It was nearly 25 years since I was a visitor in their home. Wearing my brown silk vintage dress with a bouquet of calla lilies in hand, I anxiously rang the bell. The door opened and my former mother-in-law welcomed me in.
Their new house was elegant. Soft yellow walls. Rich rugs. A lovely view of the golden winter landscape. Its inviting feel was reminiscent of the living room I walked into as second year law student when my future husband brought me home for my inaugural introduction.
This time I had come to say thank you. One more time.
My father died on Christmas Day the same year I gave birth to my first son. My mother died five years ago, three days after Christmas. When my children came home for the holidays last month, a gentle melancholy arose as I inquired about their father’s parents, and it invited me to pay a visit to say – face to face – what was in my heart.
We don’t have enough time or energy to act on every kind thought we get, yet I have let many opportunities pass me by. The call unreturned. The visit not made. The kind word unspoken. I have suffered enough regrets in my life that I strive to live a life that leaves me with less of them. Aware that they are both over 80 with four rounds of cancer to their credit, I did not want to add this couple to my regret collection.
My visit wasn’t long enough to recite all that I wanted to thank them for. The Thanksgiving dinner table set with miniature cornucopias. The boat rides on the lake. The sunny afternoon spent recuperating on their deck after a surgery hoping to help my fertility. The navy maternity dress suitable for court when it did. Their enduring interest in Benjamin and Jonathan, despite having over a dozen other grands and great grands to keep up with.
After a half hour of talking about the latest family births and health diagnoses, I tentatively began to express the intention of my visit. My eyes filled and my throat tightened as my gratitude overwhelmed. A welcome rescue was an interruption with tale of the time my in-laws took their son and me on a cruise with the four of us sharing the same cabin. We broke into laughter that breathed back the air I had evaporated from the room.
She turned on the lamp as the late afternoon sun began to set. “I’d love to take you to lunch some time,” she said. I was certain that this offer would never turn to a regret.
It wasn’t until after my visit, when my heart was warm and full, that it occurred to me that I must have once called them “mom” and “dad”, although so much time has passed I can’t rightly recall.
Everything that makes us sad comes out of something that once made us glad. When we are sad to lose our spouse’s family as our own, it is because they once made us glad. When we divorce we are sad because we once married the person we loved and were glad. When I am sad, I focus on remembering the glad. And every once in a while, even in the winter, the glad returns.