I've never met my mother-in-law, Dana, but I love and admire her so very much. She is truly one of the most remarkable women the world has ever seen.
She died when my husband was twelve of a very rare type of cancer, called leiomyosarcoma. She had a tumor surgically removed when she was a toddler, but I'd like to speak to her health once my husband was alive.
When he was about 18 months old, they found another tumor.
Though this type of cancer is generally not responsive to chemotherapy and radiation, she underwent both treatments and had many surgeries from the time he was 18 months old until her death. She defied every limitation the doctors gave her; multiple times they said she only had a certain number of days/months to live, but every time she proved them wrong. I am certain that she did this because she wanted to be around for as long as possible for my husband.
Dana refused to let her disease define who she was. The side effects of the treatments, the different medications to help her cope with pain...none of it mattered. What mattered to her were her sons, her husband, her family, her friends. She was Dana, a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend.
Allowing her cancer to overtake who she was as a person would have never even crossed her mind.
She attended my husband's baseball games, taught him how to cook, baked every Christmas, and made sure his mischevious behind stayed in check--even if that meant jumping out of her hospital bed in their family room and pushing her trach button to yell across the neighborhood at him.
Every Christmas, she made an array of sweets, among which were Chocolate Bittersweet cookies. My husband joined his mother and one of her close friends to help bake them, and his memories of this tradition are vivid and joy-filled. His thumb was always the one to press into the cookie to make a well for the cream cheese and coconut filling, which he always had the honor of sampling to make sure it tasted just right.
When we were dating, he told me about this tradition. The look in his eyes as he shared the story of something so special was priceless. A lover of tradition, I was immediately energized and dreamed of the day when we would pass it down to our children.
But for my husband, baking the Chocolate Bittersweets was, and is, more than just something done annually at Christmastime; it's an emotional experience for him. While mixing ingredients, rolling the cookies into little balls, pressing his thumb, adding the filling, melting chocolate...he is remembering his mom. He remembers her encouraging words as his 8-year-old self clumsily mixed the powdered sugar and cream cheese, her smile when he licked the beaters, and how happy she was to share in such a tradition with him.
And he feels. He feels joy, nostalgia, heartache. He longs to have her beside him as he bakes at the same time as he is grateful she created this wonderful memory for him.
Our first Christmas together, I watched in amazement as he baked the cookies. He didn't speak a word to me during those two hours, yet I heard so much. And I, too, felt. Being a witness to such a thing is still an honor.
Annually, I bask in the love that radiates from him as he bakes them. I smile as I imagine our two sweet little girls helping him, as we both wish to pass this tradition down to them. I thank God for giving Dana to us, for helping her to be strong enough to leave things like this as a part of her legacy, as a way for us to keep her alive.
Our chocolate bittersweets aren't just cookies; they are a piece of history of my husband and his relationship with his mother, they are representative of her legacy, and they are representative of love. They are a part of her story, his story, and now our story. And for all of this, I am beyond grateful.