By Daniel Dunaief
Mother-in-law. Those three words could come with their own Darth Vader or Jaws soundtrack.
Mothers-in-law present the kind of material that creates both great drama and comedy.
This week, I lost my mother-in-law Judy. She was both a force of nature and fiercely loyal.
Sure, there were comedic elements to our interactions. She seemed unsure of what to ask me to call her. I’d pick up the phone and she’d stutter, “Hi, Dan, this is your … I mean, this is … Judy.”
It was a huge relief for both of us when my wife and I had kids, not only because she wanted more grandchildren and I wanted children, but it also gave both of a us an easy way to refer to her, even when the children weren’t around: “grandma” or, at times, “Grandma Judy.”
A small and slender woman, Judy was all about getting things done. Whenever she had something either on a physical or mental list, she wouldn’t stop until she could check it off.
“Did you bring the water upstairs yet?” she’d ask.
“Not yet, but I will,” I’d reply.
“Okay, good, so what else is new?” she’d continue.
“I had an interesting week of work. I interviewed the CEO of one of the biggest banks in the country, I met a former Knick player, and I spoke with several government officials about an ongoing sovereign debt renegotiation.”
“Wow, how wonderful,” she’d offer, grinning broadly. “Just don’t forget about the water.”
When you were in the circle with Judy, she was a strong and determined advocate and supporter. At a buffet, even at one of her own events, she’d take a plate full of food she knew I could eat and stash it somewhere, in case I wasn’t ready to eat.
When my wife and I got married, I messed up. Judy, who ascribed to certain rituals, waited as long as she could for me to ask her to dance. When I didn’t oblige, she brought the photographer over.
“Come,” she said, “let’s pretend to dance so that we can get a picture.”
She was the ringmaster of a law practice for her husband and son. Everything flowed through her. She handled almost every administrative duty, including typing. She made sure everyone was where they were supposed to be, and that they were on time.
Allergic to lemon, Judy traveled with my wife, our children and me to Paris. She was terrified that she wouldn’t be able to share her food concerns, bringing with her a sheet with words written phonetically. My French isn’t particularly strong, but I was able to let everyone know of our food issues, to her tremendous relief.
While Judy didn’t and wouldn’t stab me in the back figuratively, she did use her long, bony, shockingly strong fingers to move me along while we were in line at the airport or heading towards the elevator at the Eiffel Tower.
Perhaps all the bones she gnawed on when she ate steak went directly to those incredibly strong and pointed fingers? Eventually, I was able to outmaneuver her need to jab me in the back.
Judy was incredibly devoted to her children, grandchildren, and extended family. She also had a passion for cats and fish. Even when she wasn’t particularly mobile, becoming something of a human question mark as she bent over to make sure she didn’t trip, she brought fish food to all her finned friends and cat food to her favorite felines.
I will miss the way she locked eyes and smiled at me each time we got together, and the way she described everything around her as “crazy.”
She’d often start sentences with, “You want me to tell you somethin’?”
And, Judy, I’m sorry I didn’t ask you to dance at my wedding. I tried to make up for it on numerous other occasions. You’d pretend to be surprised and I’d try to be gallant. Thanks for everything, including and especially making it possible to enjoy a lifetime with your spectacular daughter. We will both miss you and will cherish the memories.