Florence Dorothy Couto… my wonderful mother-in-law

Florence Dorothy Couto. My wonderful mother-in-law. Flo passed away this afternoon, and I already cannot imagine life without this marvel of a woman. This bigger-than-life persona. This dynamo of energy.

If ever anyone has left this world with big shoes to fill, it is Flo. My mind is a wandering stream of memories, laughter, great food, parties, celebrations… and love, love, love.

Here goes.

I see Mom (I have called her “Mom” since we met) in the kitchen. She is whipping up a special treat for each person there. If you enjoyed something she made once, then you would have that special treat each time you came. She remembered things like that. My most special treat was her cucumber and sour cream salad. Mom would fuss over the cucumbers being sliced “nice and thin” for a better taste. You didn’t ask her why the “thin” factor was important… you just understood that it was and knew enough not to question it.

Mom had special serving trays, dishes, bowls, forks & spoons and utensils for each and every treat. You would never find a tossed salad in anything but the tossed salad bowl, or her meatballs in anything but the meatball bowl. Mom was almost 100% Portuguese (she maintained that she was 1/4 Spanish)… and her cuisine reflected her ancestry. I will never forget the first time she placed a steaming platter of chourico and peppers before me, and I asked her what it was. Mom tried to maintain her patience with this young woman of Irish and Polish descent… and said, “Just try it.” I did. I didn’t dare not to. And I LOVED it. I think my love of her cooking sealed the deal with me as her son’s girlfriend. And, oh yeah… I already loved seafood. That didn’t hurt either. But I had never known anyone in real life who cooked seafood like Mom. She knew how to stuff shrimp with her special homemade stuffing. She knew how to roll her scrumptious stuffing into sole fillets. She knew how to make calamari and fried smelts. Mom never quite got over the fact the I took the bones out of the smelts before eating them… a little disagreement that reminds me of the last time my husband and I took Mom out to dinner…

It was only 3 weeks ago. Mom had been in the hospital with an asthma problem, and then sent to a nursing/rehab facility. Well, she got sick of the rehab place pretty quickly (hated the food)… and insisted that we take her out to her favorite Portuguese restaurant, Jack’s, in Warren, Rhode Island. Barry and I acquiesced. It involved permission from the facility. A wheelchair, which she fought. And then the air-conditioning was not working in the restaurant… But we settled in. We ordered each and every one of Mom’s favorite foods. King crab legs… HUGE ones. Steamers with butter (or as she said, “steamahs with buttah”). Antipasto… with anchovies, please. Little necks, with extra horseradish. White clam spaghetti. A couple of beers. And, of course, fried smelts. Yes, I took the bones out… and Mom still insisted, after decades of fighting about it, that it’s ridiculous to think you’re going to choke on such tiny bones.

I took out the bones!

Mom, Barry and I had the best night ever. We laughed. We ate. Drank. Laughed some more. We were in seafood heaven. I thank God that I have this most recent beautiful and wonderful memory, because the next day she was in the hospital again… and she never left.

Mom loved her family. I don’t think I have ever met any woman in my life who cherished her family as much. Everyone who knew her… knew to NEVER criticize one of her children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Oh, SHE could do it. But not you. Never. Ever. Ever. I am sure that she is in heaven at this very moment bragging to all her angel friends and relatives all the amazing things that are going on down here with her family!

And opinions? Mom had plenty of them. 1) You never wear “dungarees” outside the house. Mom was never quite able to catch the new wave of designer jeans. Just wasn’t gonna do it. 2) You never go to someone’s house empty-handed. This past Christmas Eve, at 88 years old, Mom didn’t bring 1 or 2 homemade pies to my home for dessert… she brought 4 homemade pies. Blueberry for Barry. Pecan for me. Apple for Jane. Pumpkin for my mother. And homemade cookies. Snickerdoodles. Cinnamon. Butter Balls. Again. Special treats for special people. 3) Tablecloths. Cloth napkins. Even for ordinary days. 4) Tuck in your shirt. Wear a belt. Men look like gentlemen in hats. Don’t dress like a vagabond. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Ah, Mom. I am smiling at all the discussions we had about fashion. At least, MY version of fashion!

Mom was always up for a party. Or, as she said, “pahty.” Mom was the first one there and the last one to leave. She would offer to set up. She would serve. She helped with the clean-up. The last few months were the hardest for her because she no longer had the strength or energy to help the way she wanted to. But I will never forget this phone call to my husband a few days before his birthday, on June 11. She told him that she couldn’t get out to buy him anything this year, but she had an even better idea. She was going to cook all the food for his party… as her gift to him. All she needed was for someone to take her to the market. When Barry explained that we were having a cookout… and all the food was taken care of… the disappointment was palpable. Even at 89 years old… her gift was a giving one. Mom did, of course, bring some of her “treats”… and that was the most special gift of all.

There are some big shoes to fill down here…

I will try, Mom. I will try. You have given me everything I need… so I will try my hardest to live up to your perfection. Because that’s what you are to me… perfect.

Mom died peacefully surrounded by two sons, Barry and Rick, two grandsons, Keith and Adam… and me. We each held her hands, whispered just how much we love her, told her stories, talked of angels… and loved her, loved her, loved her.

This is one of the saddest days of my life. The other is the day my Dad died… on August 8, 1975. Yes, 33 years ago today. Both on a Friday.

My Dad and Flo never met. But today they now share a day of celebration of life. I know my Dad was holding Flo’s hands as she let go of us. He guided her to heaven, and she brought to him all the stories of the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren that he never got to hold. Or kiss. Or hug.

But my Dad knows the great and beautiful ways that my mother-in-law embraced me here on this earth.

Thank you, Mom. I will always cherish you. I will always love you. Now… you and my Dad… go toast an ice-cold beer to life and happiness and family and joy and a great feast! We are smiling through this river of tears.

