Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

The Ties that Bind

Monday, September 1, 2014
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Eden Maheras

Every time Max and I visit Cape Cod to stay with JP’s mom and visit with Max’s aunts, uncles, and cousins, my stress level rises. Will he behave at the dinner table, at church? Will he be charming? Will he let me out of his sight, or is he going to be shy? Will my parenting style be judged, and found lacking? How much or little should I say about my boyfriend? This year, I was completely disorganized – had my flight times and even dates wrong, wasn’t even sure what airline we were on, didn’t overlap with some of the cousins as I’d been hoping to, and certainly could have done a better job packing. It’s possible that booking a trip right after putting your dog to sleep is not the best idea if you expect to be able to remember the details. And leaving during an especially busy week at work – also not helping things.

Of course, most of the worries that eat at me before these trips are just covering for the Big Thing –going to visit JP’s family without him. Cape Cod was such a special place for us; it was where we spent our first holiday together, it was where we were married! We drove out from Chicago twice in terrible winter weather in order to bring our dog with us to celebrate Christmas. It’s definitely easier to fret about the little things than deal with how I feel about the fact that I’m going to have family time with JP’s family, without him, and that the trip will wrap up with a visit to the cemetery. And while I would not say it was a vacation brimming with rest and relaxation (Max was under the weather for a couple days, he barely ate anything even when he was healthy, didn’t nap, and insisted on the two of us sharing one twin bed all 5 nights), once again, the power of family ties amazed me. Max was so comfortable with everyone. He immediately made himself at home wherever we were. He bossed his older cousins around, along with everyone else he met. As always, it was such a gift to see him with his cousins, who loved their uncle so much, and who absolutely adore Max. And of course with his Grammy; I hope she sees his Daddy in him – not just in his face, but in his mannerisms and charm. I know I do.

For the most part, our trips now end with a stop at the cemetery on the way to the airport. As we got close, Max whispered, “Don’t cry, Mom,” and it just broke my heart. I tried to oblige, but come on. He was so sweet, though, sitting on my lap calmly, and picking which rocks from the pond and shells from the beach we should leave for JP.
All in all, it was a lovely trip. That place, and those people, will always be a home away from home for us. We may not be cut from the same cloth in many respects, but they have always made me feel welcome and loved, and Max is a lucky dude to have them as his family.

For widows/widowers without children, it’s a different story when it comes to navigating family politics and how those relationships play out. I won’t pretend to have any insight there. Of course, every individual case is different. Everyone’s relationship with their own family is unique, not to mention their relationship with their spouses’. I often feel that I’m doing a terrible job, that living with my own parents drains all my “familial relationship responsibility” energy and I end up not holding up my end of the bargain when it comes to the rest of Max’s relatives. But seeing Max with his Grammy and all of his first cousins celebrating his third birthday was priceless. We may not see them as often as we’d like due to the distance between us, but I hope to be able to give him the opportunities he needs to continue to feel close with his dad’s family as the years go by.

And maybe, just maybe, at some point, I’ll stop sweating the small stuff, become comfortable confronting the many feelings I have about going to Cape Cod without JP, and focus on the important aspects from the beginning.


It would be so easy to let these relationships slip away...sometimes its just one more expectation on us, one more thing we are left to manage, to stay close to the in-laws. But it is up to us to make the effort, and we know it is what our spouses would have wanted, if they still had a say.

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