Related by Love

She slept on her living room couch every afternoon and evening, because she hurt and it was easier there. Her body pillow and blankets were still piled in the corner of the couch when we gathered in shared grief, trying to wrap our heads and hearts around the fact that she'll never use them again. The grand-kids sat on them, the way they always have.

Even though everything was different suddenly, our brains could only handle so much "different" at once.

When someone folded the body pillow in half, it hurt. And when the only place left to sit was that spot full of folded pillow and rumpled blankets, I pulled a wooden arm chair into the room. It pinched my hips and my rear went numb, but it was better than sitting where she should have been.

I talked too much that day. We all did. Because when we stopped talking, our minds took over and thought thoughts we weren't ready to think. And I made more eye contact with my in-laws than in the past thirteen years combined. Because it was easier to embrace the social awkwardness than let my eyes rove over the living room filled with her things. So many things. Her collections mattered to her. I think it was a way to collect her memories, and keep them safe.

She was still so young, but her medications made it hard for her to remember. They made a lot of things hard.

But she did more for her family in a day than I sometimes do in a month. Even with her injured back. Even with chronic illness. Even with medicines that made it hard to think sometimes. Family dinners. Babysitting. Carpools. Beautifully thoughtful, well-researched gifts. Random phone calls just to see how we were doing, and a genuine, deep caring about even the smallest details of our lives. Somehow, despite her struggles with memory, she remembered things we'd told her that even WE had forgotten.

She put everyone else first, except those frustrating times when her broken body refused to let her. And no matter how much the work wearied her, she loved to be needed.

She defied nearly every Mother-in-Law stereotype known to man. She was Neil's step-mom but she proudly claimed him, and treated him, as her son. Blood didn't matter to her. If you knew her, you were related to her by love.

Someone moved the pillow and blankets eventually, and I'm glad I didn't see who. It didn't mean to them what it meant to me. But it was just three days after we lost her, and it felt too many kinds of too soon. Everything about this has felt too soon. She was too good for her years on this earth to be so few. I'm glad she's not in pain anymore, but it doesn't make her loss okay. As tempting and human as it is to look for the silver linings underpinning our grief, nothing makes it okay that she's gone.

And this is the secret of grief that for some reason we're so afraid to tell: we're not going to be okay. Not for a good long while. We mattered too much to her, and she mattered too much to us. And there is no platitude or poem that can magically fix the now of this.

But I can look at my life and think, there. That dark place crammed full of me-me-me. I can clean that out. Let the light in. Be more than I have been. Less selfish, more like her. Less lazy, more like her. Less apathetic, more like her. Less cynical, more like her.

An unbelievable amount of amazing left this world last week. I can think of no better way to grieve her loss than to add some amazing of my own, try to fill a small portion of the gap. Patty, I wish I'd told you how much you taught me. But showing is always more powerful than telling, and I'm going to see what I can do with my not-so-broken body, and not so weary heart.

It feels arrogant to say I'll be part of the legacy of kindness you're leaving behind you, but I'm sure as hell going to try.

Rest in peace, Patricia VanderHorst. You left this earth better than you found it.


  1. What a beautiful tribute. Thinking of you and your family <3

  2. Beautifully said. Wish I could hug you then spend hours listening to stories about her.

  3. So great to read this beautifully written tribute, Kim. I loved this, especially this:"Be more than I have been. Less selfish, more like her. Less lazy, more like her. Less apathetic, more like her. Less cynical, more like her." Thank you for sharing.

  4. I knew there was a reason I couldn't read this earlier. Even now, I'm choked up and tearful. Though I did not know Patty nearly as well as you did (obviously!), my memories of her coincide with what you've written. What a tender-hearted, gracious woman she was. I've no doubt but that the ripples of her presence on earth will be felt for eternities.

  5. Kim... I love your words. And she sounds like a beautiful person. I'm glad you got to have her.