It is almost three months since Betty died and I am missing her in my own way. I see an article about dogs or funny cats, find shoes in her tiny size, or think about my changing reading habits and compare them to hers. I would like to talk to her honestly, as we did so often. I come from Brooklyn, where very few of us mind our own business. We have opinions and don't mind letting you know them, whether you want to hear them or not. She set a high standard for mother in laws and gave me a living example of how not to interfere.
Well, she had a head start. She was raised in Minnesota where most people mind their own business, and often don't let one part of the family know what is going on with the others. I respect that, while sometimes am very confused. When her son and I went to tell her we were separating after 35 years of marriage, she surprised me. She said that she had a hard time believing we'd made it that far. And she told me that I would always be her daughter. I'm so thankful I talked to her a day before she died. We didn't have unfinished business. Just a loving message and the hope to see each other when the weather got better.
In June, 1975, we moved to Flagstaff where my husband finished college and we had our first daughter. During those two years and the time we spent in Pocatello, Idaho, Betty and I were faithful correspondents. She'd send me long newsy letters and I'd send her whatever was on my mind. I learned not to complain (to her at least) about her son, though. Family loyalty was first and foremost and don't acknowledge problems out loud. Fix them!
And yet I always knew she was there for me. When I needed daycare in 1978 she drove from Eagan to Minneapolis to pick up our daughter as long as I needed her. When I was pregnant again in 1981, I had a health crisis and when I was released from the hospital, she came with a rickety old trailer and helped me buy and wrangle a new mattress because I could not rest on the old one. She was small but strong and when we moved to a different house I expressed the hope that it would be the last time she would move our washing machine. I rarely offended her, but saying she would be too old the next time, rubbed her wrong.
Right up until she died at age 91, she considered herself to be strong and capable. It didn't matter that her body was not as strong as in the past, and I don't think she understood that some of her choices were not well thought out due to a minor stroke. She lived the way she wanted and acknowledged that living in an apartment would be easier for us, her family, it was not the way she wanted to live or die. I am having a hard time reconciling myself to that. I've seen firsthand how managed independent living adds years to life. My own parents, who I thought to have only a year or two when I moved them from NY to MN, lived another six and seven years. I don't know how much longer my dear Betty would have lived had her family moved her against her will. It could have been the worst action and caused misery. And although I miss talking to her, and reading her column in the Moose Lake newspaper, I'm glad I had forty-two years of friendship, caring, and love.
(After the divorce, I was not an official part of the family on the same footing as my ex-husband, and his brother and wife. So in a way, I was lucky. My darling Betty had become a kind of crazy cat lady and left her legal family a terrible mess to deal with. The cat man came and caught over 60 cats and it will be quite a job to get the house habitable again. But if anyone can do it, they can.)