My father-in-law’s memorial service was Saturday, over a month after his death. It was a nice service, although long – nearly 2 hours. The day had started early, with my husband leaving about 9 am to try to get some time with his siblings to hand off family paperwork. The kids and I were going to follow, leaving shortly after noon, for the private inurnment at 2. I got a call at 11:40, letting me know the inurnment was going to be at 1 pm instead. And, we were off, with another inevitable series of miscues from my husband’s side of the family.
My family was always prompt. If we were invited for dinner at 8 and drinks at 6:30, we were there at 6:23, no later than 6:35 without a phone call. If we were going to a wedding at 2, we usually arrived early enough to get into the church without lunging through the wedding party to do so, and didn’t stay too long at the reception. We’d toast the bride, talk to a few acquaintances, if any, make new friends if no old ones were there, and leave after the first couple of dances. We always had something else to do, even if it was just going back to our hotel room to take off our shoes, or go out to dinner, or whatever.
My stepmother had an excellent sense of timing and social poise. If she caught herself spending too much time rambling on (or being rambled at) about “old times,” she’d excuse herself and go touch bases with my Dad, move to another clump of people to mingle, check on me to make sure I was enjoying myself, etc. She was an excellent hostess and a superb guest. I’d like to say I take after her in that way, but sometimes I just get fed up and go hang out in the bathroom if I’m really bored.
It’s been hard to adjust to my in-laws. They are not only chronically late; they are often criminally late. We had a house-warming ten years ago, when we moved here. My husband was so proud of our new, big house. He invited some other relatives who live in the area, he ordered catered food in, we scrubbed and cleaned and dusted, the kids were on their best behavior. We had a great time with the nearby relatives. Then they left. Four hours after the housewarming started, his parents and siblings showed up. We were out of our party clothes, the kids were on to doing other things, the food was cold and on the verge of being put away, and I had left to do other things. They then stayed for 5 hours. My husband was mortified, and his family of origin couldn’t understand why. This was, and is, normal behavior for them.
As if that weren’t bad enough, at every gathering they attend, Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals, his parents and siblings clump together like overcooked rice, speaking only to people they’ve known for years and years and with whom they can reminisce. If I am there also, it’s like attending someone else’s high school reunion – I don’t know anyone else there, they clot together and completely exclude spouses, offspring, or anyone else who was not there for the time about which they are heartily reminiscing. They are utterly surprised that any “outsider” would be bored to tears by listening to them hee-haw for 40 minutes about a time they went camping together and so-and-so ate a bug. Sometimes, if there are enough castoff spouses and kids, we go do something on our collective own, and an hour or so later, the clumpers wander over to us and accuse us of being anti-social. I love projection. It makes life so damned hilarious!
I have learned to avoid these gatherings unless I know there are going to be a preponderance of people with better social skills there. That probably sounds nasty, but I’ve had decades now of sitting on a couch, having my conversational sallies and witty retorts either ignored or treated as bizarre. It is very peculiar to me, as I am a welcome guest in many other venues. I get along great with crowds of strangers, in gatherings for my side of the family, at events for my children; I am one of those people who make friends in the line at the grocery store. I just don’t have problems socially, particularly not if I exert myself. Around my spouse’s family, though, you’d think I was wearing a Hooters shirt and a beer can hat, farting out the national anthem. So, I don’t go unless I feel obliged to do so.
During the period between the inurnment and the memorial service, the kids and I tried. But, we don’t remember when so-and-so ate a bug, and it means nothing to us. We didn’t take music lessons with X, have no idea what Y looked like with braces, and none of us ever attended Large Suburban High School, so we have no stories to tell about the principal or any of the teachers, and we really couldn’t care less. After 20 minutes or so, the kids’ eyes started to glaze over, my back hurt, and we were all bored stiff. I gave them permission to go get their Gameboys and books and told them to meet me in the garden. We read and talked and waited another 20 minutes until the service was about to begin and attended that.
Afterwards, another 2 hours of “receiving” time was scheduled, but we had had enough. Enough rudeness, enough being excluded, enough of living with my father-in-law’s dying and death, which we’ve all been parties to, 24 hours a day, for the last two months, as my husband sorts through a half-century of paper, makes and receives long distance phone calls, and talks his mother through using her TV and VCR over and over again. We said our good-byes as quickly as we could, scampered out to the car, loosened ties, changed shoes, turned up the radio, and blew out of the parking lot like we were teenagers leaving the prom. We grabbed dinner on the way home, talked up a storm in the car, and were glad as heck to be home. We were glad to be back somewhere where we matter to everyone else there. We were glad to have a few minutes untainted by the death of someone we really only knew marginally.
My husband arrived 7 hours later, evil-tempered, mean and nasty, the way he always is after spending time with his birth family. I have tried, in the past, to talk to him about it, but I always wind up being wrong, even if I’m not; insensitive, even if I’m not; in short, his crappy moods are somehow always my fault, especially when they’re not. So, I feigned sleep.
It’s times like this when 25 years seems like 24 11/12ths too long. I know it’ll blow over; we’ll go back to getting along as well as we can during this intensified period of his midlife crisis. Maybe there will be some talking, some changes, some improvements, some insight. I don’t know. When it gets like this, I’ve really got to take it one day, one hour, at a time, and I need to do what I can to keep myself and the kids happy. I’m sure I’ve had my shitty days, too, days when I was just too prickly to get along with, too short-tempered to be around, days when I needed to take myself out to the woodshed and have some words with Me. Far more than I can remember, too, most likely.
Knowing that, though, doesn’t make these very long days any shorter; it just makes it possible to have faith in tomorrow. And I remember the phrase I once heard:
“On good days, I am committed to my spouse; on bad days, I’m committed to my marriage; and on very bad days, I’m committed to my promise.”
… … … … …
Then again, in the words of a former boyfriend, “What do you care; they’re just jerks!” Enough wallowing! Ha! Knitting! Strange dinners! Loud music and bad jokes! Onward, ho!