The Good Mother-in-Law

By Hinda Gonchor

    My husband and I are getting older, and while we talk of the necessity of making our “final arrangements,” the subject goes dead as it surfaces. So we enlisted the help of our son-in-law, David.

    Why him? His credentials are impeccable. First, he’s a good guy — a little quirky, but still, we like him. Second, he’s efficient. Give him a job and it is done — find an out-of-print book, set the sleep-timer on the television, cook the turkey and bring it over, never a problem.

    Next, and I suppose the biggie, he is the son of a minister and has often told us that as a kid he watched his dad perform the rites for weddings and funerals. He knew the routine. He could serve as an adviser on the finalities and legalities of life’s special moments.

    True, we have a flesh-and-blood adult daughter and adult son, but we thought it would be too emotional for them to make the arrangements while we were still up and running. David would be saddened by our demise, but not devastated as our own kids might be, or as he might be with his own parents. Matter of fact, we never told our children we had given David the assignment. We didn’t want to upset them.

    Perhaps “devastated” is too strong a word. While we avoid serious end-of-life discussion, we freely toss out deadly quips: This is the last new car of our lives. Or at Costco: 45 bars of soap . . . we can always leave it in the will.

    Surely the children have murmured stuff to each other about the folks getting older: What if they get sick? How much longer can they do the steps up to their apartment? Normal existential musings, none of which have gone unnoticed by us.

    David agreed to act as the liaison between the cemetery and us, and we began to formulate the plan. “Where? What?” he wanted to know.

    “We don’t really care,” I say. “So we may as well go to the cemetery where my mother is buried. Whatever they’re charging is probably the going rate, so let’s not dwell on this. Just buy two graves and we’ll reimburse you.”

    “Where do you want the site? New section, old section?”

    “It doesn’t really matter. Wherever they have room. Except I like to be in the sun. That’s a definite requirement. Use your judgment. We don’t need to know anything about it except that it’s done. Where it’s sunny. Don’t forget that part.”

    I told David we thought to get a family plot, but of course he being of the Christian persuasion, and this cemetery being of the Jewish persuasion, he would not be allowed in on any permanent basis.

    “You could visit us, but not for eternity.”

    The upside of this adventure for him was unique. He would be getting the opportunity to bury his mother-in-law, a wish often dreamt of by others, but rarely fulfilled. Who else has such a good mother-in-law?

    A week later, David called.

    “It’s done.”

    “Great.”

    “Nancy [our daughter] went with me.”

    “How’d she take it?

    “She said it was strange.”

    “Send us the deed.”

    “I’ll keep it,” he says.

    “Really? Why?”

    “That’s the way it is.”

    “Okay, so we’re good to go?”

    “Very good.”

    “Thanks.”


   Hinda Gonchor lives in East Hampton and New York City. Her essays have appeared in major newspapers and have been featured on radio.