04/27/2008 01:47 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

We Are Family!

My wife's, mother Zee died on the morning of April 10 after a relatively short battle with brain cancer. When a loved one dies, your thoughts take you to many places that you might not otherwise go. I feel it is important to recognize and remember the magnitude of what takes place during a time of personal crisis.

As my mother-in-law got weaker and weaker, I saw family members get stronger and stronger. I saw people addressing situations and challenges with strength that surprised me. I watched my wife and her sister find the strength to handle all of the details related to dealing with a dying parent. I saw her grandchildren find the power to visit Zee and help her smile even when they knew it might be that last time they saw her alive. I witnessed her husband preparing himself for her death. People laughed and cried with her during her last months. Friends made sure we all understood that they were there when or if they were needed.

One of the most powerful moments that I was blessed with was provided by my wife. She told me a day or two before the memorial service that she wanted to say a few words about her mother at the service. She has always been a very emotional person and doesn't even try to hold back the tears when they are called for. I told her that I thought she could do it, but I would be there to help her finish up if necessary. She had me read what she was going to say so I would be ready in case I had to pinch hit. As I finished reading the words from her heart, she asked me if I thought she could get through it and I honestly answered, "No way". There were a few tears but she did make it through her tribute on her own. She shared the following two lessons her mother had taught her with all of those fortunate enough to be at her mother's service.

First she talked about how her mother accepted everyone like they were family. She told a story that took place in the 1960s. Her sister was going on an overnight class trip and Zee had agreed to chaperone. There was only one black girl in the school and no one would agree to room with this girl. Zee had the young black girl room with her and her daughter and also made sure that everyone realized that her skin color was not an issue to worry about. During one of the most volatile times of racial conflict in our history, Zee was showing that we all are family.

The second thing that my wife shared about her mother was that she often said you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family and you have to just love them. This usually involved a fight with her sister and according to my wife, it was always her sister's fault.

We try to make the world much more complicated than it really has to be. We are all family and we could solve most of the problems of the world if we believed it and practiced it like Zee did.

Zee died peacefully and without pain. When she died, our friends traveled hundreds of miles just to be there for us. They helped our hearts feel the love that surrounds us even in sad times. During challenging stretches we can often see more clearly that we are all family. I know that Zee is grinnin' now because her daughter heard her lessons loud and clear.