A mother-in-law who was always ‘fine’

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My mother-in-law spent her last hours on earth much like she spent her life, surrounded by the love and lively banter of her children and their families.

We rushed over to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, two weeks ago after learning her health was rapidly deteriorating. Marilyn had been put on hospice care a couple of days before we got there. She was awake just briefly after we arrived. I got one last brief smile before she lapsed into that deep, final sleep.

Marilyn passed away Nov. 19 at age 88, just hours after we left Bonners Ferry, where she had been living close to family for the past few months.

Life went on around her those last two days. During the quiet hours her favorite hymns played softly in the background. There were tears, but laughter, too, as five of her eight children and various family members gathered around her. Still wanting their mom to be in the mix of things, they wheeled her hospital bed into the family room adjoining the kitchen, where two of her sons made potato sausage and other favorite dishes such as pasties in typical Hintze style, animated and having fun whatever the task at hand.

It’s hard to know if someone in the final throes of life is aware of what’s going on around them when entering that final phase, but her kids knew she would have wanted to be part of the day’s happenings.

In the lottery of mothers-in-law, I had a grand-prize winner. I knew that the first time I met Marilyn. She embraced each of her four daughters-in-law with the same loving style, never criticizing, always supportive.

The thing you need to know about Marilyn was that she was always “fine.” It became her running commentary when anyone would call her. “I’m fine,” even when we knew otherwise. She never complained, though life wasn’t always easy.

The family moved a lot because Marilyn’s husband Ray worked for the A & P grocery company as a kind of troubleshooter. When a store wasn’t performing well, Ray was called in to get it back on its feet. That meant packing up those eight kids and moving to a new community, mostly in Wisconsin, every year or two.

In later years they owned their own grocery store, first in Illinois and later in upper Michigan. The stores provided the perfect backdrop to teach their children a solid work ethic; the Hintze clan is one of the hardest-working group of people I know.

Penny-pinching was constant, but they always found a way to celebrate Christmas in a big way. As the story goes, one year Marilyn and Ray simply cleaned out the cash register and put their bills on hold so they could buy presents for their children.

When their last three kids were still in high school, Marilyn went back to school to earn a licensed practical nursing degree and then worked for years, caring for the elderly in a nursing home.

“Grandma Nan,” as she was lovingly called, was the original baby whisperer. After she retired she ran a daycare in her home until she was at least 80, often cutting her rates for low-income single mothers. She loved children and was always happy if there was a baby to rock.

“Nan” never watched TV unless the Packers were playing. Instead, she filled the idle hours by knitting hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of mittens and socks for her family and others.

Throughout her life, she was a giver, not a taker.

It’s fitting that her family has started a Marilyn Hintze Memorial Fund that will help families in need, especially at Christmas. The church she attended over the past 25-plus years, Peace Lutheran Church in Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin, will coordinate the fund. Her legacy of giving will continue.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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