As each Mother’s Day approaches, I busy myself with preparations and count my blessings. I love any reason to celebrate, and this holiday always feels extra special. I’m blessed to have multiple living grandmothers and great-grandmothers as well as my aunts and stepmother, who are all special women to me. Of course, I celebrate my own mama, who rather enjoys being celebrated, as I do since becoming a mother myself.

Each year, though, as I make my lists of cards to write and gifts to purchase, there’s always a pang as I notice someone missing from my list: my late mother-in-law Janie.

Janie lost her battle with lung cancer nearly 13 years ago. She was only 47 years old.

My husband and I had just started dating, and as it was near the end of Janie’s life, he was torn between her getting to know me and realizing I’d never really get to know her true self. 

Nearing the end of her hard battle, she was often fatigued and wasn’t really herself anymore. The medication had taken some of her mind though not all of her spirit. Janie passed away just a few short weeks after I’d met her the first time. During that meeting, she was up and about but didn’t seem to be focusing well or have much energy. I could see it pained her son to introduce us this way, but I have always been thankful for that meeting.

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I’ve never had a mother-in-law, but I still grieve for her. I know Mother’s Day is difficult for my husband and his siblings even over a decade later, and we are grieving not only the singular loss of Janie, but the perpetual loss of what she’s missing in our lives.

I wish she could have seen it all.

I wish she could have seen our wedding, a year after her passing. Her empty place in the pew was felt so heavily by all in attendance, but there was still such joy in the room. I can only imagine her beaming at her son grinning so widely.

I wish she could have seen her son and daughter graduate from pharmacy school. Her guidance, encouragement, and never-failing support got them to that finish line, and they had to cross it without her that day.

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I wish she could have seen her all of her children build their homes and dreams. It was she who taught them to dream, to set lofty goals, and to work as hard as they possibly could to reach them.

She showed her children what it feels like to be loved deeply and unconditionally, way down in their bones.

I wish more than anything she could have met all of her grandchildren. Since her passing, six beautiful, bright children have been added to her family tree. I know without a doubt how proud she would be of them, how much she would adore and spoil them, and the happiness she would bring to their lives.

We don’t just miss Janie in the banner moments of life but in everyday moments.

It seems like she should be there for Sunday lunch after church. She should be cheering on her grandkids at the baseball fields. She should be answering the phone when we call because we just can’t quite get her chocolate pie recipe right—not the way she made it.

Heartbreakingly, she’s not here.

Janie cannot be here for those moments. And so we seek her out in other ways.

I see her in her son’s work ethic and tenderness toward his daughters. I see her in her eldest daughter’s lovely face and gentle kindness toward her children. I see her in her youngest daughter’s easy laugh and desire to provide the best for her family.

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I never got to truly know Janie and experience the mother-in-law relationship, but from everything I’ve learned about her, she would have been wonderful to me. I love her son, fully and wholeheartedly, and somehow I can sense that would have been enough for her to love me as well.

So, on this Mother’s Day, and various other times, we will remember Janie.

Her children will tell funny stories and share heartwarming anecdotes. There may be tears from the ever-present pain of losing her, but we will all shake our heads in disbelief that we were lucky enough for her to touch our lives.

My heart breaks for those who are missing someone this Mother’s Day.

If this is you, please, remember the good. Find the warmest memories and hold tight to the light your mother gave you to guide you back home to her one day.

It’s what Janie would want.

Woman walking with son at wedding
Image via Rebekah Warren


Rebekah Warren

Rebekah Warren lives on ten acres in Oklahoma, where she’s constantly chasing after her barefooted daughters with their shoes. She writes about the joys and heartaches of motherhood at and on Instagram @rebekahwarrenwrites.