Repost from 2011:
Bonnie Sue Stulken Harbaugh, or GeeMa as the grandkids affectionately call her, was one of the kindest, most loving people I have ever known and I am so blessed to have had her as my mother-in-law.
I know that there are many mother-in-law horror stories, but I have none of those to tell. You see, if Bonnie was anything, she was gracious and hospitable to all who had occasion to cross her doorstep. Whether it was Sunday dinner or a Thanksgiving meal or Christmas Day, she had a knack for making you feel welcomed, loved and part of the family. She wanted everyone to feel included and that most often happened in her kitchen and around her table.
I remember one of the first times I went over for Sunday dinner. She fixed a roast with potatoes and carrots, probably green beans with dill, maybe a jello salad, and some sort of delicious dessert coupled with Blue Bell ice cream…funny, when we were sitting around this week talking about our memories of Bonnie, many of them revolved around the food she would serve: buckeyes, More, Bagel Bites, Pizza, trash, popovers, cornbread dressing…
She loved to have people over. She loved to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and normal days. Even when she worked 12 hour days, she still delighted to host gatherings and knew which foods were must haves and was sure to carve out time to make them from scratch. She always had a yellow notepad with her list of things to do and the timeline carefully noted in her neat handwriting, so that each detail would be taken care of.
Time and time again she demonstrated a life of selfless giving. I watched first as she loved her sons, encouraging them in their interests (well, mostly – I think bull riding as a career stretched her a bit), embracing their friends and welcoming all of us into her home with open arms, welcoming me into her heart as she realized I was the special someone in her son’s life.
I watched her as she made 40+ bows, loop after loop formed by hands already tired from a day of wrapping gifts and making bows for customer’s packages. These bows beautifully adorned the pews on our wedding day.
I watched her as she cared for her sister, quick to be by her side no matter what. I watched her love her father, inviting him to live with them as it became necessary for him to not live alone anymore.
I watched her love her husband, working side-by-side with him for countless hours, miming turning the volume knob when he was getting a little loud (although the Harbaughs really only know one volume), always respecting, always loving, always kind, always gracious, nary a contrary word between the two.
I watched her faithfully, graciously serve the customers at the mail store, wrapping each gift with great care and artistic flare, carefully typing documents, patiently explaining cost of shipping and time til delivery. I watched her serve the kind ones and the not so kind ones (the ones that came in at closing and wanted their packages wrapped and shipped yesterday) without so much of a complaint or negative word about them.
I watched her fall in love with each grandchild that came into her world. With each pregnancy of mine, she would exclaim her joy at adding another grandchild and told me she would always welcome more. I never felt criticized or judged, though oftentimes the choices for our family were different from what she knew or grew up with. She embraced me the same way she embraced her own, always treating me as a daughter…not just a daughter-in-law.
She loved carrying on the Friday night pizza tradition with her grandkids. She encouraged each one with words and actions, always seeming to know which little toy from her run to the grocery store would be successful with the grandkids. She understood the importance of every child having a gift to open at birthday parties – not just the birthday child. She would get down on the floor and play with the kids or read to them. She let them take turns spending the night, serving fun snacks like cheezits with marshmallows, putting a little bell by the bed so that she could be summoned if something was needed during the night.
I watched as her health began to decline and she needed more and more assistance with everyday tasks. I watched as care givers would perform the most private of tasks and she would thank each one for their ministrations. Even when speaking became more difficult, it was rare for her to not express her appreciation for the care given her.
And as I watched, I have learned. I have learned that in the end, a life lived in selfless service to those around me is indeed a life well-lived. I am confident that as Bonnie stepped from this world into the arms of Jesus, He said to her: Well done, my good and faithful servant. You did nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. In humility you valued others above yourself and looked to the interests of others rather than your own. Well done. Well done.
We miss her. We miss her laugh, her “whoohoo”, her songs and her stories…the meals around the table. But I know that she now is healed and whole in the presence of the One she served so faithfully with her whole life. And I encourage each us of to carry on her legacy of loving, giving and serving that we might honor her memory until the day we meet again in Heaven.