I've been with the man who is the love of my life for nearly eight years, and - unlike Prince William and Kate Middleton - that is eight years without a break. We weren't friends first: It was pure love at first glance on a Lavalife blind date.
But we were in no hurry to do anything about that love. We felt no need to declare ourselves to our families and the world, so we just were. We filled our days with work, our evenings with takeout, our weekends with martini bars and games nights of Cranium and Balderdash. Our summers were spent on Latin American backpacking trips and European vacations, and our Christmases with impatient family members.
"I'm ready for grandchildren," my mother would say over pierogies.
"Are you thinking about getting married?" his would ask over tourtière.
"When are you going to stop throwing money away on rent and buy something?" his father's octogenarian mother would admonish over quiche.
Our retorts always consisted of phrases like we're not ready, what's the hurry, we have our whole lives ahead of us, we're living in the now, we're still young. Of course, young is relative. To people who married in their late teens and had children in their early 20s, listening to us thirtysomethings go on like that made them want to reach for their antacids.
But my husband's father was different. He didn't pester us with loving inquiries. He'd sit there grinning, squeezing ketchup onto the Quebecois meat pie his wife had painstakingly prepared, while she gave him a disappointed look. "My beautiful daughter-in-law is an independent woman," he'd say, and I'd blush. He was a man of many contradictions.
My husband's father never got to see me become his daughter-in-law. I never got to swap a moniker for a relationship. In the spring of 2008, the travelling salesman and avid golfer who could consume a novel a day was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Doctors gave the man who smoked a pack a day or more three months to live.
Now we were the ones asking all the questions: Why so fast? Why wasn't he diagnosed sooner? What can be done?
The answer was: nothing. Lungs are air sacs, not flesh. Air doesn't hurt. No pain, no detection. The cancer had already metastasized into my father-in-law's brain. He changed more in those three months than he had in the previous 61 years. There was nothing to be done. Or so I thought.
I continued with my responsibilities, travelling to Greece and Italy that summer to teach a high-school English course while my partner of six years took care of his dying father. The day I left, my "father-in-law" was sitting up in his hospital bed, simultaneously fussing with his BlackBerry and giving me advice on Italian men and Greek wine. He didn't make much sense, but he still managed to make me laugh.
When I returned a month later, he was lying in his home, aged by 30 years, spotted and hairless, unable to speak or register his "daughter-in-law" in front of him. I swear there was a fleeting moment of recognition in his eyes, even a faint smile, before he retreated back into his catatonic state. That was the last time we saw each other.
Watching my partner change his father's diapers and massage his motionless limbs filled me with incredible urgency. Hearing him crying over the phone out of sheer frustration and helplessness made me feel stupid, naive and selfish. It all made my life seem absurdly banal and short. Watching death unfold before my eyes, watching the love of my life harden, change and mature with this loss caused a reaction I never expected. Suddenly, I was ready. I was ready for it all.
To my surprise, so was my husband-to-be. We never really talked about it. It seemed like the next steps were all a natural part of grieving. Blinding anger was first, then numbness and silence for many months. Afterward came peace and love, a clichéd pairing but true nonetheless. He started talking about family. He started calling his grandmother, now 91, in Montreal on a weekly basis. We visit her regularly.
We married in a tiny, private ceremony at City Hall just over a year after his father's death. Just us and our impatient families. We bought a house two months after that with my mother-in-law's help. Nearly a year into our marriage, we were expecting our first child.
My sister said, "Wow, we're moving fast, aren't we."
I thought more like slow, painfully slow. Too slow to have my witty father-in-law see me marry his extraordinary son. Too slow to declare publicly my love for the best man I have ever known in front of the man who helped make him that good. Too slow to give my child the best grandfather possible. Too slow.
In Latin America they say, " Es lo que es." It is what it is.
I wasn't ready for what would finally make me ready. But it happened. Would I change any of it? Of course I would. Nevertheless, death and so much grief brought me more love than I had ever known before. And even though my husband and I just lost the 12-week pregnancy that brought us and our families so much joy after so much anguish, we still know that we're ready.
The pain of losing his father is helping us cope with the loss of a baby, and the lessons we've gained through it all are helping us look toward a future we now resolutely envision.
Agnieszka Maksimowska lives in Toronto.
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