Before his death, the relationship I had with my first partner's father was frail at best. I wasn't the easiest person to get along with back in that day and both parents seemed to simply tolerate my existence. We were not close by any means. They knew nothing of our true relationship and all that it entailed. I must admit I cared little about either one of them. Once the dirt covered the grave, things changed quickly. I formally outed myself to everyone, including Doug's parents. It was confirmation and emancipation. The act may have been redundant but I needed to do it just the same. In hindsight, I should have waited much longer to expose myself. It may have explained everything to people but only served to complicate the heavy grief we all experienced at the time. His father did not take me well. His mother fared better but remained at a careful distance. Despite the sum of all our mistakes, I managed to keep contact with Pauline and slowly built something resembling camaraderie. Once she acknowledged the nature of her son's life, she seemed to make a conscious effort to keep in touch. The same could not be said of the father. He appeared quite pleased with himself by confronting me on many related issues. We did not build bridges, we were only able to maintain them, for the most part. Five years after we laid Doug to rest, we buried his Dad. Sometimes bridges collapse and there is no way to cross them. As with my mother, he dropped dead from a heart attack and was gone before he hit the floor.
After the death of her son, then her husband, a cloak of darkness and death seemed to settle over my "mother-in-law." Her mother then passed,
Warren's father then passed,
a cumulative death march apparently strutted through her life for over half a
decade. She was left alone in her home, all alone, wondering what she had done
to deserve this fate. Her remaining child was the only glimmer of hope left in
her life. I found it revealing how well she seemed to handle it all. She didn't
just make it through, she survived, relatively intact for the most part. So
much death and destruction yet she stood her ground like any solider would. She
did not grin and bear it, she took it all upon herself and carried on. In my
experience, only my own mother manifested as much strength and fortitude in the
face of calamity. Pauline's world became a complicated puzzle but with no image
for her to follow. Periodically, over the last fifteen years, one family member
after another has died, adding to a grim pile. One person passed of cancer, or another
suicide, or the ravages of aging. Eventually, it seems as if she knew more dead
people than those living. She picked herself up and continued to walk through
what some might call a living hell. When everyone around you keeps dropping
like flies, and you don't, you have to wonder (or at least she did) whether you
are doing something wrong to deserve all this. I have never witnessed one
reason that merited what she got.
So many years ago, I made a conscious choice to remain in contact with Doug's parents. To this day, Pauline remains a close friend and confidant. We have had a relationship with one another much longer than I ever knew her son. It took commitment when it would have been easier to just walk away. I owed them nothing and they wanted nothing from me. Still, there are reasons we remain so close. There are most certainly not a lot of people she can talk to about her son. They don't want to think about such things let alone listen to someone else toss it into a conversation. His death binds us, like a contract, and we both decided to sign on the dotted line. It would be quite easy to simply fade away and forget. Had I done so, I would not have such a rewarding friendship and our last connection to Doug would be lost. In befriending each other, we have managed to somehow keep Doug alive. We make the effort to stay in contact, not only for our relationship but what we both believe is something that would greatly please him. It is strange and often odd to maintain it so.
"I told my mother-in-law that my house was her house, and she said,
'Get the hell off my property.' (Joan Rivers, 1933-2014)
I have to admit that the strongest, most vivid memory I have of meeting my current "mother-in-law" is that of the hat she was wearing. The flat south-western look made me think of Wynonna Judd, who still had a career at the time. Just minutes before the knock at the door, I had been standing sorting laundry in my underwear. Needless to say, I had not dressed for the occasion. Her announced but surprising presence forced me into the closest thing I could find to put on. The meeting was brief but nonetheless uncomfortable. I was not prepared to entertain anyone from the life of my soon to be partner. The entire experience sent shivers of "flee" and "run, run quicker" through my overwhelmed mind. It wasn't that I wasn't receptive, or nice even, I just felt trapped, cornered by a complete stranger that I had not even considered meeting at that point. This almost humorous encounter began a stranger camaraderie. Since then, the presence of Joanne (Jo-Jo Bean) has been a constant in my life. Every once in awhile she appears at parties, dinners or just along the way. She pretty much looks the same as she did 17 years ago, although she is not the same person as she was back then.
