For three decades, I knew my mother-in-law as a strong woman with very sharp edges. She was highly opinionated and blunt — sometimes excessively so. Her words could bruise if you let them.
She rarely paused to edit her thoughts.
If she didn't like the service she was getting at a restaurant, she'd say so in a stage whisper that projected several tables over, which many times made me cringe in embarrassment.
She'd tell you right away if she thought you'd gained a few too many pounds. She let her disdain for stupidity be known. She once told my husband, her baby son, that he and his two older brothers were [insert expletive, plural] when she found out they'd made no plans to fete their father on Father's Day.
She also was a voracious reader, deeply engaged with her community, deeply interested in the world, funny, whip smart, passionate, loyal and capable of great kindness.
Even though she lacked the natural softness of my own mother, after I lost my mother `17 years ago this week, she took to cuddling me and never let go. Already close, we grew far closer. We'd snuggle up on her bed — as she, my husband and I did, weeping and telling stories, on the night my father-in-law died two years ago — and settle in for long heart-to-hearts. She let me lecture her about her verbal jabs and — at least for a day or two after — she tried hard to keep her promises to tame them.
Now her sharp edges are physical. She is skin and bones. She is tiny. To hold her is to fear you might snap her. You can see and feel every bump in her spine.
I know this because three weeks ago, I wrapped my arms around her for the first time in well over a year — finally able to go see her without risking her life.
And when in doing so I found so much less of her, the cost of our lengthy enforced separation hit me hard.
This is just one small, personal story of loss. We all have them. My mother-in-law and I remain on this Earth. We are lucky.