When my husband and I first met, it was in Denver. He was on active duty in the army. I met him in the late fall and we dated, with me eventually introducing him to my then four year old daughter. Before we met, he had already been scheduled to be transferred to Japan, of all places, right after Christmas. So we dated during that time, and said good bye-and then wrote every day and spoke on the phone at least once a week. Those were, after all, the days before email, texting and cell phones.
Scheduled to be in Japan for one year, at the six month mark John took a thirty day leave and returned to Colorado. After three month of dating and six months of long distance contact, we decided to get married-immediately, during that leave. My mother flew in from Germany (my father could not make it), and a small wedding was created in about seven days, after which my husband returned to Japan for another six months
My future mother and father is law were also unable to make the wedding-they lived across the country, we were marrying in just a couple days, and they still had dependent kids at home. They gave us a generous wedding gift. More importantly, they invited me and my four year old daughter to come to live with them for the next six months-in their home, sight unseen. Let me simply say that the older I get, the more I realize how great a leap this step was. Not only were they getting a daughter in law, they were also getting a four year old child in the bargain. These were empty nesters, almost ready for retirement and happy to be where they were in life.
That time was worth it's weight in gold. One one level, it was filled with normal "getting to know you" difficulties. We were different people doing different things, and I was another woman in my mother in law's kitchen. My mother in law (and sister in laws as well), were what we used to call "rules girls". I tend to live outside of the box. On another level, it was a chance to know each other on a level that rarely happens between people who become connected by marriage, at least so quickly. More importantly, from the day my daughter entered their home, they welcomed her as their first granddaughter-and continued that relationship in the same way after welcoming three of their own biological grandchildren as well.
After my husband returned from Japan, we moved to Washington, and for the rest of our marriage lived on the other side of the continent or overseas while my in laws (and their other son and daughters) stayed close to home. They all saw each other regularly, while we traveled on Christmas or during summer vacations. Still we remained as close as possible, and when my husband died, rather than moving to my first choice of Colorado, we returned to Texas. This was a chance both for my children to learn more about their grandparents, and for them to hear about their father. My in-laws are the kind of people who regularly included him, and reminisces about him in regular conversation-the good and the bad. For example, my son learned that his father and a friend climbed onto the middle school roof, got stuck and could not get down, as the various other misdeeds of a too active and too smart kid in the school system (some folks think these kinds of things should not be shared-I disagree heartily, by the way. There are no perfect people and kids should see their parents as human and imperfect).
In their mid to upper eighties, my in-laws were active. Every year until the year before last, my mother in law would say "Next year it's up to someone else", and then the following year announce that Christmas was at her house, and no, she did not need any help. Two years ago at Thanksgiving my father in law said "Oh, I have something to show you in the garage", and presented me with a Triumph spitfire, completely taken apart in the garage. He then announced that tomorrow he was taking out the engine (at which point the grandson, son and son in-laws all looked at each other and knew what hey were doing the next day). They had a very happy marriage and retirement.
In the last couple of years my mother in law had a very hard time and her quality of life had gone down in the extreme. She had fallen and broken her arm in two places, gone to rehab for three months and then gone home. She lost her balance and hit her head and split it open-when her daughter was with her-and the same situation happened. She was tied to her chair, losing her balance and often in pain and discomfort. She had signed an order not to resuscitate, but of course there is little one can do when all the circumstances are not life threatening but just miserable. She was scheduled to move to an assisted living facility last Tuesday, and died during the night before.
Having just returned from her funeral, I can say that it was a celebration of her life. After saying goodbye, the extended family went to her favorite restaurant, where we toasted my mother in law and remembered her life. Few tears were shed, and we will remember her well.
And today, one week later, my father in law is having one heart valve repaired and one replaced-as he promised my mother in law he would..............