That was almost 14 years ago.
Besides my husband, our marriage, and our two children, the next best thing I got from marrying him was my in-laws; generous, kind, loving people who welcomed me into their family. It's been a cherished gift that I have received through no effort of my own. For someone like me, who is always enforcing personal boundaries and consciously evaluating the level of trust that I imbue to people who are close enough to me to hurt me, it was a revelation.
I had nothing to fear from these people. No passive aggressive criticisms. No hidden agendas. No backstabbing gossip about me to others. No sudden changes in mood towards me.
This past weekend I lost half of that gift...which is nothing compared to what my husband, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law lost. My husband and his sister lost a caring father. My mother-in-law lost her best friend and mate of 42 years.
Needless to say, they are all devastated. I'm mainly numb except for the few moments when I think about the conversations that would spontaneously crop up with my father-in-law. Occasionally, when we would visit, I would find myself alone with him and by asking a few questions could get him to open up and talk about his past as a fighter pilot.
He would recount flying over the desert in the Southwest, watching atom bombs being tested, before everyone realized how dangerous that was, flying blind in bad weather, missing the opportunity to be an astronaut by a few years.
There are these little moments embedded in my psyche, some of which I am unsure of why they stuck. I remember one trip to an ice-cream shop with the entire family. We sat at a laminate covered table, with a fan whirring overhead in the thick Florida heat, while he reminisced about his mother's coconut cake, warm out of the oven, covered in melting icing and sprinkled generously with coconut. It was his favorite desert made by his mother.
I remember him handing off magazines like Discover or Neurology Now, telling me I should read a certain article. I remember political conversations, with him consistently representing the Republican side, except for the occasional stray, anomalous political idea. I remember him always asking if we wanted something to eat or drink, or waving a bowl full of candy corn, or nuts, or fruit gems before us as we were seated, looking for co-participants for his snacking habits.
I remember countless dinners at my in-laws' home. I remember countless dinners at restaurants....dinners which we were never allowed to pay for. Trying to get a dinner check and pay for it was an exercise in futility.
I remember a questioning man looking to me for an answer, quite out of the blue, about why his oldest son from his first marriage wouldn't visit him. We sat on the lanai as I struggled to come up with an answer, to reassure him that his oldest son didn't hate him....that whatever reasons he had for not coming, were his own. There was pain and longing in his voice and watering eyes as I fumbled for a way to encourage him, feeling as if I was failing miserably.
This past week that son managed to come visit his father on his death bed. His father recognized him and was happy to see him. It was a good moment. An unspoken reconciliation for both of them.
My father-in-law was a good man. He was never unkind. He was always magnanimous. He was open and friendly. He was a good husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather to us all.
He will be sorely missed.