Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Reverb10: What I’ve Learned from My In-Laws

[Until 31 December I’m participating in reverb10, a month-long challenge to get bloggers to respond to writing prompts designed to help themselves and their readers take stock of the past year and to imagine possibilities for the coming year. I think of it as conducting the year’s final inventory…]

Yesterday’s prompt: Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Today’s prompt: Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

My husband loves to travel. He gets it from his father. My mother-in-law calls her husband a “travel-agent manqué.” He’s always planning the next trip.

The first time I met him, he told my husband, Bring her over, but meet us in Paris. I’ll arrange the flights. Here’s where we’re staying. And we met them at Orly, and they took us to our room on the Left Bank.

I’d never been out of the country, and I’d only ever taken one flight anywhere. (Cheap Continental flight to Newark, then the bus to Port Authority: yuck.) I had to get my first passport to do what he wanted. I was 26.

The last trip he planned was last year. He said, simply, I’d like to go to France. (They love France. He took all his kids and grandkids, 17 people, to France for his seventieth birthday back in 1993. That was two years after I first met my husband’s parents, and traveling overseas was still new to me, I still looked out the window even while we were suspended over the boring Atlantic and there was “nothing to see.” The ocean six miles below was everything to see. Georgia O’Keeffe’s clouds. The dawn over Ireland.)

He said, I’d like to go to France, and his younger daughter and younger son took him and his wife to France. It was his last trip overseas. His last trip anywhere. He has Lewy Body dementia, and he is dying.

This makes me even more sad than my grandmother’s death. I love my husband’s folks, all of them, but especially his parents. I’ve never known such generous people…  That’s not true. My father’s sisters are that generous. My father was that generous. But because my husband’s family is not encumbered with the disease of alcoholism, his parents are able to be awake to life in a way my father was not. They’re 100 percent with you. They look into your face, they ask you questions about your life, they interact with the world and have things to say and do, and they challenge you to say and do things. They go places. Whereas alcoholism and addiction urges you mainly to just sit around—even if you’re not using or drinking, and especially if you’re not recovering somehow.

After he retired my father-in-law gave his legal services to several organizations that helped those with mental illness, physical and mental disability, and addiction to get education and employment. The other evening my husband and I were re-reading his last wishes (this in itself is amazing: the idea that he was so forward-looking that, 10 years ago, he could write his last wishes down in the form of a letter to his family—like the prompt here to the future self; if only I’d had some such letter from my parents telling me what they wanted) and he said he wanted no flowers but, instead, donations to the organizations for which he’d given years of his time.

I dunno what I’m saying, except that I will miss him. I already miss him… In psychological terms, this is called “anticipatory grief” but it just feels sad to me. My husband came back Friday from visiting his family and Sunday we got a call from my husband’s mother saying his father has a chest infection. Since he is so deeply in dementia the whole family has agreed not to treat his infection—my husband agreed, too—and eventually he will likely succumb to this infection, so we are just waiting for news. My mother-in-law doesn’t usually call like this, so this conveyed the seriousness of the situation.

I love them both so much. It’s hard to know people I love are going through such sadness, and not be able to do anything.

This is a picture of my mother-in-law and me on the day I married her son:

Guinevere's wedding

Such a happy day.

What if I can actually choose what I think and what I do? God put these second parents in my life… and I can choose to learn from them. Or not. Today I choose to learn. One thing I can learn is to plan some travel. I want to go somewhere warm within the next three or four months of next year. I think my father-in-law would like that.

As for the first prompt… The bonus assignment is much easier than the prompt itself. Easier for me to talk to my past-self. What I would say is, You’re a good person. Good enough to stop taking that Lorcet every day. If you can’t stop by yourself, get help. It’s not doing your headaches or your body pain any good to take it. For godsake.

I’d say, Look in your files: You have good work to show people.

I’d say, People are kind, by and large. Be fearless.

I’d say, Go for it. Have fun trying.

I’d say, I love you.

Which is I guess what I will need to hear five years from now. And today, too.


  1. This was lovely to read. I have a mother-in-law who has put her hands on my face, too. It is such a loving, generous gesture. Intimate really. My father-in-law, who is quite narcissistic, uncharacteristically put both his hands on my face the last time I saw him so your photo speaks to me. I can learn from this.

  2. What a poignant post. I was so sorry to read about your father in law. He sounds like he has a cracking sense of humour and a man in love with France is a man true to my heart. Its a very special place and his generosity all the more obvious by him wanting to show it to you (I know that trip over the Atlantic – its seriously dull except when you go over Greenland!).

    I relate to what your point about Anticipatory Grief. I feel like I am going through it with Hannah even though she is alive and ‘well’. Your case is very different and I am so sorry for what you are all going through. I lost my mother in law to lung cancer a few years ago. I was so worried for my husband that I didnt think about how it would impact me until much later. You are here, now. As hard as it is, it is courageous. Be proud. I am 🙂 x

  3. G – Such a loving tribute to your husband’s parents. I can’t think of a nicer compliment than to have a daughter/son-in-law say such wonderful things about me. It certainly says a lot about your husband, as well, and what a good man he must be. Genuine generosity, such as your father-in-law’s, is so admirable – and inspirational – – – to give “for fun and for free”. I’m sorry you’re essentially just hanging out, waiting for the word that he’s gone. I’m sure he feels and knows your love, which will bring him comfort as he takes his final journey. Thinking of you. P.

  4. Beautiful post. I wish that I had such a family. But I had a family that loved me as much as they could. That is something to treasure. Your father-in-law sounds like a good man. I hope he will go out of this life easily.

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