I never knew my father-in-law before the cancer. Pictures show me a large, strapping man, with red hair and a shy smile. The first time I met him was long enough after a round of chemo for him to have a short white fluff of regrowth. By the time his son and I were engaged, it was back to a faded rust that seemed more him.
We knew he wasn’t getting better by the time my fiancé and I were planning our wedding. Instead of a wedding in the church where so many of the brides in my family said “I do”, we planned something simple near the college we were both graduating from soon.
Seeing my soon-to-be father-in-law grow smaller and more tired after every session of dialysis was one of the reasons we moved the wedding up six months.
I remember the simple happiness of our rehearsal dinner. Our families drove in, and we had a barbeque dinner catered in a near-by national park. Though the wedding day was to be brutally hot (with me in a ridiculous gown like Scarlett at Twelve Oaks), the night before was the high point of food and company.
This was really the turning point for my father-in-law. By Christmas, he was not often out of his recliner. His food was pureed and bland, except for the occasional bacon, because why not.
Eight months later, the last day of February found us in a new state all grown up with our post-college jobs. The phone call still surprised us. We flew home quickly to be with his mother and help with the funeral details. I thought I had food poisoning, but a hastily purchased test showed us better news.
After we told my mother-in-law to expect someone new in the family before Thanksgiving, I’d never seen anyone look so happy. I wished I’d known one day sooner so we could have told him, so he could have known. My mother-in-law, still in her black dress, comforted me. “Of course he knows now.”
I hope he does. I hope he sees his legacy of two beautiful granddaughters and my two grown sons, whom he took into his heart right away. I remember him with praise for raising the good man I married, someone I love more now than then.
Sometimes you don’t get your own memories. Sometimes you get stories, old photos, and flickering silent films of a good man. And I think that can be enough.