My mother-in-law, Marlyn Buehler, died this week. I loved my in-laws and back some 20 years ago suggested that when they came to a place where they were going to make a “last” move that we should be considered an option. A little over 8 years ago they took us up on that. I guess they thought I meant it.
One thing I always appreciated about my mother-in-law was her name. Having lived an almost daily habit of reminding people that there is a “G” and an “o” in Geoff, I found myself acquiring the habit of reminding people there was no “i” in Marlyn and Buehler was pronounced as if there were no “u”, just a long “e” sound.
No “I” or “You” is a good way to enjoy my mother-in-law’s memory. With her there was just “us.” She invited you into life with her. She created hospitality, and through her buoyant, creative reception to living and others she opened her shy husband to a world (and truly a world) of friends. Her quick wit was an expansive good humor that blended grace, candid insight and honest expression. Mirthfully blunt wouldn’t miss the mark.
One of my favorite stories of this woman was that of her seated at the organ in her church playing the postlude of a worship service. There was no back to the seat, no cover hiding the organist and the door to the rest of the church building was beside her. Half the congregation would exit the sanctuary walking past her and saying “hello” or “great job” and then making the mistake of asking “How are you?” She always answered. As a woman who wrote family Christmas letters expressing the height and depth of her experience with menopause, people who walked past received answers like “sweating like a horse” or “having a hot flash” or “Oh, I could be better.” For people expecting Sunday morning, Baptist pleasantries, she was a hotspot of sheer reality with complete confidence that God was on her side.
As in-laws, she and I had our differences but there was a similarity between us. She and her husband took me up on an earlier offer I made to paint and wallpaper the entire upstairs of their home, a bedroom, a study, a bathroom and the master bedroom and bath. I came for a week and the first day we went out and picked out the colors or paper for each room. We were home in two hours. My father-in-law was dumbfounded. “How did you do that? We have a two hour discussion over a new lamp. How did you pick out all the colors and everything in that time??” All I could say was that we just talked over what would look best. In two moments of discussion over choices I said, “Trust me on this,” and she did.
She took over (in the best of ways) when we visited or when she visited us. Cooking, grocery shopping, watching children… it all fell into her capable reach bringing waves of assurance and relief. She was a writer, a conversationalist, a devoted believer in and follower of Jesus, a teacher and a fine storyteller… but deeply, sincerely, cleverly, buoyantly and lovingly a Mom.
It has been such a gift to be alongside her in these last years and hours. I’m so glad we got to honor her life with part of our own.