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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Entering the family

Many of you know that my mother-in-law, Helen, passed away this week after a long illness. Only three months ago, my own mother passed away. This double passing has been particularly difficult for my sons, but it also led to a sad type of emotional resonance between Gail and me.

As I posted on Facebook shortly after Helen's death, I could not have had a more accepting, affirming, and encouraging mother-in-law. Offhand I can't think of a single time in 30 years when Helen expressed disagreement, disapproval, or even ambiguity about how I was behaving as son-in-law. Given that I'm far from perfect, I take that as a testimony to her. I'm sure there were times when she wanted to say something but restrained herself. Life offers many ways to learn the lesson that what one does not say is as important as what one does say.

Gail's family is very different from mine. They were Yankees from Detroit; I was Southern. They were Catholic or Russian Orthodox; I was Protestant. Ellis Island was not long in their past; my ancestors had come to South Carolina in 1738, and I had never been to Poland or Russia (and still haven't). Some in Gail's family spoke Russian or Polish; the fact that my last name sounded vaguely Germanic and that I had red hair and blue eyes probably didn't sit too well with them. In short, this was a broad gap to be closed -- and the more I learned, the more I understood that the gap was not merely historical or superficial.

But we did close that gap. Thanks, Helen. I'm sure the heavenly banquet has some Golumpki.