Florence Dorothy Couto… my wonderful mother-in-law was last modified: February 9th, 2010 by Sharon Couto
SHOWHIDE Comments (30)
  1. Oh, Mom! You have described Nana so very perfectly. She loved you so much, and always told me that she loved you like her own daughter. You were so, so good to Nana, always… up until the very end. I hope heaven was ready for the spitfire that is Flo Couto. I am sure Grandpa had already prepared everyone up there, and the two of them are catching up on all things family this very moment.

    I love you!!


  2. Mom,
    This is the most beautiful way to tribute our Nana… she loved you more than you can comprehend. You were HER daughter. You were. And I will never forget seeing her reach out to you yesterday… that was one of the most touching things I have ever seen.
    I love you tons,

  3. What a loving tribute! You don’t often hear about such loving in-law relationships, which made reading about your love for each other so nice.

    I’m so sorry about your loss.

  4. I’m shedding at tear at your loss and smiling at the person your MIL was. I knew I was going to like her the moment I saw her photo and reading your description of her I saw I was right.

    What a sweet woman and how kind of you to remember her in such a wonderful way. Thank you for sharing her with me.

    Sorry for your great loss, but how wonderful that she was with you so long. Take care of yourselves,

  5. Sharon, your love for your mother-in-law is so very obvious—this is a wonderful tribute and I feel like I got to know some of the things that made her so special. I’m so sorry for your loss and hope she is in a better place, getting ready to throw a big party for all she meets.

  6. She sounds like someone who changed everyone she met, and I can see that she will absolutely be remembered…not just through memories, but through continuing on all that she has taught you.
    This was such a beautiful and loving tribute. I feel like I know her, and I found myself alternating between smiling and blinking away tears. I wish you and your family nothing but the greatest of peace as you say goodbye and remember her.

  7. Sharon, I’m a teary mess over this. What a lady! What a testament to what kind of special lady Flo was that you guys had such a special relationship. I’m so sorry for your loss and I am sending you a virtual hug.

  8. Sharon,
    Sorry to hear about the loss of “Mom”. She sounds like a wonderful lady! You’re in our thoughts!
    Jen & Dave D

  9. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post about your mother-in-law. You described her so well, I feel like I could have known her just from reading this — and it makes me very sorry I didn’t.

  10. Aw Sharon, what a beautiful and moving tribute to your Mom. I know she is in a place now where she does not hurt or struggle for anything, and I love how you describe her and your dad meeting up and swapping stories. So touching.

    I hope your grief and sadness are soft and flowing effortlessly and that your pain is not long lasting. Hugs to all of you.

  11. I’ve been putting off reading this post, because I knew it would make me cry. When I read Audrey’s post, I just got this sense that she was describing MY grandmother. How wonderful your memories, and how eloquently you are able to write about Flo, so that your words reach out and touch someone who’s never even met her. She sounded like a truly amazing person, and I’m glad that she had such a loving family in you all.

  12. Sharon & Barry,

    I’m so very sorry for your loss. I think you’re so very lucky to have had such a powerful force in your lives, and I have no doubt that you’ll fill those shoes with pride, Sharon.

    I really do wish I were back home this weekend, I’d have been there by now, just to hug you all 🙂


  13. Another beautiful tribute to a very special person. You will miss all her special ways of celebrating life!
    Deepest sympathies!
    Love to all,

  14. How wonderful to have a great relationship with your mom in law – mine was very special also. My prayers are with you and your family at this time.

  15. Sharon, Thank you for being all that you are. My brother is so very lucky to have found you (and he knows it). Mom loved you dearly as do I.

  16. Sharon,

    You did a beautiful job of eulogizing your “mom” here. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss but the fact that you had that last great night together, no one can take that away from you.


  17. What a beautiful post for and from a beautiful woman. You don’t hear of loving MIL stories like this one very often and it touched me to read it. God Speed to your MIL as she goes to her reward and prayers to your whole family.

  18. Sharon, I am so sorry for your loss.

    You know, Flo will forever be in your lives – sounds like that’s how big shoes she had. She will always be the person to remember your special treats, and now will just show the way that you will find them, without her here. Just like your Dad was showing you the way – to find Barry and his family.

    Bug hugs to all of you.


  19. I am so very sorry to hear about your loss. Your mother-in-law sounds like a wonderful woman. You have some wonderful memories to help you through this difficult time. God bless you and your family!

  20. Sharon,

    I am so sorry that you can no longer look into the eyes of this amazing woman, you will feel her forever and I know, I just know, that she is so proud of you and the beautiful person you are.

    There is no doubt that she will be missed, her footprint has been left on this earth and we are all better because of that.

    All my love to you, Barry, Jane, Audrey and the entire family.

  21. This was such a perfect tribute to one special lady. Your story sounds so much like my own mother-in-law who passed away. You have so many precious memories.

  22. I am bawling my eyes out here. Sharon, that was such an amazingly beautiful tribute. What a blessing she was to your family, and always will be. I wish I could’ve known her.

    I don’t think that date is a coincidence. I think you’re right…that was a sign from your father that he was there with her.

    I was by my (step)FIL’s side when he passed and I know how difficult and how bittersweet it is to be with someone as they pass from this life to the next. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    I’m also so happy to hear about such a loving in-law relationship. What a better place this world would be if all MIL’s could be like her.

    I am praying for you all during this very hard time. May you find peace and comfort in your memories of her.

  23. What beautiful memories you have of your mother-in-law. It is always a wonderful thing to have a great relationship with your in-laws 🙂

    Thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this time of loss. Hugs xoxo

Florence Dorothy Couto… my wonderful mother-in-law was last modified: February 9th, 2010 by Sharon Couto