Thinking about my in-laws

In-laws have a bad rap out there in Trope Land, and I wonder why it’s so easy to vilify the people who enter our lives through marriage, or in many cases, through partner relationships that may or may not be permitted access to that (ig)noble institution of marriage. There are, I believe, social traditions where mothers-in-law are culturally permitted to dominate their daughters-in-law, but are they really so omnipresent that these nasty stereotypes about in-laws should be so rampant? The folk tale tradition has certainly added its two cents when it comes to in-laws, evil stepmothers standing in, perhaps, for the domineering mother-in-law. Maybe all mothers except for the True Mother (elusive as she is) are suspect. We can never measure up.

But I have wonderful in-laws. And right now they’re in trouble, and that makes me want to do something. Brush aside the miles and wrap my arms around them and lift them toward the light. Call for the true spirit of “in-law” and give narrative space to the gift of a loving family made larger and warmer and safer because we are connected by our relationships with each other. Put in writing why we need more ever-lovin mothers and sisters and brothers, widening our family circles. And they don’t have to be official. I call the mothers of my two granddaughters my daughters-in-law, though they never married my two sons. They are mine and I am theirs. That’s “law” enough for them to be “in.”

Two of my sisters-in-law and one brother-in-law are right now at the side of my mother-in-law, as she struggles to breathe, to cough out that fluid in the lungs. Four days ago she had surgery to remove a sarcoma attached to her sternum and a spot on one of her lungs. The doctors successfully removed the tumor, but the “margin was marginal.” This “other mother,” under the trauma of surgery and medication, has had some delusions. She has been restrained. Her son is worried from afar, though the ticket is bought and we will go in a couple of weeks to step in with the next stage of recovery. I think of my sisters, her daughters, at her side, day and night, comforting, appeasing, caring for her. They are tired and worried. My brother-in-law is helping them help her. My father-in-law–what must he be feeling right now, his wife of well over 50 years so unlike her usual strong self, so little to do but trust in that strength, pray, trust.

Tonight she is sedated. Tomorrow they put in a pace maker to steady her heart.

So who is this mother, my mother, my mother-in-law, Evelyn, whom we all adore? But no one more than her children, her grandchildren. You hear sometimes about someone’s being the “glue” who holds a family together. The “rock,” perhaps. I don’t think of Evelyn as glue or a rock, though she is a powerful force of adhering–to her principles, to her unmitigated love for her family. And she is as strong as any rock. But she is more like the spirit of love that infuses our family and teaches us how to be our very best selves. My youngest son said of her, “You know what I love best about Grandma? She doesn’t judge people.”

When I think of unconditional love, it is Evelyn’s face that comes to mind.

My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law, Evelyn and Helen

My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law, Evelyn and Helen

Recently my oldest son wrote her a letter to express his appreciation of her, and I share it here.

So, take your tired, ugly, woman-blaming tropes about wicked in-laws, and bury them. Let the headstone read: “You lied.”

And to my mother, Evelyn, be strong, take that glue, that rock, that loving spirit and wrap it around your body. Breathe into it, say, “not yet, not yet. My family is calling me, my daughters, my son, my husband, my daughters-in-law, my son-in-law, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, they’re calling me, and I am eager to rejoin them.”

For updates, you can visit Caringbridge and look up Evelyn Casey:

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