England is our first stop on this trip to Europe. I know, it’s no longer officially part of Europe, but it was for the years that I lived here and I still think of it that way. I haven’t been back to visit in almost ten years. And those years have been transformative for me. I changed my whole life in that time and feel like I’m a different person than the one who last visited.
For the past six days I’ve stayed at my former mother-in-law’s house. It’s been an emotional roller coaster to be here. After my divorce from her son, I didn’t talk with my mother-in-law for years. But over the past wee while, we’ve each reached out to the other and re-connected in small ways. When she heard my daughter and I were going to be in England for a few days, she graciously invited us to stay.
Her home holds such a deep place of love and memories in my heart. It’s where my husband proposed to me, where we hosted our wedding reception in a giant marquee in the garden, where both of my children’s Christening parties were held, as well as numerous Christmas, Easter and birthday celebrations and of course, too many Sunday lunches to count.
There was a time after the divorce when I wondered if I would ever set foot in this house again.
The building itself is the old coach house and squash court for the manor house next door. My former in-laws bought it 60 years ago and turned it into a beautiful home. It’s quirky and a bit higgledy-piggeldy but decorated beautifully and filled with charm.
It’s also filled with love.
At the centre of the house is my former mother-in-law. She is diminutive in stature, but huge in heart. She loves her family and protects them like a lioness. Sometimes that can feel stifling, especially for me as a new, young American bride when I married into the family almost 30 years ago. As two strong minded women, we often clashed in the early days. But over time, I came to see that she means well.
I also came to see that she loved me as a daughter. I am grateful to her – that she’s been a part of my life for all these years. She taught me things that I couldn’t or didn’t learn from my own mother.
People who know me often remark about my skill to connect people and to entertain effortlessly. I learned both skills from my former mother-in-law. She is an uber connector of people and taught me the art form of hostessing – a skill that I’ve used both personally and professionally. Each time I have done so over the years, I think of her and say a word of thanks.
She is the eldest of a large family. She married for love when her parents expected her to marry for class and privilege. And she has worked harder in her life than her parents would have ever wanted, but she’s done it for love. I’m sure this has influenced her and has helped shape her into a woman who accepts other people for who they are.
Being here this week has given us a chance to talk, not only catch up on the past few years, but to delve a bit deeper into old feelings. I know she wasn’t pleased when her son and I divorced. But she has released any anger or resentment that she might have felt for me and welcomed me whole heartedly back into her home, not as her daughter-in-law, but as her friend and someone she still loves.
Today was my last day here before heading off to Amsterdam in the morning. We ended up having a big Sunday lunch in the spring sunshine in the garden, reminiscent of many lunches of the past. My former sister and brothers in-law were there, their children, my daughter and me, and of course, the matriarch of the group. It felt like a real coming home. I am grateful that I’ve had this opportunity, to face some of my fears and ghosts this week and to end with such a wonderful event. It’s another memory in this garden that I will treasure.
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