I blogged a few weeks ago about my mother-in-law’s fall and hospitalisation. At that point I was worried about my hub having to travel overseas to help his sisters care for her, and all I could think about was how he would cope on his own far away from our family with people who loved him but didn’t know about his condition; and how I was going to cope with childcare, parent-care and work without his support.
But on Easter Saturday, we received the news that my mother-in-law had died in hospital, four weeks after she was admitted. She was only 64. The week that followed was an absolute whirlwind. On Good Friday, we had a house full – 30 guests and the first social occasion we have hosted since my parents moved in with us in November. On Easter Saturday afternoon, I had taken the kids to a BBQ with friends, but by Easter Sunday we had travelled through three different countries and made it back to our family on the other side of the world.
Hub, didn’t grow up with his parents, they divorced before he started school and he grew up with his paternal grandmother, while his sister stayed with his mum. His mum went on to have two more kids. Unsurprisingly, he has lots of ‘parent issues’ and has been angry with his mum and dad for a long time. But on the flip-side a lot of what he experienced as a child has made him determined to be the absolute best father and husband he can be. And he is amazing.
To be frank I was worried about how he would cope. His mental health over the last few weeks had been up and down and I was worried his mother’s death would be an understandable trigger into a major depressive episode. One of his sisters knows about his depression and anxiety but no one else in his family does.
But the reality was very different from my expectations. It was a healing, healthy, sad but joyous occasion.
My mother-in-law’s life was truly celebrated. Over 50 people visited her home every night between her death and the funeral and more than 500 attended the funeral. It allowed both hub and I to see her in a different light and to recognise that alongside the stories he had of her from his very early years, she had done so much with her life and was much loved. Spending that intense time with family was emotional, bonding and grounding. It made me realise just how important not just the relationship I have with hub is, but the relationship we have with our extended family is.
We decided to take all three kids with us, and with 10 first cousins all together for the first time in two years, and a new four-week-old niece in the mix we were constantly busy, not just with funeral preparations and legal stuff, but ten kids are nothing if not a good distraction from losing yourself in shock and grief.
We all went to see Hub’s mum at the funeral home the day before the funeral. I was worried about how he would react. His anxiety had been in over-drive since we arrived. But when he went over to see her from where we had been sitting in the very back furthest corner from the casket, he said the almost overwhelming anxiety he had been experiencing for five days disappeared, that it felt calm, he described is as feeling like a full-stop. I’m proud of him, that even though he didn’t want to go to the viewing, even though he felt like he was going to be physically sick, that he was over wrought with panic and that everything was telling him not to go, he did it.
I organised the funeral service, the readings, the songs, the choir. I asked hub to read, but he didn’t feel he could. He thought his anxiety would be too great. But at the crematorium after the service he spontaneously gave the best speech of anyone, and his was the only speech to be met with a round of applause. He spoke about whether he was qualified to speak given he hadn’t grown up with his mother. But he reflected, with some passion, that his mother had been the root of all the strong women in his life: she was the maternal figure to six young brothers. My mother-in-law went on to have an eldest daughter and three younger siblings, and hub’s eldest sister went on to have an eldest daughter and four younger siblings. All those women are strong and supportive, focused on doing what they think is best, and driven by a real belief in the importance of family. And for hub, that was his mother’s legacy; that of a strong matriarch and a line of strong, supportive, focused and ambitious women. He said he sees all of that in our own eldest daughter with her own younger siblings.
It made me so proud that he overcame his anxiety at the viewing, at the family gatherings every night and at the crematorium. I hope he will draw strength from the fact that he faced the things that he didn’t want to and nothing bad happened. But most of all, so far, I am glad that this hasn’t triggered a major depressive episode, and that on the surface, for now it feels like he has some closure.