With every “Gloria in excelsis Deo” I heard and sung during Christmastime I thought of my mother-in-law, Gloria Simpson, and that she would soon hear angels singing this refrain-with-her-name in the very presence of God. Preferably to flute music, the instrument Gloria played and taught for years. Diagnosed with inoperable, incurable brain cancer in August of 2008, the mother of my wife and grandmother of my children has been slowing dying in stages. In December the family was told there was nothing more doctors could do about her cancer, and Hospice nurses now make regular visits to my in-laws’ Alabama home.
This is the first time Lynn and I have faced the death of one of our parents. Gloria turned 70 back in November. We assumed she would live into her nineties as did both her parents. That cancer had overtaken her was harsh news to a woman who lived a healthy lifestyle. And that it was brain cancer only compounded the frustration for all of us because Gloria’s was a vibrant personality. Though she is now completely bed-ridden and cannot speak, she can sometimes smile when spoken to, especially when prompted by the voices of her daughters and grandchildren.
Stereotypically, the mother- and son-in-law relationship is supposed to be strained. It was never so for Gloria and me. I called her my “mother-in-love” (my dad gave me the term). The only strain in my relationship with Gloria was my fault and came back when Lynn and I were brand new parents. We’d read some popular-at-the-time books on how to parent babies and were determined (me more so than Lynn) that we would be “parent-centered” rather than “child-centered.” Caleb was born to us in 1996, Gloria’s first grandchild, and she instantly adored him. Gloria loved the company of children anyway, spending most of her working career as an elementary school counselor.
With Caleb in arms, I wanted everything done by the books we’d read: he goes to sleep when we put him down and if he cries well-then-he’ll-just-have-to-cry-it-out; he’s fed when we want to feed him as opposed to on-demand; he’s held when it’s “hold time”; etc. I was well-intentioned but a total new father jerk. The parenting theory we initially bought into has since been widely discredited, thankfully. But to her praise, Gloria was patient with me as I learned to relax and let babies be babies, not little emerging adults respecting my schedule. I know I exasperated her in the first couple of years of her grandmotherhood, but still she trusted and affirmed me.
We took Gloria on a family trip with us to California in June of 2006. We went there to serve at a mission organization’s global conference, and Gloria signed on to—what else!—take care of the missionaries’ kids. I don’t know what it was about that particular time together, but I experienced a consciously deepened love for Gloria during that trip.
I’d always welcomed her visits to us before, even though she was going to keep our kids up an hour or two past their bedtimes and leave half-full coffee mugs around the house—that I refer to them as half-full rather than half-empty is a tribute to Gloria’s bubbly optimism. But after our California trip I was no longer aggravated by such little things. In fact, I wanted her to visit as often as she could, valuing the time not just for Lynn and our kids but also for me. During quite a few of those visits we would sit around in the evening and talk about all kinds of things. I was truly comfortable with Gloria and Gloria with me. I carry no regrets about our relationship.
Gloria loved fun and fun places. She planned a Disneyworld trip for the whole family in March of 2008. It had long been her desire to take her grandchildren there. To me—sorry about this, Disney lovers—Disneyworld is volunteer larceny. But if I’d known it was to be our last vacation with Gloria I wouldn’t have groused over the cost of tickets and travel and everything in the park. I’m not a tightwad, but I remember suggesting we should wait a couple years to go because Colson was too young to enjoy it, hoping the urge to empty my wallet on her grandkids would pass Gloria over. Gloria had waited long enough, however, and I decided not to resist her but shell out the bucks. Now I know that if there was ever a God-ordained trip to Disneyworld we made it two years ago. I’d gladly pay double—triple—for everything again if she could just go with us once more.
Each visit now she seems to be slipping closer to Heaven. Soon, perhaps even as this newsletter is printed, we’ll have said our last goodbye to a praiseworthy woman with a praise name. Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria Simpson! The symphony of Heaven anticipates your joining them, flute in hand, accompanying angels’ praise in the throne hall of Jesus. You are the best mother-in-love a guy could ever have.