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Thursday, October 27, 2005


Too early for this kind of talk

I dropped Maggie off at Jim’s parents this morning on my way to work, just like I always do. As usual, Grandpa met us at the car and hollered “HEEEEY, WHERE’S OUR MAGGIE?” like he always does. I removed her from her car seat and handed her over. I followed them inside the house, like I always do.

Grandma, Grandpa and I bantered back and forth, as is our morning routine. We talked about Maggie’s hair getting long, and how she pulls barrettes out the minute you put them in, and how we are trying to resist the urge to cut bangs. We talked about how much she likes to play in the leaves outside and how well she has been sleeping at night.

Then my father in law handed me a piece of paper and said “Look what we picked out yesterday.” I looked down and there in front of me was a computer generated outline of a gravestone with both their names on it. I am not sure if there is an appropriate response to acknowledging someone else acknowledging their own mortality. I was a bit shaken up by it.

The thought of seeing the actual granite in its completion, in person made my heart heavy. Jim is one of the youngest of a large family, and his parents are nearly twenty years older than mine. I want them to be around to see Maggie grow up. Not just for Maggie and Jim, but for me too. I have grown to love them both very much.

Jim’s parents are very Christian, and very conservative (I am Christian too, but the more lackadaisical kind. I find inspiration in many religions). I used to be afraid to let them know who I really was. I was afraid they wouldn’t like me anymore if they knew I disagreed with their views on a few hot-button topics.

We have had a few incidents.

Like the time they saw my John Kerry sign. I was afraid my father-in-law would never speak to me again. He walked right out of the house as I stood with my jaw hanging open. I was really upset, and trying not to cry, and wishing I had the same political views they did so I wouldn’t have to choose between telling the truth and disappointing them. I agonized for a few days, and in the end I decided I needed to be honest about who I was, and if he didn’t like me for it, then that was the way it had to be.

About a week later my father in law apologized to me. He is not a man of many apologies so I was actually kind of honored. He said that my mother in law mentioned that I was upset by his response, and he hadn’t meant to hurt my feelings. He said something about his particular moral issue with Democrats. I acknowledged that a lot of people feel strongly about certain topics, and it seemed we agree to disagree. It was a relief. And they still seemed to like me.

More recently, I had an editorial about Paul Wellstone (a beloved Liberal Senator who was killed 3 years ago in a plane crash) published in the local paper. I didn’t tell them about that either, but they saw it and read it and they told me they liked it.

They made me think about some the things I wrote in that editorial. Some the assumptions I made about people with different views. I was afraid that I might have offended them, and I clarified a few points. I made sure to tell them I was not referring to them when I criticized the current administration. I might not agree with them politically, but I admire them immensely on a personal level.

Since Maggie was ten weeks old, Jim’s parents have taken care of her nearly every weekday morning. They have showered her with love and affection. It seems to me that she has brought as much joy to their lives as they have brought to hers. I just love to watch them together. It hurts my heart to think that they might not always be there for her. For Jim. For me.

When my father in law showed me the design for their grave marker, I stammered a little bit. I wasn’t sure what to say. “Well.. It really is pretty, but I hate to think about it.”

I hated the way the words sounded as they came out of my mouth. They sounded so false. I meant to say so much more to them but I held it all back.

It really was a pretty design, and it had both their names on it, side by side, which was really lovely.



Blogger JB said...

When I read this post I experienced such an intense longing for what you share with your in-laws; it was really painful. I’ve always wanted to get along with my in-laws, to agree to disagree, and to just accept each other. But as the years go by the gap just seems to widen between us.

I think the fact that you’ve forged such a special relationship with your in-laws, in spite of your differences, is really admirable.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Staci said...

You are so blessed to have that kind of relationship with your in-laws. I would love to love my in-laws, but we are from two entirely different planets...and we don't agree to disagree. The one thing we agree on is that we are blessed to experience the lives of my 3 beautiful children. And for that, we are all thankful. Cherish the time you have with them, as no matter how long, it will come too soon.

9:57 AM  
Blogger cmhl said...

i SO do not have that with my inlaws, but I do have that with my parents. they are quite morbid.

for example, they always leave their will out on the counter whenever they go on a trip, just in case. and every time I visit, my dad makes me go through the file cabinet with him, so I know where everything is. ugh.

1:41 PM  
Blogger missjackie said...

Tell me what's worse. Now that I have gotten to know who my potential in-laws may be, I find myself more and more disappointed in my own parents. Is that worse than not getting along with your in-laws?

