This is the 10th Mother’s Day since my mother died after a brief battle with cancer and I miss her just as much as ever.
But in the days leading up to Mother’s Day I had an epiphany that made me see this holiday in a whole new light.
My mother-in-law, Virginia Johnston, is still going strong and on May 1 celebrated her 92nd birthday. We had a little gathering soon after to mark her birthday and Mother’s Day, and it reminded me just how much she means to me and how lucky I am to have her in my life.
It also made me realize that she has been in my life almost as many years as my own mother was, because I first met Virginia when I was just about 12 years old.
Her only son was my childhood sweetheart who later became my husband. In those early days I am not exactly sure what she thought of me, but it might have been with a bit of trepidation that she saw our relationship blossom. And I was a intimidated by her, and more than a little wary sometimes.
But as the years went by, we began to develop a greater respect for each other, and eventually that respect grew into a special love for each other.
She is very different from my own mother. She likes her own space and independence and she gives us ours, and that is a blessing in many ways.
But whenever I have ever needed her, she has always been there. She cheers me on in my writing, even when I lose confidence in myself — and that is a lot coming from her.
You see, she is one of the smartest people I have ever known — a former teacher, librarian and grammar expert. She is still sharp as a tack, as they say, and lives life to the fullest, gardening, bird watching, staying active in her church and lunching with friends.
My sister, Carole Ann, also has a great mother-in-law who just celebrated her 85th birthday, and it dawned on me that while our own mother is no longer on this earth with us, we are indeed blessed to have these two strong, wonderful ladies in our lives.
When my son married, my friend Mandy Mills sent me a lovely letter congratulating me on becoming a mother-in-law. In the letter she said that the French translation for mother-in-law is “belle mere,” meaning “beautiful mother.”
And that is indeed what my mother-in-law is, a beautiful mother and grandmother to her family.
In the South, and growing up here, the color of rose you gave your mother and wore to church on Mother’s Day signified whether your mother was living or not.
A red rose signified a living mother, and represented undying love and admiration. A white rose meant your mother was no longer alive, and was a statement of respect and honor.
I think the color of rose I would choose for my vibrant mother-in-law is pink, a color she has always loved and displayed throughout her home.
Pink roses mean thankfulness, grace and femininity in the language of flowers. They indeed represent a beautiful mother, inside and out.
Next to my office, a spray of lovely old-fashioned pink roses spills over the fence, unpretentious, but none-the-less breath-taking in their loveliness.
Each time I catch a glimpse of them I am startled by their beauty and color. They turn the drab everyday world into a place a little more special.
They remind me of how my mother-in-law brings a special element to our family gatherings, how wonderful it is to have her with us for family holidays and occasions. In our little family, and in my husband’s larger family, she is the central person we all gather around.
I cherish our relationship and what she means to my children. She is the last living grandparent and a link to our childhoods and our long lives together.
Too often we take people in our lives for granted until it is too late to tell them how much they really mean to us.
I hope this Mother’s Day my mother-in-law knows how much she means to me.
And I hope today each of you takes time to reflect on the special mothers in your lives and to let them know how much they mean. Our mothers are our most treasured relationship.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.