For Ella Mae, my mother-in-law, it was quite a different matter. When she passed in 2005, I had not prepared in the same way I did my mother. I loved her and told her so, but she never knew how important she was to me and our family. Because she was a formal woman, there just was not the casual love that was available in my family of origin.
I have valued Ella Mae more in retrospect, than I ever did while she was alive. My own mother knew how much I valued her, I wrote cards and letters and expressed my joy and love in many different ways. Ella Mae, not as much. I am very grateful for her contribution to our family and for this reason, I have for the last 12 years been valuing her “things”.
I know better than most that guilt is no replacement for current action and present love, and yet, here I am indulging in guilt because I did not treat her the way that I would want to treat her today. I find myself thinking “I must hang onto to Ella Mae’s china so that I can pass it on to my daughters.” Why would I want to imbue value onto the china if I didn’t feel some measure of guilt? I didn’t value Ella Mae enough while living and so now I must value her china to show the kids how important that she was. It’s just not necessary with my mother’s things because her value was so well established while she lived.
In this case, I think the point of guilt is so that I can convince myself that I loved her enough and that she knew it. If I didn’t love her enough while she lived, I am trying to make up for it. This is a burden for all of us. It is a burden that I do not wish to bear, nor do I believe that there is any way to make up for my behavior once someone has passed away, nor will I make promises about future behavior. I simply must say that Ella Mae gave us much, she taught manners and in this way made us comfortable in any environment. Ella Mae taught me that birthdays are important, my family never celebrated birthdays, it was Ella Mae who brought that tradition to us. She loved step grandchildren and biological grandchildren and tried very hard to be fair. She was not fair; the attempt was there. For this I am grateful.
Ella Mae was a very gracious woman who welcomed everyone into her home. She saw holidays as a means to give me a rest and she would never let me lift a finger or ‘bring’ something. She cooked like a chef and hostessed like a queen, and it was those talents that she passed to me. She had a beautiful silk hanging in the dining room. For some reason both of my sons had to touch it every single time they passed by on the way to the kitchen. She may have grimaced and she may have said something, but she never got mad. Her graciousness extended to everyone.
Maybe now that I understand why I am hanging onto the china, I can actually put it down. No one wants that stuff anymore. I do hope that I can pass on graciousness, that’s a gift worth giving.