The Echo of the Youngest Son: A Heartfelt Valentine


My mother-in-law passed away a year ago this month... just a few days after her 91st birthday. She is survived by her five children, eleven grandchildren, and three great grandchildren. She left all of us with amazing gifts of love, respect, honor, and grace. She left me with the most precious gift of all: her youngest son.

Mom always said two things about my husband. She said that his nickname should be horizontal because that was the position he was most frequently in, and she said that if he had been the first child, he would have been the only child. Both statements are completely true. I wonder however, if she actually knew just how true they were.

When we met, it was love at first sight. I didn't believe you could possibly truly love someone after only laying eyes on them. But then, it happened to me. I became a believer.

I was a southern girl visiting New York on a cold snowy February day. It was on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca. I went to see the school to consider transferring there. A mutual friend introduced us. We spent a few hours together playing cards with her and one of his other friends. We just kept locking eyes. Eventually, we decided to join another group to go to dinner and a hockey game. As we walked to the Pizzeria, he saw my top coat button unbuttoned and my hat string untied. He took it upon himself to button and tie me to assure my warmth with the utmost of care and concern. After only one day of knowing one another, I flew back to Texas. He called his mom to tell her he met the girl he was going to marry.

We've had over 30 years of life together. One of my first life lessons from my husband came in our first year of marriage. He was a graduate student and home most of the day. I was working to support us. I came home after a hard day to find him sacked out on the couch with his head covered in pillows and a pile of dishes in the kitchen sink. I went ballistic. I ranted about how I'd worked all day only to come home to a stack of dirty dishes. With one eyeball poking out from the mound of pillows, he calmly looked at me with a loving smile, welcomed me home, rolled his head back where it had been, and went back to sleep. It was later that I found out he'd had friends over earlier in the day. They'd made a mess everywhere. When he checked the clock to see I'd be home soon, he collected the mess placing everything in the sink where he believed it all lived. I tried to pick a fight. He tried to make me happy.

When I anxiously left our newborn home alone with him for one of the first times, I came home once again to find my husband sacked out on the couch. This time, in addition to the pillows covering his face, the baby was sprawled out on his belly and sobbing into his chest. When I hysterically questioned how he could possibly sleep while the baby was crying her eyes out, he explained to me that she was calmer now after she'd had a difficult poop. He smiled as he described it by likening it the contents of a fine jar of Grey Poupon. You gotta love a guy who admires poop.

These are the stories of my husband on "stop" mode when his mind relaxes, and he's horizontal. He also has "go" mode. His mind works as fast as a Pentium 4 processor. He invented ADD before it was fashionable.

When I fought hard to kick my narcotic drug addiction after years of cancer, I was easily frustrated with him. He was watching a ball game, surfing the net, and making phone calls. Why was I not receiving his undivided attention, I thought? But if he had turned off that game, I would have panicked at the deafening silence. He was surfing the net to find any and all suggestions on easing my withdrawal. He was calling doctors, clinics, and family members to find out how best to help me. He missed work risking the stability of his job, to sit by my side.

After Super storm Sandy, I drove mom and her aide back to their apartment where the heat had been restored. They'd spent a few stressful days with us where we had little space, but plenty of heat. I was overwrought that day as I had to juggle to get them safely home an hour and a half's drive away, and I had to put our house up for sale. We thought we were losing it to the bank. We had already vacated the property and were living in a rental ninety miles away. By a crazy series of events, we ended up being able to put it on the market in the hopes of selling it and paying off the bank. It had been a long and stressful day for me. It was election day. I'd never missed voting since the day I turned eighteen, but I was stuck in commuter traffic and would never make it home in time. With a catch in my voice, I spoke to my husband on the phone to let him know I was on the way home. I was sad to report to him that the house was now listed, and frustrated that I'd never make it home in time to vote. Two and a half hours later, I pulled into my driveway to find my husband waiting outside for me. He had already looked up where we could go vote where the polls were still open for us. He was the one that did the research to find out our status with the bank. He was the one who found a place to take me so that I could still go vote. And he was the one who said the two words to me that melted my heart that day. He said, "thank you." What on earth did he have to thank me for? He was thanking me for taking care of his mom, whom I had always loved, and he was thanking me for taking care of the house we could no longer own.

But it was I who should have been doing the thanking. It was I who should have thanked him for the lesson of the dishes in the sink. His thoughtfulness outweighed my anger. It was I who should have thanked him for being so calm with our first born who surely would have ended up psychotic if I alone had raised her. It was I who should have thanked him for watching over my mangled addicted body as he nursed me back to health while juggling so many other tasks at once all on my behalf, and it is I who should thank his mother for raising him-the boy she called horizontal-the boy who, because of his ADD, might have been an only child had he been her first born.

I cannot mourn the death of my mother-in-law. I cannot mourn her loss because I cannot mourn that which has not been lost. Her strength of love, respect, honor and grace have not been lost upon her death. They live on in all her children, but you can mostly hear them echo back from the heart beats of her youngest son.