TOO MEAN TO DIE
3 June 2002
My mother hosted a party today. It was a birthday party for her mother-in-law, who is
now 106. We were not invited, which makes it easier, since I would not think of attending.
But it does boggle my mindthe notion of being 106. Who are your peers? Nobody!!!
It's my theory that this woman remains alive because even God doesn't want her. From
what I know of her she's been a pretty incredible personof hardy Dutch stock, who
moved here from Holland early in her life. I met her husbandmaybe once?prior
to his death. My mother married her son long after I was grown and my own children were
teenagers. I had my own life and so my meetings with the mother-in-law were infrequent.
She never accepted me or my family.
She never said anything directly, but let it be known in no uncertain terms that we
weren't fit to associate with her. If we would come to visit my mother when the
mother-in-law was there, she would get up and go into her room with the door firmly shut
and remain until we left. I remember one holiday when we were all there for dinner. The
mother-in-law was coaxed out of her room for dinner and Ned, my most gregarious child, was
determined to draw her out. He attempted to engage her in conversation and tried all he
could to elicit a response. He might as well have been talking to a stone. She sat there
resolutely staring at her plate, making no response.
Still, I have a grudging respect for her. One of my favorite stories is the tale my
mother told of a time when my mother and her husband were clearing land in preparation for
building a house. The land sat on the edge of a tall hill and was overgrown with berry
vines and other things that grow in the wild in places like that. The mother-in-law was
out there hacking away at the greenery with the best of them--I think she was 72 at the
time--and she even tied a rope around her waist, tied it to a tree, and lowered herself
over the edge of the cliff so that she could hack away at the growth on the side of the
hill. I kinda wish I could have been there to see that.
But the woman is one of the most self-centered persons I've ever encountered in my
life. That she has, in recent years, given any concern for my own mother's well-being is
solely a testament to the care my mother has lavished on her over the years. (The woman is
still angry with her grandson who has been ill for a very long time because he can't find
the energy to come and visit her.) My mother placed herself at this woman's beck and call,
long after the death of her own husband, when someone else might have taken the
opportunity to walk away from the unpleasant old woman.
I think of people like this mother-in-law and I think of people like my grandmother
(and my father) and think what a sadness it is that there are those who live their lives
in such an unpleasant way that people look forward to their death and their death hardly
makes a ripple in the pool of the life of those around them.
There was relief at the death of my grandmother, herself a very self-centered,
demanding person. The requisite death ceremonies were done because it was expected of us,
not because there was any genuine sorrow at her passing. No tears were shed. And since she
has been gone, I can honestly say that there has not been one single moment when Ior
anybody else in this familyhas missed her.
What a tragedy to have lived more than 80 years and have people feel only relief at
I think of my father's funeral. In the front of the church was the family, there
because it was expected of us. In the back where neighbors who knew him from waving to him
in the front yard. In the middle were a few of my mother's friends, who showed up to be
supportive of her. And that's it. Not one single "friend" turned
out for his funeral, because he had no friends. He systematically drove away every
single person in his life and at the end of that life, nobody cared that he was dead.
I hung on to my anger toward him for a very long time, but I expunged it the first year
of this journal, when I wrote a Father's
Day entry into which I put a lot of emotion and decided I was finished with the anger,
and was willing to let it all go.
In my heart of hearts, I don't think I really believed that at the time, but in the
ensuing years, I've come to realize that I truly did bury him with that entry. I no longer
have those angry feelings. I can almost dredge up some sadness for the life he wasted. But
the anxiety over our relationship is now gone.
No one will care when my mother's mother-in-law dies. I've already told my mother that
I won't be hypocritical enough to attend the funeral, so don't even think of it. The only
change in anybody's life is that her grandchildren and great grandchildren will no longer
have a focal point for gatherings. What a thing to have to realize after living more than
There is a huge portrait of the mother-in-law which hangs in my mother's living room.
It's a beautiful portrait, but the only reason it is still there, following my mother's
husband's death, is because she felt it would hurt the mother-in-law's feelings if she
took it down. However, it will come down when she dies. She has offered the very expensive
portrait to each of her three grandchildren and none of them want it. (I've suggested
using it as a dart board). It just makes me feel sad that nobody caresbut at the end
of your life, you reap the seeds you've sewn throughout your life, and the seeds this
woman has sewn bear only bitter fruit.