Before I got married, I’d never said “I love you” to someone who didn’t choose me.
And for years into mine and Jeremy’s marriage, the words didn’t tumble out organically when speaking to my in-laws.
Let me be clear. I always liked my in-laws a lot. And in some ways, I had the privilege of choosing them where they really only had the option to accept me.
I spent a few years of early marriage dancing around professions of love at the end of phone calls. I’d show my seedling of love, developed over short visits and phone calls by learning the ropes of the family, by agonizing over Christmas and birthday presents. By trying to be a good daughter-in-law, by trying not to disrupt the family balance they’d cultivated years before my arrival on scene.
A few years in, I found safety in tacking “we” and “guys” at the bookends of the vulnerable part of the sentence, couching it in numbers.
“We love you guys.”
This was true. The collective WE did love the collective THEM. It was like stepping out onto a frozen lake and listening for cracks. Each time, I’d skate a little further onto the ice, knowing they didn’t choose me, but hoping they would start to as I could feel myself really really choosing them.
I noticed, whether she meant to or not, that my mother-in-law did the same. Fawn showed her love for me by including my picture on a wall with the rest of her daughters. She took me on shopping trips. While we both tried to figure out how to love each other, we showed it as best we could while, really and truly, we were getting to know each other.
More recently, though, I’ve realized that my love for my in-laws stopped skimming the surface as I’ve had to contemplate what life might be like without one of them.
It turns out, my love runs as deep as the lake I’d been skating on.
This weekend, we buried my father-in-law. And sometimes the loss of it catches me off my own guard. I’m grateful that I was there, right there, helping lift the tubes of his oxygen tank into the car on his very last trip to the hospital. The last thing I shouted as he struggled to breathe was, “I love you, Carey.” I wasn’t alarmed at the truth of it, per se, but more so the ease by which it came from me. Organic. I don’t know if he heard it. There was a lot going on. But I hope it was enough to feel it.
This weekend, we buried my father-in-law in the ground. And we spent a truly wonderful (hard), well-deserved weekend reflecting on his incredible life and the memories he blessed us with. I’m so glad everyone got to see Carey in his final years. I am so glad they got to see his accomplishments, and his kindness, and his love for animals, and his love of projects, his love of his children, his love of his grandchildren.
But I also… just… really want them to see Fawn. The woman who kept Carey alive, which gave me the time I needed to learn that I really really love him.
Something happened to my mother-in-law this weekend. Or maybe it happened to me. I can’t quite tell. It’s not like Fawn suddenly became the matriarch of her family; she’s always been that. But, in an incredible show of strength, Fawn got up to the pulpit to speak at her own husband’s funeral, encased in a sort of light and holiness that only exists in paintings. Something happened in the room that day, filling me with a love so clutching and bright. Something about Fawn at the pulpit gave me a roadmap for what it looks like to become your truest, most evolved, and exalted self. A self honed in a real crucible of hospitals, oxygen tanks, emails to doctors, and tears. Selflessness, Sacrifice, Strength, Endurance, Intelligence.
How can you not love someone this fiercely strong? How can you not admire them with the depth of your soul?
I love my in-laws so much. And as my mother-in-law implied in her eulogy that pierced the veil between heaven and earth, love matters.