Gary was not only my father-in-law, he was my friend. He gave me support and advice as I navigated my own family tragedy. And the week before the wedding, when I scraped his jeep on the side of the garage he hugged me and said he was glad it happened, because it gave him a chance to show me how much he cared about me.
I wanted to be supportive and calm, the way Dave had been when I was going through my own tragedy. But I wanted support to be 50/50. I wanted us to alternate grieving. Give and take. I wanted Dave to be there for me just as I thought I was being there for him by giving him space. At night, after we went to bed I would spill out all of my fears. Only a month into Gary’s battle with cancer, as I lay talking, I felt Dave’s head rest on my shoulder. His cheeks were wet. I stopped talking and held him.
Support in a marriage is not a nice 50/50 split. Some days you are giving your all while your spouse is giving nothing and other days you are taking, offering nothing. After that night I tried to support Dave wholly—giving without taking. It was hard, but I never felt resentment. I knew that soon it would be my turn to give zero. And it was.
Dave’s dad died of cancer in May. In July, my sisters, who were on their way from Florida to visit us in Iowa, were in a horrible car crash. While one sister walked away from the crash with a sprained back, the other spent four months at our house learning to walk again. I had to play mother, nurturer, consoler, chauffer and caretaker. I felt inadequate and afraid. My sister was often withdrawn, but my experience with Dave taught me not to take it personally. Instead of getting angry, I would ask her "What’s up?" and give her a hug. She needed me to support her, and I needed Dave to support me. At night, it was my turn to cry.
When November came, my sister was finally able to go home. She could walk but she would never regain full mobility. It was hard seeing her, only 18, hobbling like an old man. When Dave and I came home, we went to bed and fell asleep holding one another and crying. Now I stood in front of him, the socks still in my hand. <i>What was going on?</i> Why was I so angry?
"It’s just, you didn’t used to do this," I said, "It’s like you’re taking me for granted."