My father-in-law died this week. It was sudden and unexpected. As anyone who has lost a parent knows, it’s tough.
I was a daughter-in-law to Andrej who had three sons and no daughters. I have been his daughter-in-law for almost 14 years.
Early in my relationship with PK, he expressed a concern that his father and I didn’t interact or talk. I easily dismissed his concerns knowing that it wasn’t that his father disliked me, it was just that he was a gruff man in his late 50’s and I was a shy-ish young woman in my late 20’s. It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other, we just didn’t have much to share with each other. As the years went by, I gathered experiences in life and in work in industrial settings similar to the type that Andrej worked in for 30 years. Andrej and I found our way to bond and communicate. I surprised him this past fall when I was able to talk “shop” with him. I had learned something about foundry processes at my work. But, mostly when we talked, we didn’t talk, we teased each other. He’d find a way to get me riled up and I’d call him “Old man.” He’d snicker and smile and I knew that we were good.
PK and I have spent a large number of our weekends at his parent’s home whether in Bay City or in Three Rivers, Mezotne. We’d arrive on Friday evening and return home early on Sunday morning. Every good bye I gave went the same way. I gave my niece and other children kisses first, then I moved on to hug brothers-in-law and sister-in-law. I hugged and thanked Aija, my mother-in-law, and always last was Andrejs.
I am not a Latvian so I didn’t grow up where is was customary to hug and kiss others in greetings and good-byes. Saying good-bye to Andrej was always an awkward moment for me as it probably was for him. Like our bonding (teasing), we progressed over time. The first years our good-byes consisted of a head nod and a verbal good-bye. Eventually, we graduated to a hand-shake good-bye. Sometimes, probably like when we toiled on digging holes for the fence posts for a split rail fence at Mezotne (let me tell you the rocks we had to dig out weren’t even close to being as small as rocks), Andrej would pat my hand in his grasp with his other hand. Over the last few years, we had evolved to a handshake accompanied by a half hug. It was an awkward hug because we were never really sure if we should just shake or hug.
When PK and I learned that Andrej had passed, we put the kids in the car at 1 am and drove to Mezotne to be with his mother, Aija and his brothers, Arni and Rob. Over the next couple of days, I watched as friends and family came to visit, to show respect, and to remember Andrejs. Ending these visits was tough on the guests and us. His sister related her last good-bye with Andrej on Thanksgiving day and marveled at how that was their last good-bye. His friend broke down in sobs at the door as he went to open it, saying how he’d miss him. I noted how hard the good-byes were on visitors but didn’t really grasp it.
Tonight was my turn to return back home with the kids. I went through my routine kissing my niece, hugging my brothers-in-law, my sister-in-law, hugging and holding my mother-in-law and then the spot was empty. One part of my mind was debating the awkward shake-hug scenario while the other part was shocking the rest of me by remembering that I would never get to awkwardly hug my father-in-law again.
I understood then why the visitors over the past few days had struggled with leaving Mezotne. While we were in the house, we felt suspended in time. We were only in the moment of remembering Andrej. Leaving his home for the first time after his death was an acknowledgment that we were returning to a life that would continue on without Andrejs. A way of life we didn’t want. We hadn’t known that our previous good-bye was going to be the last good-bye. His death had been sudden and completely unexpected. We were wishing we had an opportunity to say good-bye with the knowledge of it being the final time so that we could adequately express our love and affection for him plus cherish the love he bestowed on us.
I wouldn’t change how I said good-bye to Andrej after Thanksgiving. It was awkward but it was our way. We weren’t the type to show outward affection toward each other but don’t mistake the awkwardness for a lack of affection. Only affection could have broken the barrier on head nods and hand shakes to begin with.
Goodbye, Andrej. Here’s my awkward hug.