CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last year was my first Mother's Day without my mother. And this year marks my husband John's first Mother's Day without his.
It's interesting how these major life events have occurred back-to-back in our family. The same thing happened with my father and my father-in-law. They both passed away 17 years ago -- within three months of each other.
As a son, John had such a wonderful relationship with his mother. I marveled at their direct, honest communication. This became even more important with those difficult end-of-life decisions, and while doing everything to ensure that her transition was as peaceful as possible. He was her rock -- till the end.
Like John, many of you are going through the same thing, and these "firsts" are tough -- whether it's Mother's Day, a birthday, an anniversary or that first holiday. These are powerful triggers that start building before the event -- and endure after it's over. And it doesn't have so much to do with any traditions. It's the void.
Like the old saying reminds us, "Nature abhors a vacuum." We rush to fill up those empty spaces. And it's a rude awakening when we realize we can't. Others can step in to fill roles -- a relative, a blended family member or a close friend. As we all know, though, it's not quite the same.
If this is a "first" for you, you may be feeling numb. In the aftermath of my loss, I remember thinking, "Nothing I do today is of any significance." I wondered if I'd ever regain my zest for life. As trite as it sounds, time did heal some things. I'm now able to look back and remember my mom and dad with more nostalgia and less grief. Things are still a little raw with respect to my mother-in-law.
One thing I've found ironic is that the things they did that used to irritate me at times are the very things I miss the most. Which is a good lesson for the here and now. Whenever I start to get impatient over some habit of a loved one, I'm going to stop and reflect on this. When they're no longer around, the small annoyance will stop. But so will everything else. Is it really worth getting that upset about -- or wishing away?
To honor my mother-in-law, Elna Catselis, I'd like to share some tidbits about her. She had a Southern accent that stayed with her all her life. Although she was born in southern Virginia, she left there many years ago and lived in more non-Southern places -- like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. -- most of her adult life. She was never at a loss for words. And she sure could tell some stories. Which she did -- over and over. Funny thing, though: The details grew more vivid (and sometimes changed altogether) with each telling!
She was so proud of her nursing career, spanning 43 years in various hospitals around the country, culminating with her retirement from the Navy Supply Center in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Elna was a whiz at knitting, and the handmade sweaters, caps and gloves she made will -- and have -- lasted a lifetime. You always wanted her at your book club, bridge table or tending to your plants with her green thumb. And she never missed a morning without doing the newspaper's crossword puzzle.
She was curious and stayed up on current events. She never missed a chance to jump into a debate over politics or a discussion on the issues of the day. And she loved sports, always following the games of her children's alma maters -- WVU, Penn State and Virginia Tech.
Elna was self-sufficient and resourceful -- quite the pioneer spirit (unlike her daughter-in-law, who bailed out during the last power outage and went to a hotel). Her greatest talent, though, hands down: My mother-in-law was the best cook ever. Maybe that's why I don't try too hard in this arena. Talk about not measuring up.
She loved the beach and was able to fulfill a dream to retire to Ocean Isle, N.C., for the last 10 years of her life. Her beach house was a popular destination for her family and friends -- not just in the summer, but throughout the year.