Twelve years ago, before Denise and I were engaged, I moved to Rome, Italy, where she was working as a freelancer and a news producer covering soccer. After we were engaged, we decided to come home to the states for a short visit to meet each other's parents. We saw mine in New Jersey first, then drove down the coast to South Carolina to surprise her mom, who didn't know we were coming. Just as we were driving up to the exit on I-26 that would take us to her door, who should we spy on the highway with us but Mom, driving behind the wheel of her minivan. She was a sales rep who frequently traveled through the region to visit clients.
We nearly had an accident that day. You can imagine Mom's surprise. The daughter she thought was five thousand miles away was suddenly driving alongside her on the highway, heading home. Of course we didn't wait to get to Mom's condo. We both pulled into the parking lot of a fast-food place to throw our arms around each other.
I had met her a few times over the years, but now she was going to be my mother-in-law. I suppose I was a little nervous; according to the rules of American comedy culture, mothers and sons-in-law are destined to be forever at odds. I never found that to be the case, at least with Sue. Instead, she always treated me with the same mixture of admiration and love as the day we met up at the exit. I daresay she treated me more fondly than my own mother, who still can't shed the memories of stuff I broke as a kid.
But Sue and I got along, and for nearly twelve years I was privileged to call her Mom. That privilege ended in part Wednesday morning when she left us forever. It had been a long, cruel illness, and for three months four of us--two sisters and their husbands--gave Mom the only gifts we could, our time and our love, to see her through it.
Like all of us, Sue was many things in life. A superb salesperson. A runner and athlete. A devout Christian and a supporter of foreign missions. A daughter and niece. But the role that meant the most to her was being a mom.
I don't share Sue's faith, so I don't know if I will ever see her again. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised someday to find her waiting for me at the exit of a different kind.
Until then, Sue: crack the window, crank the tunes, and ride, ride, ride.