I met my mother-in-law in 1978, when she was 45 and I was 16. Carl and I were heading off on our second date, the Snowball Dance at school. It was a cold night for semi-formal attire, my new dress was itchy, and I was nervous. Pat and Art were sitting in the den, close together on the couch, watching TV when we arrived. They were very kind. They acted as if I was someone they would want to know. They treated me like family.
Family. A complicated word for many of us, but not for Pat. Over these 35 years – through weddings and wakes and babies and celebrations and illness and joy and loss – my mother-in-law taught me that family is both grand and simple. If we hold it close to our hearts, it is sacred.
Pat’s heart was always open to bringing more into the fold, and I spent many Sunday nights in high school at the family dinner table. At my first Christmas gathering, I was warmly welcomed by the aunts and uncles and cousins. That original group of four Italian-American siblings has grown to over 50 members, ranging from octogenarians to toddlers. Pat hosted the big, semi-annual get togethers for years and passed the torch to her own children. Each time a new boyfriend or girlfriend was brought to meet everyone, she would welcome them and put them at ease. We want you here, she would say with her kind attention, you are family.
The love Pat gave so freely filled her up; it was her fuel and powered her through her days. For her, there were no limits to love. She could sincerely welcome a newcomer – a shy girl on a winter’s night, or a new beau who might not even make it to next year’s family reunion – because there would always be more love to give.
I see this in her four children. They all like and love each other. There is no drama or conflict, and there are no petty grievances held over from childhood. They always knew that their mother (and father) had more than enough love for each of them and for so many others; they did not have to become rivals for her affection.
I saw this in Pat’s final days. The need for family to be together, to be kind to each other, and to laugh with her. To make decisions about her and for her that would fulfill her wishes. To place family above all other things, as she would expect. To say goodbye, to say “I love you”. To show her what she had built through the power of her simply being.
This, for me, is Pat’s legacy: she loved every one of us and taught us that loving so many so well is possible. She defined family as tightly bound and forever expanding. Each day that we love fully and generously, each day that we love without demands and without limits, we honor her life and allow her to live on in us.
My mother-in-law, Rosina Pat Scholz, died on March 30, 2014, after a 10-year battle with cancer.