11/28/2013 02:12 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2013 -- Hemingway at Home

Lots of married men hate their in-laws.

In fact, generations of comedians have made a living pointing this out.

I am lucky.

I love mine.

So, this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for . . .


When I first met my mother-in-law, it was at a birthday party she was throwing for her oldest daughter, then turning thirty, who later became my wife. I remember thinking that my future wife's mother was very smart, very determined and very pretty. She had become a young widow, her husband passing away just before he turned sixty and only a year after she turned fifty. It was one of the many tragedies she had constantly dealt with in her life and would unfortunately continue to experience ever after. Her sister had died in her forties from breast cancer. Later, her brother would pass away, also in his forties, and also from cancer.

Death never took a holiday in her family.

And it also always seemed to come early.

But I never heard her complain . . . or whine . . . or bemoan her fate.

She wasn't rich and she always worked. Though she never put it quite this way, my impression is that she pretty much kept her husband's law practice afloat, at least financially. He knew everyone in town, and saved all the Friday night revelers from some of their darkest destinies in New York's up-state night courts. Unfortunately, however, he apparently lost track -- from time to time -- of the need to actually bill people for his work. He was Irish, and the Irish often refuse to allow money to stand in the way of nobility . . .

Or poverty.

She reminded him that billing wasn't optional.

And the girls graduated from college.

After he died, she continued to work. She sold real estate, flipped houses, and worked for a nursery. She ran Thanksgiving and Christmas. She was so good at it that her daughter volunteered her to throw Christmas Eve for my kids at her house during my divorce. From then on, I knew our planned blended family would work in ways better than I had ever expected. In 2000, she was late for our wedding, but still cut a mean rug on the dance floor. Later on, she moved in with us for the winter months, spending summers in the Adirondacks.

I loved it . . .

She never let me do the dinner dishes.

But then she fell in love again.

And moved out.

And I had to start cleaning again.

Last year, she was diagnosed with cancer. She went through chemo and radiation and bought some time for herself. There were trips to the grandchildren and my sister and brother in law in California. She sat down with my son, and they had a long talk about how he was feeling about her diagnosis. She told the doctors that she did not want to die in December because she didn't want to ruin the girls' Christmas. Everyone reminded her that this was not about them. A nurse told her she was thinking like a mother and, on this one, didn't have to.

But she did anyway . . .

Because she couldn't help herself.

She got through the winter. And the spring. And remission.

And then it came back.

She still never complained.

She was overheard one night a month or so ago, on the phone with one of her girlfriends. "Everyone has to go sometime," she said, "I'm just going a little sooner." Two weeks ago, she left the Adirondacks, her favorite place on earth, with Glen, her favorite guy (and one of mine too; I kinda like doing the dishes), undoubtedly for the last time. But she still reminded us that, if all the sheets weren't cleaned before we left, she would do them next spring.

And she will.

We'll have clean sheets from heaven.

Hemingway defined courage as "grace under pressure." And our Hemingway at home died this week, as she had lived . . .

With grace.

As I write this, my wife and sister in law are downstairs, laughing and preparing our Thanksgiving feast. They were worried yesterday about "getting the stuffing right" because somebody "forgot to ask Mommy" how to do it.

But Mommy is part of their DNA.

So the stuffing is doing pretty well this Thanksgiving . . .

And so are we.