“Are you okay?” she asks.
“No, I am not!” My words whip her in the face, and it crumples as she takes two steps back from the ironing board. I don’t care. I push past her and out of the back door.
I fling myself face down upon the grass beneath a tree. I take a sobbing breath that hurts my ribs, and the pain rises up from deep within me. It gushes out, wave after wave, never-ending.
And then I become aware of someone standing over me. She is holding out a cup of tea. Tea? I ignore it. I climb to my feet and push past the woman. Moments later my bedroom door slams. I’ve shut her out.
“All your mother ever says is, ‘Are you okay?’ I complain to my husband. “She asks that question a hundred times a day. I’m so sick of it. What does she expect me to say? Of course I’m not okay! I don’t think I‘ll be okay ever again.”
Andy enfolds me in his arms. “She’s only trying to help. She’s worried about you. She doesn’t know what else to say.”
What is there to say when a daughter-in-law loses a baby?
Late at night, when I lie exhausted in bed, I can hear her talking with Andy.
“She doesn’t like me,” I say the next morning. “She doesn’t talk to me.”
But she watches me. She watches me as she irons the clothes.
“All she does is iron the clothes,” I complain. “She even irons the underwear and the sheets.”
The pain thuds in my chest. Mom irons the clothes. Thomas remains dead.
And then the day arrives when Mom is to return to her own home. We sit around the table for one last coffee and I say, “Thank you for coming.”
And she replies,” I wouldn’t have missed being with you for anything.”
Then the words that have been stuck deep inside us for weeks start moving. They rise to our lips and we talk. We really talk. We talk for the first time ever.
“I’m so proud of you,” she says. “You’re the daughter I never had.”
She’s gone. Andy drove her to the airport. The house feels empty. I look around, and I notice the piles of ironed clothes. Ironed with care. Ironed with concern. Ironed with love. Ironed because it was all she could do.
Sometimes grief makes us blind. Sometimes we are wrong.
That was the last time I ever saw my mother-in-law. We never again sat at the same table sipping coffee and chatting. But we spoke many times on the phone.
"Hello," she'd say. "Are you okay?" I'd smile and answer, "Yes Mom, I'm okay. I really am."
And I was.