On Tuesday June 21, 2016 my sweet mother-in-law Elaine passed away. She was 83 years young. It is hard to say goodbye. Her loss is fresh. Our family is grieving individually. But, collectively we are also celebrating her wonderful life, and enjoying all of the treasured memories that she gave us.
Elaine had a quiet strength. Her focus was always on others. I don’t think she actually ever did anything that was “all about her.” If you showed up to her house, no matter what time of day or night, she would stop whatever she was doing and make you think she was waiting for you to arrive. She would take all the time in the world to visit with you, and of course offer food. If you were there on a Sunday afternoon, it would probably be her signature grilled cheese sandwiches.
I will miss her grilled cheese sandwiches.
She was always anxiously engaged in some sort of gift, craft or service project. Whether it was baking casseroles for funerals, or making cookies [her annual valentine cookies were legend], or sewing countless quilts – [her Levi blankets were a special treasure]. She loved holidays – and I mean LOVED THEM. She decorated her entire house for each and every one. And she dressed up.
Easter & Halloween were particularly festive – but Christmas was EPIC! Oh, how she loved her Christmas decorations, her trees, her nutcracker collection, her bells, and her nativity collection.
At Easter there would be an elaborate egg hunt in the yard for the grandchildren that she painstakingly prepared for weeks in advance. Every Halloween she expected a visit from her children and grandchildren in full costume so she could praise and delight over them, and then parade them around her neighborhood trick-or-treating [but mostly I think to show us all off!] Each Christmas she spearheaded a tradition that her children would take turns choosing a charity for the entire family to donate to. This often involved creating humanitarian kits or gathering goods to send to orphanages in Mexico. Elaine also made sure a “12 Days of Christmas” and a “Secret Santa” was organized for at least 1 person (usually several).
It was impossible to stop Elaine from serving. In fact, when I think of all she did, it makes me feel a little exhausted.
Elaine and her sweetheart Bob served a mission assignment as Temple Square tour guides. And later, she served for over a decade as an early morning “temple worker” at the LDS Salt Lake City temple – requiring her to rise by 4:00 am in all kinds of weather in order to make the drive into the city and arrive in time. She faithfully did this right up until her first heart incident (which actually happened during a prayer meeting in the temple). I know it broke her heart when she had to retire from temple service. It was one of the great joys of her life.
Another joy was travelling with Bob. The two of them went on many trips around the world, and had wonderful adventures. She took copious amounts of photos and made memory books of each tour.
The greatest joy her life was her husband and all of her children (5 living, 1 deceased), grandchildren (15) and great-grandchildren (4). She hugged and kissed them, read to them, and got down on her hands and knees and played with them. And of course, she always loved a good board game. Sometimes, she would say the silliest things. Sometimes, she would start laughing and couldn’t stop, and then we would all start laughing.
I will miss that laugh.
No one could have asked for a better “2nd Mother”. Elaine was – and is – the most kind, patient, accepting, loving, caring and thoughtful woman I’ve known. She defied all worldly stereotypes of the”MIL”. She never complained to or about me. She never bossed or criticized my decisions about my wifely duties or my mothering skills. She always had a word of praise and gave me the benefit of the doubt. I felt that she genuinely appreciated me, and she was proud that I married her son.
Elaine watched the Tabernacle Choir Broadcast faithfully every Sunday morning on television (and she complained when she thought they didn’t show me enough times), and she always looked forward to coming to every concert.
I’m pretty sure death will not keep her from watching and attending. In fact, I look forward to her angel presence on our upcoming tour. There’s no doubt in my mind she will be there.
The first time I experienced a bit of her more “hidden” personality was when I was pregnant with our first child. It’s a story that always makes me chuckle. Those were the days that only one sonogram was given per pregnancy. When the time came for mine, the technician was never able to determine the sex of our child [keeping legs tightly crossed the entire time – ha ha! – We should have known it would be our first proper little lady]. So, I was choosing both boy and girl names. One day I was visiting Mr. Mo’s parents, and Elaine invited me to go on a walk with her. Elaine loved to go on walks around her neighborhood. So, off I waddled. During our conversation, she casually asked me what names we were thinking of for the baby, and I told her that if it were a boy, we wanted to name him Spencer – she approved. And, if it was a girl we liked Clarissa.
