Living with my MIL was tough. Not living with her has been tough, too.
My MIL moved in with us in April, 2012. We had said that the time she’d stay with us until January 2013, and then we’d figure out a new plan: either she’d move in with her daughter or we’d see about finding her an inexpensive studio apartment.
But her being here took too large a toll. My husband would work long hours, come home, and immediately head to the bedroom for the rest of the night. I took a second job with an hour commute. It was nice to be out of the house, but some days I worked 12 or 14 hours, plus the two hours on the bus. Working so much negatively impacted my mental health, so much so that for the first time in 5 years I had to resume taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. I was too tired to think about suicide.
And so, my husband spoke with his sister, explaining that we were quietly imploding. She agreed that MIL could move in early, late November or December 2012. We did not ask for MIL’s input.
One evening in early November, we asked MIL to leave her room so that we could speak with her. My husband explained how tough living together was for all of us, that he had talked to his sister, etc etc. It was terrible, a slow motion break up. MIL was stricken and claimed things weren’t that bad. As it was happening, I wanted to interject, as one sometimes does with breakups, “No, never mind, it’s a mistake, everything is fine!”
Despite the fact that a date hadn’t been set yet for her to move, she cancelled all of her doctor’s appointments and returned all of her library books. She slammed doors and wouldn’t look for talk to us for the few weeks she had left.
When she left the first week of December, I’m not ashamed to admit that once the door was closed, I started cleaning out her room and turning it back into my office. But I am pleased to say the reports coming from my SIL do seem positive, and MIL does seem to be better off.
We were alone together again. But we’d spent so much time isolated from everything that we had to rebuild our relationship. We were so used to being stressed out and unhappy that we didn’t remember how to be normal. I even suggested therapy; he said no, though sometimes I wonder if going might help speed up the process. A therapist once told me that when we suffer a trauma, we can get stuck at that age for a while. I felt like I was 17 well into my twenties, because that’s when my dad first took sick. And now it feels like my husband and I have lost a year. Nine months into a black hole, with only a few bright spots.
It’s July 2013, and we’re still working on it. Any long term relationship is an exercise in communication. And in maintaining silences: his mother, he doesn’t want to talk, we don’t talk about that.
We do the things all couples do: stare at our laptops, make time for actual dates, play card games. I don’t think we talk as much as should, but we make more of an effort to listen. Sometimes a flash of anger from some event last year (she said this! she did that!) will spark an emotion and lead to a connection. But that’s not healthy. So we keep working. We love each other, we’re helpless.
I wrack my brain. What could we have done differently? But the answer is that one will never know how to handle such an event until it’s all over.
I repeat to myself the closing lines from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: “I’ll know better next time.” “Till then.”