Imminent death tests complex connections. My former mother-in-law is dying. At 93, she has faded into a frail, 90-pound wisp of the formidable woman I first met. She was in her prime then, and I was in high school, standing in awe of my boyfriend Jim's dominant parent.
I learned significant lessons from Margaret. Through three decades of marriage to her son, she and I had predictable differences and occasional rifts, but mutual respect was a given. She taught me to make excellent guacamole and dozens of savory, thrifty casseroles. I admired and emulated her domestic decor. Frugal and pragmatic, she demonstrated essential skills for lean times.
An unselfish gift was one example of her practicality, offering a glimpse into her values. Jim and I became engaged while we were both in college. In those pre-credit card days, he struggled even to pay tuition, making the purchase of a diamond ring impossible. Margaret generously gave us her mother's diamond to put into a new setting, while she continued to wear her plain gold band.
I wore that little quarter-caret solitaire with gratitude through the years my marriage to Jim lasted. When he came out as gay and we divorced, it was a confusing time, torn by the pain of separation and the upheaval of a monumental life change. It hurt even to look at that simple engagement ring. What should I do with it?
Eventually it became clear. The diamond belonged to Jim's mother's mother. It needed to stay in that family. I returned the ring to Margaret and felt a weight lifted from my spirit. Her gratitude matched my feelings years before when she "loaned" it to me. She again had the stone reset to wear on a chain around her neck. She never took it off afterward.
This story of the little diamond is a parable to illustrate enduring family bonds that remain after forgiveness is possible. When Your Spouse Comes Out, my second book about straight spouse recovery, gives another example. "Carlotta" is one interviewee who worked especially hard to maintain civility and cohesiveness through her divorce from her gay husband, "David." She uses visualization to move toward new goals, while still supporting their family's connection. One image she holds is her dining room during a Thanksgiving dinner. "Ten years from now, I see the kids and David and me together at the table--all still friends, all happy with new partners." (p. 87)
Just this past year, my own stretched and extended family achieved Carlotta's dream. Last September, Jim and his partner (now his husband) celebrated his birthday here in my home, with my amazingly tolerant husband, Jim's mother and sister, and a former gay partner all present. That scene around our table will be repeated this week on Christmas Eve, with one special person sadly missing. Margaret is too ill to join us at lunch, but the strength of her presence will still be felt at that table. The ties that bind have stretched to lengths none of us could have imagined. Longer and thinner, they are still intact.
Do you have a story of enduring family connection? Share it in a comment!