it caused you stop you from loving us – both of us – with that unconditional love that only a true Christian can display. You welcomed me into your life and home with open arms.
I Grieve With Hope
I still grieve today – more than three years later. I grieve because you never got to meet our girls on this earth. Oh, how you would’ve loved them! I can see you in them sometimes – a fleeting look, an action that reminds me of you, and I’m instantly grateful that they have some of your blood running through their veins, even if some of your Blankenship blood does cross with mine. You’re my cousin as well as my mother-in-law. You never knew that, did you?
I grieve because I never told you that I loved you, and I still love you. Why didn’t I? I guess it seemed inappropriate and disloyal to my own mother. But I do love you. I can say it now unashamed. I’m just sorry it came too late for you to hear it. I tried to show you in little ways – by picking out gifts for you that I thought you would like, and I guess you did. Robert always told me you returned every gift he gave you, but you never did once I started picking them out. And, yes, my “yelling” at you for not taking your medicine was one of the ways I tried to show you I cared, too. I’m so glad you didn’t really think I was yelling at you!
I have hope that I will see you again in heaven, and then maybe I can share all these things with you in “person.” And our girls (God willing) can finally meet you and get a great big "hug" from you. I wonder if, once you start hugging them, you will ever stop.
Thank You for Your Life and Legacy
I just wanted you to know that our girls will know about you and your legacy of unconditional love. I wish you could have remained here on earth for just a little while longer so our children could've had you as an elder spiritual guide. Children learn so much about God and the Christian life by watching their grandparents. I know I did - and Robert did, as well. But we both learned a lot from you, too, and I'm praying that we can pass some of that knowledge on to our girls.
I love you, Mama, and I miss you – every day. I will do my best to be a good wife to your son and a good mother to your grandchildren. I will always remember that unconditional love is possible - even for mere mortals - and I will spend my life trying to love everyone unconditionally – just the way you did. Thank you for that. The light and truth of your love will never go out, as long as I have anything to say about it.
Your son and I love and miss you.
A light is from our household gone
A voice we loved is stilled,
A place is vacant in our home
Which never can be filled
(Verse from a popular memorial prayer).