Last night, peacefully in her sleep, my mother-in-law passed away.
If asked about her relationship with me, she would have assured one and all that we loved each other. ... Well, if that was how she actually felt about me, why, then, by a law of equality, that was how I actually felt about her, too.
Something about this orchid reminds me of her. Frilly, openly lovely, and yet somehow scary. A hothouse flower with a demeanor like something out of a nightmare.
Regina terrorized every one of her daughters-in-law -- and her two older sons had multiple marriages -- with equal venom. After years of persecution, when we wives of her sons compared notes, we finally realized that it wasn't personal, it was just how she felt about anyone who had the gall to marry one of her sons. A couple of us learned never to answer any question in any other way than what she wanted to hear, and learned to live with the tension and question-dodging. She would have told you that she treated us all like gold, and she believed it to the core of her heart. It was just that they were her sons first, last, and in-between. Law # 1: Don't get between Mother and Son, mentally, physically, or emotionally. Period.
Regina didn't believe in friendships, church work, hobbies, pets, or donations to worthy causes. In her view, the woman of the house belonged to the husband, and her whole waking day and her whole sleeping night was supposed to be about that, even though she complained bitterly about her marriage all the time I knew her. Some of our worst conflicts stemmed from my work with the church, my penchant for cats and dogs, my art, our charity, and especially my having the temerity to have friends with whom I walked or shopped or fished or chatted on the phone. She lived in Lewistown (having moved there from Pittsburgh) for more than 30 years, and never made even one chum to go have tea with. Family was everything to her, and she thought every other person in the world should be that way.
Regina believed in hierarchy, and so there was no question of ever calling her by her name. A few years ago, I asked how her twin Edna was doing, and she pointedly stopped the conversation to correct me to say "Cioci Edna" (pronounced Tcho-chi), even though Edna is not my aunt, and why would you expect a fifty-year-old woman to use a title instead of a name, anyway? Well, Regina, here I am, calling you Regina. Regina, Regina, Regina. So there.
Lord, don't let her haunt me for that.
And yet, this bitter, vain, and domineering woman came to my rescue when times were tough, and my mother was sinking dangerously into the mire of Alzheimer's. When my mother didn't recognize me in those horrible days when we were trying to save my sister, Regina came with us and Mom did recognize Regina, and made the terrible situation a lot less awful than it might have been. In the days of Mom's decline, until Mom could no longer have a conversation on the phone, Regina called her every day, sometimes twice a day, to help keep her tethered to a real existence.
My mom didn't believe in friends, either ... except that maybe, though neither one would have admitted it, they were friends.
Thank you, Regina, for being a friend to my mother when she had so few left.
Thank you, Regina, for running interference and offering support when my sister and I needed it so badly.
For that alone, I will be eternally grateful
Good night, Regina, and may your journey be fruitful, and lead you to everlasting joy.