Monday, January 21, 2013

Mother By Chance...Mother Through Love

"Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother. " ~ Oprah Winfrey

Before I met my fiance, Chuck, I was married once before and engaged once before that. This gave me one past mother-in-law and one past mother-in-law to be. Neither of which I was close to. I got along fine with both of them, but the mother-in-law to be moved to Tennessee about a month after my ex-fiance and I started dating. I saw her maybe once during the entire course of our three year relationship. She and my ex-fiance were not particularly close so there was not a lot of effort on either side to visit.

My ex-mother-in-law (hopefully you are still following this) and I got to know each other a bit but then she went kind of crazy and just stopped talking to us right after our wedding. She wouldn't return phone calls, letters, nothing. At first I thought it was me, but after a confrontation with her where I showed up alone on her doorstep demanding some answers as to why she cut her son and I out of her life, I realized it had nothing to do with me. According to her, my ex-husband had secretly severed ties with her and was lying to me about it. It was him that was the issue. I did not believe her at the time and down the road I did found out that my ex-husband was a pathological liar so to this day, I don't know who was telling the truth; although I suspect that maybe she was all along. You can all see why that marriage ended.

Do you know that when you Google search quotes about mother-in-laws, there is not one positive quote to be found?

When I started dating Chuck, his mom, known to me as both "Nana J" and "Mom", was living with Chuck's brother, sister-in-law and their three boys in a town approximately two hours from where we live. I remember being nervous as hell the first time I met her and I remember exactly why: because she was so important to Chuck. But the first visit went well, as did every other visit after that.

We would go visit her every other month or so and typically there would be a house full of people during our visits and Mom didn't talk too much during these visits when everybody else was around. Rather, she would mostly sit and listen to everyone else conversing. Because of her physical limitations and her desire to stay put at home, she never wanted us to take her out anywhere so all of our visits would take place in the comfort of her home.

Things changed though one Saturday when Chuck and I went to visit. His brother and his family went away for the afternoon and it was just Chuck's mom and his sister-in-law's mother, Lu, at the house. Chuck's mom was not feeling well and resting in bed that day but one of us needed to keep an eye on Lu, who was in the living room. We took turns doing this so it gave me the opportunity to sit and chat for quite a while with Mom alone; without Chuck and without interruption. To me, this was definitely the turning point in our relationship.

What I realized during that visit was that I truly liked Chuck's mom. Not just because she was his mother, but because of the person she is. Of course I had always liked her but now I was getting to really know her. She is a straight shooter and you never have to guess what she is thinking. She has a heart of gold and a quick wit to match. At a time where I am still trying to find my way amongst Chuck's family, she takes a genuine interest in getting to know me as a person and not just as her son's fiancee. She makes me feel like I matter.

About two weeks after that visit, Mom was hospitalized, which was the first of several hospitalizations in the next few months. We started visiting her with increasing frequency and each of those visits brought Mom and I closer. I don't know if it was because it was usually just the three of us visiting together at the hospital or because of the circumstances with her being ill. Maybe both. But those visits became so precious to me. She would tell me story after story about Chuck and his siblings growing up. I learned more about his deceased father. We talked about a lot of different issues facing the world today. I had the opportunity to tell her bits and pieces about my own family and upbringing. We laughed like crazy. We established a bond. She was no longer Chuck's mom, but a part of my family as well.

On the long drive home from one of our visits with Mom at the hospital, I burst into tears. And I don't mean the gentle roll down your cheek kind of tears. These were the chest rising, sobbing kind. Because I knew. Even though a doctor had not said so yet at this point, I knew something was terribly wrong with Mom. The weight loss over the past year, the decline in her physical abilities, the bone pain, the mysterious things showing up on her lung CT scans, her history as a smoker, her lack of appetite, all of it.

We were just getting to the good, part her and I.
And now there was not going to be enough time.

We finally got the official news approximately two weeks before this past Christmas that Mom was terminal. A failing heart and a mass in her lungs She did not want to pursue any further testing or treatment and Chuck and I support her in that decision. Chuck was devastated by the news and my first priority was, and will continue to be, to support him through this process. This is after all, his mother. The one that gave him life and raised him to be the incredible man that he is today. They have had fifty-five years together. I am so grateful to her for making sure that someone like him exists in this world.

I was struck hard by the news of her limited time left with us. Not to say that I was surprised by the news, but I began to feel an enormous sense of loss. At first, I felt like I didn't have a right to feel like that. This was not about me after all. This was Chuck's mother who was dying. At least that is what I told myself. But what I began to realize was that yes, I was very sad for Chuck and his loss but because of the time in which we have been able to connect and bond so much, I realized something more.

I love her.
It was going to be my loss as well.
Certainly not on the same level as Chuck's, but a great loss all the same.

Mom has since moved to a rehab facility and is waiting for nursing home placement. We continue our visits; oftentimes Chuck and I go together and sometimes I go alone. I treasure every single moment that I am in her presence and I don't take one minute of it for granted. We still continue to bond although because of her physical state, our visits are much shorter. My only regret, or rather wish, is that I had met Chuck sooner so that I would have had the blessing of spending the time with her that others in his family have had the privilege of having.

I will admit, it is difficult to watch someone you love deteriorate from week to week. It is even harder to watch your partner slowly lose his mother. My marriage to Chuck may still be four months away but I do not have the luxury of time. It is not on my side. I do not have the piece of paper that signifies that I am officially her daughter-in-law. But she will now and forever be to me, my second mother. The one given to me by chance and through love.


  1. Chris, what a beautiful tribute to your Mother-in Law. I am so happy you have had this time to see her - even more frequently as time goes by because not only do you see her more and more but every time you go, I have the pleasure of babysitting your precious Molly. As such a close girlfiend, I have watched your love & closeness grow and it has been wonderful for you, Chuck, and his Mom. You are a fantastic daughter-in-law.

  2. Thank you "CarlyWriter" and "Cate" for your kindness, and thank you Chris for letting others know a bit about the kind of person Mom is, and for being part of our lives. I'm looking forward to May 18th, to the beginning of the "next chapter" in our lives together!

  3. Hey Chris.
    I am sorry for the hard times you and Chuck are experiencing. I know your committment to each other will see you through.
    I had a similar experience as yours with my father in law, Leo. He was a kind, loving, accepting man...a true gentleman. Leo passed suddenly and unexpectedly a few days before our wedding. I felt we should postpone our wedding but left the decision to Dave. After much consideration, Dave decided to proceed with our wedding. We left a chair for Leo at our head table. Writing of it today brings me to tears. I often felt sad to think of the time we and our child(ren) would not have with him but was always uplifted when I saw ways in which Dave resembled his father. Leo was a wonderful man. I cherish my memories of him and appreciate the ways in which he educated and raised his son. I did not have the gift of time with Leo but do have the gift of his values and morals as they are embodied in Dave.

    1. Hi Carla,

      I never knew that about Dave's father and I am so sorry for the loss that both of you experienced. I appreciate you sharing your story. I think that is part of what has been so difficult: building relationships takes time and it was only a little over two years ago that I met Chuck's mom. And then you add in the distance and my health and that time feels even shorter. But I am very grateful for how much our relationship has evolved and her efforts in that.

      Like you, I felt that we should consider postponing the wedding and it has been a topic of conversation. However that is not what she would want so for now, we are taking it one week at a time.

      I am glad that it has been a comfort for you to see Leo's values and morals in Dave. They must also the same ones that I see in you. Thank you.