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Mothers-in-Law: What I Really Wanted to Say to the Kind Cashier at the Store    

I’m just not sure how to love someone who’s dying.

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photo of woman inserting card in card reader to pay for items, mother in law
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I was at the store buying a heated throw and a soft sweater that were both on sale. I knew they would be perfect for my beloved mother-in-law. As I got to the check-out line, the cashier commented on how comfortable and cozy both items were and inquired, “Are these for you?” I quickly told her they were for someone else, and with a forced smile, I thanked her, took my receipt, and hurriedly walked away.    

I needed to leave before my eyes welled up in tears and I allowed the monstrous grief to overcome me, as these days, it often does. I knew this was not the time or the place to unravel and spill it all out. But there was so much more I wanted to say.   

I wanted to tell this kind cashier I was buying these gifts for my mother-in-law to use in her old farmhouse where she and her lifetime love raised their four children until they were grown and on their own. Through all these years, this home has been our favorite family gathering place to go. I wanted to say how important it will be that my mother-in-law is comfortable, loved, and cared for, during the remaining days she has to live. I wanted to share how she will be spending much of her time in her bedroom where the drafts of cool air come through, and cancer swiftly steals her beautiful soul from this world too soon.     

I wanted to explain how this precious woman has been my closest confidant and my cherished friend since the day I met her, over 23 years ago. How she has never stopped pouring her love into me, sacrificing so much to be there for me, always understanding my deepest needs and greatest fears, embracing every broken bit of me, through all these years.     

I wanted to ask the cashier to pray for this family because I just don’t know how they will survive losing the light of their lives, the anchor of their hearts, and the center of all their worlds. I wanted to share all the ways she’s gifted us with her presence and patience, her compassion and care, how she’s adored by everyone who knows her because her heart is so pure. She’s spent her lifetime serving everyone she knew and loved, always giving everything she had to give, with no conditions or expectations, never needing or wanting reciprocation. That’s just who she was, that’s still who she is, and I pray that now she can reap her reward and receive the same lavished love in return.     

I would have asked the cashier if she has ever had to go through something so awful and agonizing because I’m just not sure how to love someone who’s dying. I buy heated throws and comfortable clothes because that’s one tangible thing I can do. I’m navigating this excruciating road, lost in a fog of naivety and grief, anxiety and heartache. I want more than anything to care for her while she moves with increasing speed toward her heavenly home. I text and call, comfort and console. I bring meals and offer a helping hand. I soak in all her wisdom and love, her gentle spirit, and her peaceful nature while we spend special private moments together. I pray for miraculous healing, for strength in the fight. I plea for more time, for less pain, for her to stay with us as long as she can. I hug her long; I cry a lot. I listen to everything she wants me to hear, not only because they matter to her, but because there’s so much depth and beauty in all she shares.     

And that’s the gift we’ve been granted, this portion of time to spend with her and hold onto these moments as long as we can. We reflect on all the details of her life well-lived, celebrating the countless invaluable memories she’s created for us all. But it’s filled with gut-wrenching grief, knowing there’s so much more she has to give that’s now limited with the life she has left to live.     

And as I think through this conversation I imagine having with that cashier, I wonder how many other people are going through check-out lines in various stores, fraught with their own personal suffering that they try with all their strength to stifle inside too. I know how hard it is to do life while something so devastating is ripping you apart and yet, you still have to go on, you still have to work, shop, and get things done. And no one is aware of the deep sorrow you bear, while you try to function as best you can, carrying the heavy weight of it all.   

I think of all the mothers who have lost their children far too soon. I think of all the sons and daughters who have lost their mothers too. I think of all the kids who are caring for their moms through their dying days, as I have had the incredible privilege of witnessing with my husband and his siblings. I think of all the people who are navigating the excruciating journey of losing someone they love like I am now. There are untold stories and hearts hurting behind so many smiles we see. And we are all wandering out in the world through a heavy haze, desperately trying to find the strength and the courage to do what we have to do.  

There is nothing I can share that would lessen the palpable pain, the crushing sadness, and overwhelming anguish, so many people are feeling on a day like Mother’s Day. I can’t take away the harrowing hardship that their suffering entails. So, I do the only thing I know to do, by holding you all in my heart and keeping you in my prayers, with the hope that somehow, someway, love will see you through. 

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