One of my first memories of her was from a time just a month or two after I met her son. I didn’t know him well yet, and I didn’t know much about her either. We were at her home, and we had cross-country skis with us. I was 25 years old and swam competitively, so I was in pretty good shape. As we put on our skis, I pondered how I would have to slow down my pace to accommodate her—she was in her late sixties, after all. But then, she strapped on her skis and set off like a ski marathoner across the field. I huffed and puffed behind her trying, but failing to keep up. That was my first lesson in the athleticism of the woman who would eventually be my mother-in-law. When she was eighty years old, she could beat me quite handily on a tennis court.
Later, this athletic singer, baker, Scout leader, Sunday school teacher, community volunteer, mother of four boys who smiled her way through life began to develop senile dementia. A series of mini-strokes robbed her of her ability to speak and walk. Her words became fewer and fewer, with more time between each.
A few years ago, her great-grandson was born. Her son and granddaughter took the baby to meet his great-grandmother. They took him over to her wheelchair and held him up for her to see. My mother-in-law’s eyes lit up, she smiled, reached out her hands and said, “Joy, joy.”
Those were the last words that I remember her speaking clearly and with intention.
When the last word is joy, you know it was a life well lived.