My mother-in-law, Maze (pronounced Mah-zay, a nickname from her name Maria Jose), passed away yesterday. My husband left the house and in a matter of hours he had made all the arrangements. He was so incredible. I expected him to break down and melt into a useless puddle when the time came, but he was an absolute hero. I, on the other hand, I feel so angry; I want to go up to the third floor patio and scream. I feel so cheated. But first, I want to tell you about her.
Maze's father was well to-do, but he was also a rambler. She has many half-siblings, some whom were recognized by her father's family and some who were not. Maze was in the latter category. So while some of her siblings enjoyed a comfortable, affluent life afforded by their father and later by his estate, Maze received nothing. Everything she had in life, she created for herself.
Maze married young and had four children. Her husband was abusive and a cheater. After she kicked him out, it was up to her to provide for herself and kids. She made knick knacks and walked to the center of the city to sell them. This is not an easy walk. She lived near the top of a favela hill and it's a couple km hike. It's incredibly steep and I get nervous every time we drive up and down the hills. I feel like the car is going to flip right over. If you've ever had to work in sales, you know it's not easy. It takes courage and self confidence. Maze had that and then some. When my husband was a teenager, his father was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Maze allowed him to live in her home and took care of him until he passed. (It was his passing that spurred my husband to come to the States). That's the type of woman she was. Tough, strong, and incredibly caring for her family.
Maze was also an amazing networker. She took on an additional role as a political campaign manager for her neighborhood. Politicians would seek her out and employ her as a kind of street team manager. They knew that if they wanted to win her neighborhood, they needed Maze. Over time, she made a lot of money doing this work, especially for Brazil, but she never wanted to leave her home. She was extremely well respected throughout the city. I've never been afraid, even as a white, obvious American, of walking around her favela because I am Maze's daughter-in-law and they know it. We get greeted by the police officers and drug dealers alike.
Fifty-something years into her life, Maze decided to buy a home in the neighborhood she had always wanted to live in - Jardim Perola, where we live. Together with Maze, we bought a building in that neighborhood and renovated it. Us downstairs, her upstairs. After a difficult life, she was financially very comfortable, her kids were grown and all led productive lives, and she was ready to retire and enjoy everything she worked for. Ready to enjoy her five grandkids. But last summer, at the very end of the renovations, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
She never got to live in the house she built. It sits above us, empty. She never even saw the new tiles in the garage or the new painted railings on all the stairs. And I feel so angry with the world because of this. Life kept dealing her bad hands but she jutted her chin out and said, "That's not how it's going to be." And right when life was supposed to be easy for her, she gets a painful, advanced illness. It's so fucked up I can barely comprehend it. I feel so selfishly angry that after skyping and calling for seven years, my kids and I were finally able to hug her in person, but we could only get nine months with her. And for a lot of those months, she was too sick to leave the house. Too sick to hold the kids. Too sick to walk. My daughter will have no memories of her. My memories of her are tainted with images of her needing to be supported while she walked. Tainted by feeling ashamed of my long hair while hers fell out. Tainted by all the times plans had to be cancelled because she was too sick to participate. I'm angry that her tourist visas were always denied and that we never got to show her our life in the States. We wanted to take her to Disney World with the kids. I feel angry when I see pictures of my sisters-in-law and her with long hair and vibrancy and energy that I never got to witness. I have only one picture of us together because she had a stroke right before we arrived, lost movement in half her face, and was self conscious of her smile. I feel angry that I never got to spill all of this out to her and tell her what an amazing person she was. I did often tell her how much I really loved her, but I'm not sure if she knew how much I admired her.