2013 was a horrible year for me as a case of pneumonia ended up leading my mother to require a medical ventilator that she did not authorize, even though afterward doctors said she could recover. Her removal from life support and subsequent death was one of the most unsettling experiences of my life, and something I’m still processing.
2014 was not much better. Although I took a memorial trip with my daughter in my mother’s honor, the minute I returned, I had to break down my parents’ home and move my father to a new environment in order to help him adjust to being a widower. The work was extensive, exhausting, and disruptive to whatever serenity might be available to those in deep grief.
We all have similar trials of one kind or another. The trick is how to hold on–how to endure during the hard times, how to move forward and when.
In much of life, if we can just get through the storm, somehow a rainbow appears.
One day, somewhere in the mix of so much upheaval, my step daughter-in-law invited my husband (her father-in-law) and me to be present at the birth of her (second) child. Since their first daughter had been born to her and her husband (my adult stepson) years before (long before I entered the family), I felt especially surprised and honored to be included. At the time, we weren’t at all anticipating any new grandchildren. Also, until now we hadn’t grown very close to my husband’s children, primarily because there had been some unwarranted distance in the family. At last, this was an opportunity to improve our relationships.
This baby is my husband’s fourth grandchild, following a second grandson born several years before–the same month that my husband’s first wife passed away after an extended illness. When I entered the scene, there was plenty of ongoing grief still happening in my husband’s family, which I accepted with compassion. Even before losing my own mother, I understood that sorrow doesn’t always make for the easiest transitions. But then there was the break down of my husband’s family homestead, a few moves, and mounting anger by family members who were not ready for all the changes. I, of all people, got it.
Through it all, I was not exactly welcomed by all of my husband’s family members. This was obviously an additional source of heartache for my husband, who also found himself caught in one unanticipated storm after another. It seemed at the time that no one was being empathetic to anyone’s plight. We felt we finally had little choice but to let everyone adjust on their own timetable. At least we hoped that everyone would adjust. Even without the challenges of being blended, families can be complicated.
With family tension still thriving, my husband and I were nevertheless excited to join his son and family. We prepared for the big day and left in the dark of night to drive hundreds of miles for the birth of this first grandchild born to our marriage. In the end, we would be utterly amazed by the healing delivered with this baby, a granddaughter–the baby sister to my husband’s firstborn granddaughter, now a teenager (in pre-school at the time of her paternal grandmother’s passing).
If we can just get through the storm, somehow a rainbow appears.
The thing that intrigues me about the rift in my husband’s family is both how unnecessary it is and also how the mother of this first grandchild of mine (my own children are not parents yet) has risen to the occasion to create a solid and nurturing environment for her child.
It is as if she did some hard thinking, made some tough choices (hopefully with the aid of her husband, my husband’s firstborn son) and emerged from it all with good sense, like the regal queen that she is. “Princess Mommy,” I call her affectionately. “Glamma,” she refers to me, as I joyfully accept the task of bringing the glamour…the sprinkles and the sparkles (both literal and metaphoric). It is fun, because together we make it that way. We share so many joys now.
This is an amazing shift that my step daughter-in-law created in our family–accomplished simply by making the choice to include me. A shift I alone could not secure. By including me, she provides both of her daughters an additional set of grandparents, her husband a renewed relationship with his beloved father, and endless opportunity for the family to grow healthier. “Family is Everything” the graphic on her family wall displays. These are words she has chosen both to display AND to honor. Clearly, she recognizes that “family” often extends beyond blood, beyond DNA–and not just to in-laws, but to in-laws through re-marriage. Surely this could not have been any less an adjustment for she who loved her mother-in-law, who honors her husband’s grief, than it would be for anyone else in the family. Yet somehow, she decidedly made this leap. In so doing, she also created a new relationship for herself, a new support system for her parenting. She includes me, and in turn, I am her biggest cheerleader. This is also remarkable because we have different talents, some differing interests, and almost completely different politics. We overlook any and all differences seemingly with ease, find common ground, and have even become good friends. In fact, we both make all of this work profoundly well. It’s amazing what a cooperative spirit can bring about.
I have one sister-in-law like this, and if you have one, too, you know what a blessing it is of which I speak. Our daughter-in-law’s inclusion has fostered a friendship between herself and me that feels ideal. She stays connected and texts me frequently. She sends pictures of the baby, which make me burst with glee. In fact, it feels like I go into some sort of withdrawal without them. I am crazy about this kid! I am always thinking about her and her sister; I have become quite attached to both.
We visit now as often as possible, spend holidays and birthdays together–and when we can’t do so, I send gifts, cards and letters to the girls who look forward to receiving them. We’ve got a sort of rhythm going, and together we had the best time sharing the baby’s first Christmas and first birthday–for which I designed the decorations (shown partly in these photos). We have genuinely developed a rapport that is a gift to us all — one where we can talk comfortably, laugh readily, plan and execute, and where we treat each other with sincere love and respect.
Above all else, I am amazed at how connected I feel to this new grandbaby. It truly feels as if she is my own. And she represents to me not only that rainbow, but indeed the sunshine that comes after so much stormy darkness. She is like the mythical phoenix bird rising from the ashes, helping to revive my fallen spirit–and for that she will always hold a special place.
Indeed, I feel privileged to be one of the adult stewards of her well being. I want her to thrive and be joyous…to know beyond question that she is loved and valued by many, including myself. I want to encourage her to read and think, to love literature, and maybe even to write. Why not?
Perhaps this happy turn of events gives us all something to consider.
Some people like to defy definitions and/or fight their role in a family. Some people insist on rebelling, on forging a new way, on walking their own path. There is certainly a lot to be said for individuality…
Yet, it seems that when it comes to family, if everyone would just do his or her part, the family would thrive.
Unfortunately (and probably far too often), some people work to create harmony, while others feel compelled to cause disharmony.
If you feel you cannot create family, perhaps at least you can understand why.
Here are some questions to consider about family relationships:
- Where do you fit in your family?
- Are you a harmonizer, a peacemaker–or are you trouble-maker, a divider?
- Who are you rejecting (and why)?
- Who are you including (and why)?
- What action can you take to improve your family dynamic?
- What is beyond your control?
- How much time will it take for you to embrace a fully functioning, nurturing family?
“We do not heal the past by dwelling there;
we heal the past by living fully in the present.”
— Marianne Williamson
© Debra Valentino, all rights reserved