I hate feeling this way. It's sad, really. I love my parents, but boy they have made a lot of mistakes and they still have yet to own up to some of the biggest ones.

JB - I hear that the quickest way to form an union with your in-laws is to have a baby. That usually brings them around, despite any differences that you may have. :-)

1:54 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

What a beautiful tribute to your in-laws. I also would have freaked out had I been presented with the graphic of the grave markers -- but of course, the fact that they are making their own arrangements "pre-need" (Oh, how much I learned watching all those years of Six Feet Under!) is so considerate. They sound like wonderful people (even if they do have "moral issues" with Democrats).

2:28 PM  
Blogger Mary Tsao said...

On the one hand, I can understand organized people taking care of life's business. I'm sure he just wanted you to know (because he loves you) that there's one less thing you will need to worry about.

On the other hand, I'm freaked out by people my parents' age (including my parents!) who seem to be overly obsessed with the topic of death and dying.

My mom isn't even 60 years old and my grandma is still alive at 92. When I'm 60 my kids will be just finishing college or grad school. I hope I'm not going to be thinking about plot descriptions before I even have grandkids.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Kari said...

Yeah, I don't like to think about that sort of thing, and I hate it when my parents go on a trip and they give me the "just in case" talk; but I have yet to see a gravestone with their names on it.

As for my in-laws. Sigh. Well, I have tried to like them.

I like my father-in-law. He is someone who I disagree with politically, and I really disagree with how he raised my husband (He used severe physical punishment), but he has mellowed as he has gotten older. I would have hated his 30-year old self, but I enjoy his 60-year old self.

But my mother-in-law? Double-sigh. I just don't "get" her, and she doesn't "get" me. I don't respect some of the things she has done, and I know that she has outright lied about some things.

But, even seeing her name on a gravestone would probably make my heart skip a beat. Even though I don't like her, I don't want her to die because I know how much my husband loves her. And I know that she cares for my sons and they for her.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Jenn said...

What a blessing to have such a great relationship with your in-laws. Although, sadly, it will cut into the Mother-law-law jokes a bit. ;-)

As for having chosen their gravestones and taken care of all of that NOW, it is a blessing. Trust me on this one. Not knowing what someone wants when the time comes and not being able to ask them is a horrendous feeling. Is it morbid to talk about this stuff? Hell, yes! I hate, hate, hate talking about any of it, but have learned it is actually a kindness to those you are leaving behind to take care of it and let them know while you can. It actually shows how much they love you. Oh, sure, Hallmarks seem a bit less morbid, I know. ;-)

5:22 AM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

I know my father thinks about death more often than he would like to. He is 65, and his father died at 68. He has seen many of his classmates, colleagues, and friends die over the years - certainly many more in recent years than in the past, but still quite a few were killed in military service or in accidents. He has joked with me about interring him in a Tupperware container at Arlington Cemetery, but as much as I try to laugh with him, I simply don't want to contemplate it.

On the other hand, I worry that my in-laws have not made sufficient preparations for their own deaths. I don't mean that in a snarky way; they are Christian Scientist and really don't think about illness or death at all. My father in law has had a few health semi-emergencies (due to neglect on his part), but I'm not sure that even those close-calls have spurred him to start taking care of business.

Your in-laws do sound like wonderful people, and I think it is fantastic that you can enjoy each other on a personal level.

1:21 PM  
Blogger GraceD said...

We live by a cemetary and every other time we pass it I tell Molly, "Honey, don't you dare heap perfectly good soil on my carcass. Cremate my dead butt, toss the ashes into a Hefty bag and swing that bag out to the Pacific."

And I wonder why SHE'S such an unsentimental smartass.

Anyway, I think it's great that your in-laws are sharing this with you. Heck, I think it's great when any conservative shows any signs of tenderness and soul.

Finally, sigh...Paul and Sheila Wellstone. What a loss. Heroes. The last of the great liberals. Would love to get a link to your editorial, my dear.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous pjindy said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for writing it and having the grace to see through the politics of an 81 year old conservative. They are wonderful people. I know they have received great joy in caring for your beautiful Maggie.

Buddha said we must die before our death to live life to the fullest. I agree, death is the only certainty we have in life and once we face/accept that, there is no more fear. The tombstone is a positive step for them in facing their own mortality. It is hard, I know, but it is a positive step for them and I am glad they are doing it.

I would love a link to your Wellstone editorial, it was a very very sad day when they died. I remember well my son calling from Boston to tell me the news and his sadness.

12:33 PM  

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