I spoke with my mother-in-law, Armorel, tonight. She told me, “I feel sad tonight, somehow.” And that’s exactly how I feel tonight, just sad somehow.
To set the record straight, Armorel is not my mother-in-law any longer. Twelve years ago I gave up any official, legal status as one of her family members when I was divorced from her son. It was a painful break-up, hers and mine, for we had seemed to share a mutual understanding about life. At times the break-up seemed even more painful than his and mine.
I have missed Armorel in my life, the way she once was. I miss the bond I thought we had. But divorce can break families in unexpected ways and the lines of communication are not smooth or open.
This weekend Armorel moved to an assisted-living residence. She is 96 years old, and until now, has pretty much lived an independent life. Armorel only just gave up her car at 94, with more than a little reluctance and feistiness.
In fact Armorel has lived a mostly independent life, at times having to be fiercely independent. When she was 18, Armorel left a small fishing village in Newfoundland to join other hard-working “Newfs” in Chelsea, Mass. She married at 28, and by 35 was the sole support of her family with two young children, her husband gravely ill with brain cancer. At 46 Armorel’s children left for college, and her home was empty. At 63 she married again but had just three sweet, short, years with her second love.
Armorel is accustomed to the tough changes that life can bring, and she’s always demonstrated amazing resilience in continuing on. Her faith has a lot to do with that.
But tonight’s phone call was challenging. It was our first conversation with Armorel since she moved to her new home, her assisted-living residence. My daughter spoke to her first and looked concerned mouthing, “she’s very sad.” As I took the phone to speak, Armorel’s wavering, deeply sad voice said to me, “Oh, Sarah.” She didn’t need to say more. And it was at that moment that I recognized the bond we’ll share forever. It’s a bond known only by the heart and not by divorce decrees.
I knew exactly what she meant by “Oh, Sarah” and what it said of where she was right now and where she has been in the past and what she has thought about… because I know Armorel. I truly know her despite those in-between hurt spaces of our lives. I know and love all the family stories about Armorel and her sisters, a time so long ago. And I remember the wonderful times in our lives together in the not so distant past.
“Oh, Sarah” she said with such great wistfulness, and I welled up. There was so much to say and so little that would change things. Armorel knew that I understood what she meant. “I’m so sorry Armorel,” I replied. “I know I’ll get to like it,” she offered. “I know you will,” I encouraged. We both got quiet. And there was peace in that moment of quiet, a reflective space. We understood. We have a bond. We weren’t just talking about her new living arrangement but about this stage in her life. It’s such a terribly bittersweet stage, but a stage you only face if you’ve been gifted a very long life. Armorel will, I am sure, live it with grace.
Love you, Armorel… always have, always will.
Life is good, (and sometimes just hard)