In most families, children are the creators of family nicknames. If big brother can’t say Sister, he may say Sissy. When the new grandchild can’t say Grandma, he may say Nana. In our family, the first grandchild created Nema, and the second dubbed Grandma, “Mia.”
Mia, also known as my mother-in-law, was the kind of grandma that splashed into a room like a fire hydrant opened for sweaty kids on a hot, summer day. And when she laughed, every head within a block’s radius turned. Some raised their eyebrows; some plugged their ears, but most caught her infectious laugh and laughed along with her.
Mia had the kind of laugh made for funhouses and sitcom laugh tracks. It echoed, bounced off walls, flew out open windows, traveled down neighborhood streets and often turned our faces red when we dined at fancy restaurants.
After she died, family gatherings became quieter. Laughter remained, but it was never quite the same. Sometimes we would put on old videos just to hear her laughter fill the room again.
Then, one day we gathered for a family event and Mia’s laugh came back to life. This time no video had been playing.
The first time I heard the walloping, belly laugh I turned to my husband and asked, “Did you hear that?”
“Do it again,” he said with a haunted, yet excited look on his face.
I lifted my two-year old daughter’s tiny t-shirt, brought my lips to her belly, and made raspberries on her tender skin one more time.
Our children inherit many traits from us. Green eyes, crooked noses, straight teeth or curly hair. My little girl inherited the gargantuan laugh of her Mia.
It was as if my mother-in-law was laughing down from Heaven.
If Mia had been there, too, their combined, explosive roars would have rocked the town with contagious laughter.
For my husband, he had just heard the funniest, sweetest, and most wonderful sound in the world. One we all had missed for two long years. He had always been close to his mother. When he heard the mini-version of her laugh, it brought him to laughter, which brought him to tears.
The great thing about laughter is its ability to do many things, including wipe away tears and bring smiles of joy. This time the laughter brought back a life sorely missed.
As my daughter has grown, her laugh has become louder; and it becomes more and more like Mia’s each year. My mother-in-law will always be with us in our memories, but she lives on most thoroughly through the living legacy she left behind in my daughter.
Just as Sarah said after the birth of Isaac, “God hath made me laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.” (Gen. 21:6 KJV) My mother-in-law did the same for our family.
Sometimes, I hear a voice in my head when my daughter is howling in laughter. It’s the voice of my mother-in-law, and she says, “Have a laugh on Mia.”