I cope with things in life, good and bad, by writing about them. I have used my writing to pay tribute to several friends and family members who have passed away, including Mama Del, “Big O,” and Jarrod. As I approach the six month anniversary of the death of my mother-in-law, Barb, I am still grasping at concepts, words, and images to convey what she meant to me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, it’s “start somewhere.” This may not be the only post about her; it may not do her justice, but it’s my “somewhere.”
One of the first groups I shared the news of Barb’s death with, outside of family and her priests, was my PRS Fit team. Our private team page has become a place for sharing so much more than workouts, advice, and fun race pictures. We support each other through so many of life’s ups and downs. I don’t think I am alone in saying it is one of the most important support systems in my life. When I started off my post sharing Barb’s death (which happened abruptly and unexpectedly on November 16, 2013, from an aortic dissection), I started off the post by explaining that I had “won the mother-in-law lottery” when Barb came into my life.
One thing we family members discovered as we scrambled to cope with our grief and shock while simultaneously planning a funeral and all of the myriad details surrounding a death was that she had already planned out her own funeral. Literally, I turned on her computer, typed in “funeral” in the search bar, and I knew what readings she wanted, what songs she wanted sung, and most of the way she envisioned her service going. This wasn’t actually a surprise to me, because we had talked many times about her wishes (no 23rd psalm, no Amazing Grace), but I suspect many people plan to have everything laid out whereas few actually do.
I could kind of posit that she wrote her own version of this blog post. I kept a note she had drafted for her church women’s guild, in which she encouraged women who tend to be “Marys” not to feel that they weren’t welcome or were looked down upon by the parish’s “Marthas.” I remember sitting with her at her computer, looking over the piece as she had asked me to do, and asking what she meant by that. Here’s what she had said:
To Our Associate Members,
Thank you for your support of the Blessed Sacrament Women’s Guild Council of Catholic Women. Though you have chosen not to be an active participant of one of our five Circles: Mother Seton, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St Catherine and St Therese, feel free to join us in any of our Circle activities such as the Parish Ministry Showcase, the Christmas Wreath Sale, The Guild Mini-Retreat, Hugs for the Homeless, Ladies Luncheon as well as the Eastern Deanery Day of Reconciliation and the Pensacola-Tallahassee Annual Convention.
It takes both Marthas and Marys to make an organization a success. You are our Marys. Please, keep us in your prayers.
May the Holy Spirit bless each of you, Barb Kiger
President Blessed Sacrament Women’s Guild Council of Catholic Women
Everything about this encapsulates what made Barb the leader, woman, family member, and human that she was. She felt compelled to lead (in a VERY methodical, organized, some would say compulsive way!). But she also felt compelled to support each and every woman of the parish. This is sort of an echo of what my sister in law Mary always says about her: “She made you feel supported without criticizing whoever it was that was aggravating you.”
I know the picture at the top of this post just looks like any other pew in any other church, but it’s the seat Barb has sat in at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church here in Tallahassee for as long as I have known her (1987). I always feel a little nervous snapping pictures at Blessed Sacrament so this one was taken on the fly but take my word for it: it’s the seat. The one three rows back from the front, right by the aisle, the one where you inevitably make eye contact with the priest and each acolyte. Parishioners Dot and Rose have begun sitting in the seat (having moved there from the fourth row where they used to sit). I join them there when I can. (When Barb passed away in November, I decided to keep sitting in her seat through her January 30 birthday. It’s May and I’m still there most Sundays. I can’t explain it, and I certainly don’t like making people crawl over my Episcopalian self on their way to communion, but it’s where I need to be for now.)
I have yet to have any big breakdown over Barb’s death, and I can’t figure that out except that something about the alignment of karma that placed me in her hospital room at the moment she passed away gave me such a peaceful sense of transition. When I called Father Tim to tell him she had passed away (and thank you Fr. Tim for answering the rectory phone at 4:23 a.m. — can’t ever figure out that one …), the main thing I said after making sure everything had been done that needed to be related to last rites was, “She was truly God’s servant.”
She was our “Martha” …
…when she led so many fellow Catholic women through meeting after meeting and task after task
…when she held, nurtured, fed, counseled, soothed, admonished (oh yes there was that too!) children, in-laws, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, spouses, siblings, and friends through so many twists and turns of life
…when she insisted on quality, from the patients she cared for as a nurse to the font that was used in her books to the color of her Visions cookware…for demonstrating that care of small things mattered
…when she was the shoulder I cried on when I wasn’t given flowers after the birth of my son (I know that may sound superficial but she acknowledged that it mattered and for some reason she was literally the only person I could tell)
…when she delighted in every jete’, fouette’, kip, song, line spoken in a play, homerun, and whatever other endeavor her grandchildren engaged in, despite not being able to see them the traditional way and having to endure my feeble attempts to explain the hundredth ballet costume (let’s face it, there are only so many ways to say “lame'” or “multicolored tulle”)!
…when she decided that a 7 year old in Guatemala named Silvia needed the support of a family in America (and set Tenley and me on a course to meet her)
…when she lost two of her children and showed us all how to keep going through a haze of grief and difficulty in understanding
…when she faced her personal demons and turned the life after that turning point with grace, vigor, and unwavering faith.
All I know is I am better for having known her; more confident for having been loved by her, and more determined to make a “dent in the universe” (nod to Steve Jobs here) having known someone who refused to settle for mediocrity, despite many life events, including becoming blind in her fifties) that would have given her the excuse to do so.
Thank you, Barb.
With love …
Mother’s Day 2014
I have added this post to a “link-up” from Midlife Boulevard. It is a linkup of our favorite posts of 2014. I chose my post that was a tribute to Barb because a) it has never gotten any comments and she definitely deserves comments! and b) because it is one of my 2014 posts into which I put my most heart and candor (even though she kind of “wrote” part of it!). Please visit these other fine bloggers and treat yourself to excellent writing!
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
Jacqui Kennedy says
Paula – I loved this piece the first time I read it and I love it even more now. Perhaps because I’m reading it again after losing my own mom — who was a wonderful combination of a Mary and a Martha.
I do think that you having had the gift of being present at Barb’s moment of passing from this life to Eternal Life is the absolute reason you never had a major emotional meltdown. I firmly believe there is a sense of peace that comes from being present at the moment. You were blessed with Barb during her lifetime and you were blessed even at the point of her passing.
Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says
Thank you, Jacqui — I, too, felt differently reading this in September than I did when I wrote it in April. I guess that’s the gift of time. I wish I had met your mom; she left a lovely legacy. 🙂
Lori Lavender Luz says
What a touching tribute to your mother-in-law, Barb. She sounds like quite a lady.
And I’m guessing she would really love this post.
Paula Kiger says
Thank you, Lori. She really was something special; one of the passions we shared was that of writing. I hope she would have liked this! 🙂
Barbara Lynne Ross says
Thank you for writing about the amazing person she was, Paula. I miss her.
Paula Kiger says
Thank you, Barbara. I miss her too. I am sure you will understand that it is the oddest thing in the world to rarely have someone holding my elbow lightly anymore ….
Helene Cohen Bludman says
What a sweet tribute to an extraordinary woman. What a blessing to have had her in your life — and I know she must have felt the same about you.
Paula Kiger says
Thank you, Helene. She was a transcendent person in so many ways.
This is so beautiful! My mother in law passed away in February, and my husband and i were also with her when she died. You’re right – it is a transcendent moment. Thanks for sharing some of Barb with us!
Paula Kiger says
Thank you Lana – will keep you in my thoughts as you celebrate who your mother-in-law was. I appreciate your comment.