It’s the time after. The hollow empty time, when we’re supposed to be done with grieving and life just goes on.
When you become a parent there’s lots to learn, no matter where in the world you are. But when you’re in a country you didn’t grow up in yourself, the learning curve of parenting is even steeper. And it’s stressful because the stakes are so high. These beautiful magical innocent babies, suddenly under your care in a system you only partially understand. It’s confusing at best, terrifying at worst.
Whenever I needed help, when the system here confused me, you knew the answer. Yes, I had my husband and he tried to help, of course. But so often his solution was, hm, I’ll call my mom. And you’d have the answer, you knew the system, you knew the people. Your network and your knowledge became ours, and it made parenting in a new country manageable.
My own mother raised me kindly, she gave me her strength and a solid array of fundamental parenting instincts to take into my journey as a parent. But Norway was a twist I didn’t see coming. And you gave me the practical know-how to parent my Norwegian kids. To handle the day-to-day questions and conundrums. To discern whether misunderstandings were due to culture or personality. To understand what all these foreign concepts meant, not just the meaning of the words, but how they fit into the Norwegian context. .
You were my Norwegian mentor. My Norwegian Mom.
The generations over us are like the highest trees in the forest canopy. As they disappear we stand exposed, more vulnerable to the whims of wind and weather and less protected from the heat of the sun.
Of course we have other people around us who care. But not the way you did. Not all in, day in day out, calling, asking, remembering each detail and following up. The mother/daughter-in-law relationship is rarely 100% smooth. Sometimes the intensity of your caring felt overbearing to me, but over the years it began to just feel like what it was- love.
And now I mourn what we’ve lost. On one hand the practical help, knowing there was always someone nearby who’d drop everything and reschedule and find a way to make it work if we needed help. Losing that is hard, but we’ll be resilient and find new solutions for situations like those. No, the hardest part is losing someone who loved my kids unconditionally. Who lived for loving my kids, and all the grandchildren. Unconditional love is rare, there are only a few people who offer it to us in this lifetime. You were one of ours and we thank you.
You gave the kids the wisdom and perspective you had as one of an older generation. You helped keep their world oriented upwards and inwards toward family instead of outwards towards peers and pressures. You could absorb their bad moods, deflect their tantrums, turn their energy around without reproach or shame. You remembered each detail of what they told you and followed up and asked how things were going. You offered food and comfort. You taught them patiently and spent long hushed hours doing crafts with them- knitting, embroidering, weaving.
You gave us everything you had. Your last energy, your last days, went to us, your family. We say that death came quickly at the end, that the illness took over quickly. But I think it’s the other way too. That the illness was already taking over, but you held on and stayed so strong so long because you wanted to spend that time with us.
Visits in the days leading up to Christmas. Helping us plan the Christmas gifts we could buy for the kids from you. Finding someone who could sew N’s bunad. (even though I procrastinated and it should have been too late). Organizing the list of silver necessary for said bunad. See, you were helping me learn something new about Norway right to the very end. Christmas Eve celebration with family. You were smiling and in good spirits all that night. Coming to K’s 7th birthday party on Boxing Day. You sat on our couch, right where I sit typing this. You chatted with all of us about the little things you loved to hear about. J’s gymnastics, N’s confirmation, knitting, everyone’s busy schedules, local happenings. You helped K count his birthday money and add up the big impressive number. You smiled and laughed and gave hugs.
Then you were in the hospital. We didn’t know for how long but we didn’t know the end would be so soon. We had a lovely visit with you New Year’s Eve. K climbing on the windowsill. L trying to run out the door to the corridor every time it was opened a crack. You sent M out to find fruit for the kids. J got a pear, K a banana. Even there you were still taking care of us. Making sure we were fed and comfortable and making the best out of the circumstances. You told N about a jacket you had that never quite suited you, said she could have it if she wanted it. Your last gift directly to her. You asked about M’s plans, her class ski trip, wondered how things were going with her friends. You showed us some old pictures in the history book from your hometown. And then you gave us all hugs. I’ll never forget how strong your arms and back felt when I hugged you that last time. So solid and strong, you had so much strength left in you.
You gave us so much, and you still had so much more to give.
As we watched the fireworks that night we cried, sad that you weren’t there watching with us. We had to ring in the New Year without you and then one day later you were gone for real.
We’re grateful for everything, too many things to list. But right now we’re especially grateful that you gave us so much those last days. Our last memories are not of your illness, but of laughter and smiles and hugs.
It takes a village to raise kids, and now our village has lost its matriarch.
I’m not ready to fill the void, I’m not even sure I can. But I’ll try, and because I must, for my kids, I’ll manage.And when I manage it will be because you showed me how.
It’s the time after now, and life just goes on. In your honor.