Eleven days ago, very unexpectedly, we lost my dear mother in law Angela Slim.
She was small in stature and gentle in demeanor, but enormous in the impact she had through her quiet walk through the world.
I called her Mom, and she lived with us for much of my marriage. For my Anglo relatives, it may seem challenging to live with your mother in law (cue thousands of jokes said on the subject), but from my perspective, Mom made an effort to blend peacefully into our lives.
Our household is a swirl of constant activity. When not hosting guests from around the country and world, we have a constant stream of neighborhood kids coming in and out of the house. Our dogs, in their effort to maintain vigilant guard over our domain, bark at every person that gets within 100 feet of the door.
So in addition to whoops and hollers from kids playing video games, hide and seek, and indoor soccer, barks bounce off the walls.
In this daily din, Mom sat quietly, doing her beloved crossword puzzles, or making jewelry at the dining room table.
When I would finally slow down enough to sit down next to her, she would start to tell me stories of her youth. She recalled riding by horseback with her midwife grandmother to deliver babies in the middle of the night . She talked about herding sheep through the hills of the Navajo nation. She told stories of spending time with movie stars like John Wayne in Los Angeles, when she lived with a famous foster family as a teenager. She also had stories of heartbreak, and much hardship.
Mom had stories for days. And I loved to listen to them. She also had lots of teachings, which she would share with all of us on a regular basis.
“Wash up first thing in the morning, and make your bed,” she would say. “Show the holy people that you are ready to receive their blessings first thing in the morning.”
On weekend days when I would be in my pajamas with crazy, unbrushed hair and sleep in my eyes at the dining room table drinking coffee, I would remember the advice and slink back up the stairs to start my day in a proper way.
Mom always looked and smelled fresh, even when she didn’t feel well. I loved to smell her hair, and her skin, smooth with lotion.
“Be thoughtful with your words,” Mom would say. “Words are powerful.”
Mom loved to use her words to encourage people. From her own family to complete strangers, she found ways to make people feel better with kind words and stories.
“Give flowers to each other every day through your ak’éí nizhóní (beautiful, kind communication with all relations).”
“Be prepared.” Mom would say. “Gather your materials in advance, and be ready well before you are needed.”
Whether getting ready to go to the grocery store, or preparing for a ceremony six months in the future, Mom was always ready early.
As I typed my book furiously in the last month before my deadline, shoving Swedish Fish in my mouth while crying, I swear I could see Mom smiling through the corner of my eye. Although she would never say it aloud, I know she was thinking “You should have started earlier, shich’é’é (daughter).”
And she was right.
“Be proud of who you are,” Mom would say.
In the week before she passed away, she was sitting in the family room in the morning before school, teaching Josh and Rosie how to introduce themselves by clan in Navajo. They shyly repeated the words after her, struggling to get the pronunciation right.
“Speak up!” Mom said to Rosie, and she sat up tall on the couch and looked directly into her eyes.
“Never be shy about your heritage. Be proud. Look people in the eye and tell them who you are.”
Rosie straightened her back and looked right at her grandma. “I am Grandma. I will speak up.”
Thank you for being a quiet giant in our household, Mom.
We will wake up early, and freshen our face so we can receive the blessings of the day.
We will be thoughtful with our words, and aim to use them to uplift and strengthen others.
We will be prepared for our work, and school. We will think of you when we start to put off things and waste time.
We will be proud of our heritage. And we will introduce ourselves with a straight spine and smile in our eyes.
Mom’s soft footsteps, and her kind words, left a universe of strength and energy inside the people she loved.
We will miss her deeply and dearly.
And we will walk on. We are better, more fulfilled people because of her teachings, and her example.
Ayóó Ánííníshní Shimá.
Mom and Rosie, her Mini Me. 🙂 (They share the same name — Angela Rose Slim)