We walked to the end of the hall, neither of us saying a word. We'd just been down to her room, and my mother-in-law knew it was going to be the last time she could hold my Mama's hand, ask her how she was doing, brush her hair back off her forehead and give her a kiss on the cheek. It was the last time she'd make her laugh by giving her a wink and a grin and asking her "does he belong to you?" pointing at me on the other side of the bed. By this time all Mama could do was just nod her head and chuckle when the woman I call "Peggy Sr." said "well, he's a pretty good fella'...I think we ought to keep him around." It was the last moment they shared together.
Her daughter and I had already been married twelve years but it was there in that hospital at the end of that hall that I realized how much this woman loved me and how much I loved her. She didn't say a word before she got on that elevator, she just held my face in her hands and gave me a smile that said everything I needed to hear - "This is bad...this is sad. but you're going to make it...'cause I'm right here." I put my head on her shoulder, feeling like the gravity of this whole episode was knocking me to my knees. But she was there to catch me. My hands were still shaking....moments before I'd signed a DNR just like I always promised I would do when the time came. But in that embrace there was a rub on my back and a kiss on my own cheek...and my hands quit shaking. She took her arms from around me and put her hands right back on my face and stared hard into my eyes. Again, without words, I knew what she was asking. "I'll be ok," I said out loud. "I'll be ok." Later that afternoon Mama was moved into hospice care and the next morning she was gone.
A couple of weeks later we were standing in their driveway, saying good-byes after a good meal and a relaxing evening together. I got in my truck and rolled down my window, waiting on my wife to finish a chat with her dad. Seeing an opportunity to speak to me privately she came over and leaned in my truck and said "I need to tell you something. I would never, ever pretend to take the place of your mother. But I want to make sure you know how much we both love you. I know you miss her but you're not alone. You've still got a mom when you need one." I assured her I needed one most everyday and then I cried like a baby all the way home.
Mother-in-laws have long been punchlines and cliches. But the only thing you'll hear me saying about mine is that I thank God for her everyday. I call her "Peggy Sr." and my bride "Peggy Jr." because they're birds of a feather. (It's amazing the Good Lord could create two such beautiful women but even more amazing that they're both in my corner!) Peggy Sr. spoils me rotten, she makes me laugh, she has the most extensive "Crimson Tide" wardrobe of anybody living east of Tuscaloosa. She'll holler "Roll Tide" anywhere from the grocery store to church. She makes the best deviled eggs on the planet and has a hat collection that would shame any of those women parading around Churchill Downs. She loves gospel music and can sing it right well, too. But the thing she does best is what she did there in that hallway at the hospital - look right into your soul with a mother's tender eyes and calm whatever storm she finds brewing.