I wasn't blessed with a mother who could nurture me.
She was a wounded person who struggled - and continues to struggle - with her own self care.
When I met my husband's family, I found someone I thought could be a mother figure. I liked about his mother that she was patient and calm, that she used respectful language, and that she was a Christian woman.
Over the years, my relationship with my mother-in-law was rocky at times. I remember the first year I was in college and my family and my husband's family came to celebrate my birthday with me at St. Kate's. Joe was there too.
In his first year of college, Joe made it home to Monticello most weekends. He hated being away at school, and felt most happy at home. By the time I was in college it was evident that "home" for Joe was where I was. He didn't go home nearly as often as that first year. Instead, I went to Stout or he came to St Paul. If we did go home, we went together.
Apparently his mom was dismayed by that change. It was embarrassing observing her behavior the night of my birthday. She sat on Joe's lap the entire night fawning over him. Eventually she stopped that behavior, and our relationship developed into a tenuous friendship.
Later, when we were planning our wedding, I was excited to bring her one of our invitations when they finally arrived. She wasn't as excited as I thought she'd be, but in my own excitement, I sort of ignored her response. She called me later and invited me to meet about the invitations.
"It's like the Hoglunds are having a big party and we're just invited guests," she complained. The wording on the invitation was traditional ("Mr and Mrs Gordon Hoglund invite you to the marriage of their daughter, Kari Ann, to Joseph Lawrence Kounkel..."). She asked me to reprint the invitations and I agreed, but said she'd have to pay for them. She readily concurred and the reorder arrived not long after.
Years later - a decade or more - my mother-in-law and I went to lunch together one afternoon. After we ordered, she pulled an envelope out of her purse and handed it to me, saying, "I owe you an apology." I read the enclosed invitation to her wedding - and it contained the same traditional wording my original invitation had contained. I'd forgotten about the invitation fiasco, but she hadn't. It was nice, I guess, to apologize after all that time, but how petty and ridiculous to have held a grudge that long over something that didn't even matter to me!
We settled into a relationship that was one part mother-in-law/daughter-in-law, two parts mother/daughter, and eight parts friend/friend. She became my confidant, my cheerleader, and my spiritual advisor. I became her sounding board and friend, a beloved wife to her son, and a loving mother to her grandchildren. She knew my family struggles, and she comforted me in my grief over both the absence of a mother and the cruelty of my father.
She gave me marital advice too. When I went to her about some of the things my husband wanted in our marriage, she advised, "A man wants a wife who is a lady in public and a whore in the bedroom."
When I went to her after my husband's lover invited us to resume playing cards together on Friday nights so they would have a legitimate excuse to spend time together, she advised me, "Keep that woman away from your husband. She is a predator."
Good advice. Too late. But good advice.
When she stopped working outside her home and her world narrowed largely to her home, she changed. She was more angry and bitter, and her medical conditions multiplied. More and more our conversations focused on her health issues, medication she was taking, and physical issues from both the various health conditions and her use of medication to treat those conditions. Because of my own mother's struggles with health and medication, I have issues with the reliance on medical doctors and medication. I couldn't stand to listen to the litany of medical complaints or the comments about how "they gave me (fill in the blank) medication..." We spent less time together, and I didn't want to visit as frequently as I had. I especially didn't want to visit if my husband was just going to sit in the living room in front of some sporting event and leave me to listen to the complaints alone.
The last Thanksgiving of our marriage, during the "I'm thankful for" part of the evening, my husband was thankful for his sons after years of being thankful for his wife and family, a change I should have recognized as a warning sign. By then he had been having an affair for more than a month. My mother-in-law was thankful for a daughter-in-law who knew how to be her husband's best friend and an example to everyone of what a Christian wife should be. My husband refused to make eye contact and my sisters-in-law rollled their own eyes.
As the marriage came to an end, I was in conversation with my in-laws. Their advice was to keep working on things and that eventually my husband would come around. They had no idea, of course, that his "friendship" with my former friend, the predator, was anything more than friendship. Once they had given him money for a divorce attorney, lying all the blame for the demise of the marriage at my feet, they stopped talking to me altogether. It was a second abandonment by parental figures, and devastating to me. I'm sure they were disgusted by the perfidy* of their son and the astonishing magnitude of the lies he'd told. I'm sure they were saddened by the demise of the longest-lasting marriage by one of their children - a marriage that had been good and solid for two decades. I'm sure they were embarrassed by my own behavior and legal issues. And I'm sure their hearts were broken for the two boys most wounded by the shocking betrayal of their father.
Still. My mother-in-law was the biggest supporter of and cheerleader for my marriage. When my husband filed his request to nullify the marriage so he can remarry in the Catholic Church (a topic for another day, for certain), I listed my mother-in-law as a witness to the marriage. When that marriage was made, we celebrated a sacrament. My husband was mature and responsible, a man I thought would grow into a great Christian husband and father. I was achieving at a high level, and had the makings of a wonderful Christian wife and mother. We attended all the required classes and retreats. We opted to study and practice Natural Family Planning. And then we celebrated the sacrament. We renewed our vows three additional times during the marriage and both acknowledged how those restatements renewed our marriage each time. We welcomed and raised two beautiful children. Had we cherished the gift of the marriage, we would have stayed married and made it through the tough times. She knows that and I'm sure her heart is broken. An honorable Christian wouldn't be afraid to say any of that in a quest for truth.
Of course, in the "real world" we all have to worry about the repercussions we face for telling the truth and standing on the side of what is right. A possible consequence for her would be the loss of her relationship with her son, a price far too great to pay for most people.
In the end, it doesn't matter. My husband and I know the truth. So does God.
My great hope and prayer remains that my husband and former friend have actually recognized that they cannot live life without Christ at the center of their lives and that their eventual marriage will not succeed without Christ.
*Perfidy: N. A treacherous act. "Perfidity" is not a word. The adjective is "perfidious." From the Latin fides, from which we get "fidelity." Thus, someone who is perfidious is lacking in fidelity.