This morning I drafted the obituary for Eileen Wright. I don't normally write such things, but Eileen was my partner's mother. I sometimes called her my mother-in-law, but that's not exactly accurate since the people of Wisconsin still have a bug up their collective behind regarding same-sex marriage.
Tough. Eileen was my mother-in-law. That term -- mother-in-law -- has so much negative baggage and comedic currency. The stereotype, repeated in sitcoms, novels, movies and jokes, is well known. Yet to have known Eileen is to know how very wrong mother-in-law stereotypes often are.
Eileen was wonderful. In a lot of ways she was my surrogate mom, in that my own mother has been gone for almost 30 years. Even my sister, who shares Eileen's August 28th birthday, felt that way about her. It's not hyperbole to say that she was an amazing woman, a great mother, and frankly just a riot to be around.
The first time I met Eileen, it was to spend Christmas Eve with Tom and his parents at his apartment. We'd only been dating a few months and I was so nervous I brought my sister with me... and made her go up the stairs first. I mean, you know how it is... I thought Tom was "The One" from the minute I met him, and now I had to meet his mother? All that worry for nothing. She immediately put me at ease, and proved to be warm, wonderful and accepting from the get-go. From that early point, I considered her to be a good friend.
More than a few times I told Tom -- and Eileen -- that had my mother still been alive, she and Eileen together would have been trouble. Both had larger than life personalities, loved to be surrounded by friends, loved a good joke, and enjoyed cocktail hour.
I have all these stories whirling around in my head right now about Eileen. How she could make Christmas explode into whatever house she was in on that holiday. How she was not above ripping a piece off an angel food cake and throwing it across the room at someone. How she could venture out and discover fields of her prized morel mushrooms year after year when I have never found a single one. How she thought she was fooling us sneaking cigarettes in our upstairs bathroom. How she left to drive alone to Florida a day ahead of schedule so she could keep her kids from having someone ride down with her. How she loved that we named our miniature donkey "Gigger," her childhood nickname. How she would do anything for her kids. How she loved to sing... knowing she couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.
Fact is, she was never expected to live this long... or even into her teens. She had Rheumatic fever as a child, and back then it was considered a death sentence. I guess it still was, in as much as her death can be mostly attributed to damage to her heart valves caused by the fever all those years ago. But that's Eileen... she took a good long time to negotiate her departure.
Now she's gone. In some ways, it was an extended goodbye. Eileen had a major stroke about three months ago. She regained mobility but communication was difficult. That didn't stop her from making her views known... including that she did not want extraordinary measures taken to keep her alive. And so that's how it went. She stopped the meds, and spent the last month in her home, kept company day and night by a family member. Yesterday was her 77th birthday, and all of her children and grandchildren were with her.
A devoted Catholic all her life, she had made peace with her God, and she was ready to go be with Bruce, her husband of 51 years who passed away in 2008.
Those of us who knew and loved this wonderful woman plan on raising a toast to her tonight at 6pm CDT. Join us.
Cheers, Eileen. I love you so much. Godspeed.