Our history together is more a tale of friendship than some artificial endearment. She isn't really my mother-in-law any more than I am her son-in-law. The words just don't fit even though, on some level, the terms may apply. I've never thought of her in any other way than as a friend. We get along very well. Whatever it is that we have seems to fit and it is what it is. We shop together, talk on the phone, email each other and we even team up in times of grief and danger. Perhaps nothing else defines who she is, and why we work so well together, as her humour. She knows how to laugh in the face of it all. She has made it through so much, many overlapping trials and tribulations. Somehow she always manages to laugh at the most appropriate of times. Her strength comes from building, I suppose. She moves forward although not always using the most effective tools. Her struggle has cast upon her great fortitude, even if she doesn't always recognize that this is so. A formidable woman, she is shaped by the endless agony that comes with all our living. Even her moments of weakness forge walls to help her make it through. She is a complex weave of maturing woman and old soul. I am constantly surprised and often amused by her endurance. She is one of a kind to be sure.
Sometimes people polish themselves up so that others don't see all the dim. For others, the dim fades the polish until it loses all the shine. For Joanne, what you see is what you get. Her tenacity is something to which few transcend. I don't believe that she is aware of just how I appreciate who she is. Sometimes she's a mother. Sometimes she's a bitch. Sometimes she is friendly. Mostly, she is oh so very human. Her grace reveals itself in her struggle against the act of being mortal. She is the rose bush, that comes with thorns and all. We each manage our way through this life. For most of us, the burden is constant and the rest seldom. Sometimes we discover a kindred spirit. There are common grounds that unite us. Perhaps Joanne's experiences when she was much younger are the ties that bind. We both know great heartache from early on. Her loss when she was a teenager lingers just as my encounter with death does. This is a foundation based in understanding and a choice regardless of the outcome. It is a contract, an agreement we seem to have although we have never signed on the dotted line.
"My mother-in-law has so many wrinkles,
when she smiles she looks like a Venetian blind."
I have always had a thing for strong women. I suppose the obvious reason would come from my mother. Even all these years after her death and she still reigns as centre of my relationship with "the fairer sex." Beyond her and the effect she continues to have on me, I have been fortunate to have other women to view as a glowing example. I always gather such fortitude to me. I guess like attracts like. They come from every avenue. From Sigourney Weaver to Taraji P. Henson from Empire, I am drawn to women who really strut there stuff. Each powerhouse is a confidence booster. The songs of Amy Grant have shaped me and continue to do so. She is a silent strength, a hiding place. The gumption of my cousin Lisa and the survival skills of my friend Sharlet are reminders that this too shall pass. They all carry on, revealing how to rise again. Even the little old ladies that I know from
Kitchener are a testament
to determination, steal magnolias one and all. They are all well noticed. Not
one passed by me without relaying their message. The secret is their
Most people begrudge their in-laws. People spend their entire marriage fighting over a nosy mother-in-law. The relationship is tried at best. I have been given a rare gift, a special benefit from this life I have lived. To have one "second mother" is one thing but to have two is often disaster waiting to happen. For me this could not be further from the truth. I have a relationship, a good relationship, with my partner's parents. I have maintained a connection to my first partner's Mom, slipping beyond obligation into friendship. My current "maternal influence" has turned from a polite acquaintance into a close friend. I trust them both. Both are abundant in the strong department. While they each are very different women, it is their substantial nature that I hold in high regard. I just love it when a woman is strong. When she stands up for herself and makes it count. When she survives and then thrives. I desperately needed these examples when first Doug and then my mother died. These women did not compensate during my grief, they influenced, demonstrated and revealed to me that even I could go on.
What destroys us can be used to rebuild us. You never really know all the little purposes that lie hidden in all the chaos. Every problem is an opportunity to gain resolve and a tool when trying to survive god. When we dissect our lives, we see that most of what we know doesn't come from events or incidents but from the people that enter into it. For good or for bad, be it right or in error, we have the choice to pay attention or to ignore these matters. Of these women, I am grateful for the support and thankful for their example. It is hard to find such stamina in the best of us. Doug may be long gone but I still have a connection. My mother may be gone but her strength is fully represented. These forces to be reckoned with are, most of the time, much better than nothing.
"My mother-in-law had a pain beneath her left breast.
Turned out to be a trick knee." (Phyllis Diller, 1917-2012)
Turned out to be a trick knee." (Phyllis Diller, 1917-2012)