Elaine instantly screamed “NO!” – which I can’t even tell you how much startled me! [I think I might have peed myself a little] For one thing, I’d never heard her shout that forcefully- but even more shocking was experiencing such a strong negative opinion from her. [Because honestly, up until then I didn’t think she had any]
“You CANNOT name her that!” she went on “That’s way too close to Clara!”
Clara was a very sore subject.
You see, Elaine’s “real” name – the name she went by throughout her childhood – was Clara. Personally, I love that name. But, back in the 1930-40s it was an unfortunate name for a little girl to have, due to a new bumbling Disney character named Clarabelle Cow.
And, to make matters worse, within the same time frame Disney introduced another character named Clara Cluck!
Naturally, my mother in law was mercilessly mocked as a child for her name. It makes me sad to imagine that sweet little girl taunted day after day by bullies chanting “Clarabelle Cow! Clarabelle Cow!” and “Clara Cluck! Clara Cluck!” over and over at her – [and likely with accompanying barnyard noises]. Even 50+ years later, she was still traumatized by it. [whoever says bullying doesn’t cause lasting damage obviously doesn’t know what they’re talking about] As soon as she was old enough, she dropped “Clara” and permanently adopted her middle name “Elaine.”
And Woe Be Unto anyone who ever tried to call her Clara!
So there I was walking along with Elaine after having my favorite baby name squelched – and I was experiencing a lot of mixed emotion. On the one hand, my feelings were hurt. How could she not love the name Clarissa as much as I did? And there was no reasoning with her when I tried to explain that children these days don’t even know who Clarabelle Cow or Clara Cluck is, and I am sure it wouldn’t be an issue. Nope. She wasn’t budging. On the other hand, I realized it was probably a good idea I found out how she felt before I presented her a new grandchild with a name she hated!
That was not the first time I would get a glimpse into Elaine’s more “colorful side”, but it was one of the most memorable for me! For the majority of her life she was the epitome of grace, and kept her opinions to herself. However, those who knew her best knew she was calm and collected on the surface, but there was a lot of paddling furiously underneath! Once in awhile, all that soul-wrestling energy would just get the better of her. 🙂
I’m so glad!
Because otherwise she would have been too perfect for this world, and then she would have been Translated long ago – and the earth would not have been able to enjoy Elaine Stewart Abel for 83 1/2 years!
One final memory.
A year ago in July I was ill, and Elaine found out. She was very worried about me. She called my cell phone, and I hate to admit this, but I saw the call come in and I chose to ignore it. I felt too exhausted to pick it up and have a conversation with her. Akkk – so much guilt!! I would still feel even more guilty about it, but Elaine left me a voice message that I treasure. Every time it has come up for review and the phone asks me if I want to delete it, I hurry and “resave” it.
I listened to it about 10 times yesterday.
Hi Holly! It’s just…. me.
I heard that you were sick, and I wanted to check on you and see if you were alright. I just want you to know that I’m thinking of you.
I surely do love you!
After she passed yesterday, it was deeply poignant to pull up the message and hear her voice expressing those words of kindness and concern, and telling me she loved me. And, it was equally heart wrenching to know that we will never get to hear that voice again in this life.
Elaine was truly an “elect lady” that the prophets and scriptures speak of. It makes me feel so incredibly joyful to think of her grand reunion yesterday on the other side. She finally got to hug and kiss her parents after losing them in her young mothering years. She was able to meet her infant son Stephan, who tragically died at birth. She was greeted by thousands of souls that she served during her lifetime – on both sides of the veil . It must have been such an EPIC Welcome Home party [and you know how much she loves parties!]
I hope there were lots of decorations.
Elaine had a deep and abiding testimony of Jesus Christ. She loved Him. She loved His gospel. She loved His church. She believed in the atonement, and in the Resurrection. She taught her children and grandchildren how to “live like Jesus” not just by her words, but by her everyday example.
Knowing Elaine, she is already hard at work giving and serving and reaching out and making heaven an even better, brighter place.
Today, more than sadness I just feel incredibly blessed. I am so grateful to know that Elaine is part of my eternal family. There is no doubt in my mind that when my time comes to “cross the great divide”, she will be right there – waiting with a big grin on her face, and probably shouting “Hooray, Holly! You did it!” – throwing her arms around me and giving me a big hug and kiss.
Rest in peace and joy, sweet Mama Elaine. God be with you ’til we meet again. ❤
“I surely do Love You!” – MoSop