Celebrated in Canada, Family Day is not an American holiday. But knowing it fell on Feb. 15 this year, brought me to tears.
Two years ago I entered a moment of wifehood we dread: the passing of our spouse’s parent. The sudden decline of my mother-in-law was unexpected, leaving a tailspin of activity up until her final day. In the midst of this, I attempted to navigate the world of one child who was outwardly struggling and the other who kept it hidden underneath a facade.
As my mother-in-law neared her final days, my husband could not bring himself to be away from her. Who could blame him? As she had loved him, it was his turn to love her in the same gentle, careful, deliberate way.
On Valentine’s Day, we said:
“Let’s take Daddy and MeMaw some Valentines.”
Having been there earlier that day, I knew time was vanishing. We hopped in the car, called my husband, and drove to Hospice.
“Hey, hun – we are coming up for Valentine’s Day.”
“Did my sister call you?” The urgency painted his words. “They said to call the family.”
I spent the next 10 minutes intentionally explaining to my children that MeMaw was not long for this world. We entered the quiet lobby where barely anyone was around or awake. The couches were set up to feel like a private sanctuary away from the hospital rooms.
My father-in-law, sister-in-law, husband, myself and our two kids took turns going to see MeMaw, say goodbye, and hold her hand. For much of the time, the kids and I sat in the lobby. Having not watched television for a good part of the year, the unlimited TV mixed with no bedtime allowed the kids to feel grown-up. A sense of togetherness in this most awful and heartwrenching situation began to take center stage.
It then dawned on me.
How fitting my mother-in-law would bring us all together for Valentine’s Day. No one would be alone. She always wanted us to just be together on the holiday… any of the holidays. She and my father-in-law gave my grandma first pick of the holidays, as she was the elder member of the family. This day, though, we were together on the actual day… and for her.
My husband told us the staff said it may take all night or days before she passed. We both knew his mom. She would not allow this to take days. Life had always been on her terms.
The nurses brought us pillows, sheets, and blankets for the lobby. I never expected this level of care. We took turns saying our goodbyes, hoping she could hear the love.
Shortly after Valentine’s Day passed, in the very early hours of the 15th, my mother-in-law left this life. I have never shaken the belief she did this intentionally – bringing us together for the holiday but not allowing the holiday to be defined by her passing. She waited until the next morning.
We spent the next year experiencing all the firsts without MeMaw. No sooner than all the firsts were through, Covid hit and lockdowns began. It made it quite difficult to do much with my father-in-law and keep him safe simultaneously. Consequently, it is as if the passage of time from losing her stood still with the rest of the world.
Then I come across this… Feb. 15… Family Day. The basis of Family Day is to simply do as it is called: spend time with your family loving one another. This defined my mother-in-law. This was the foundation of who she was. It is fitting not everyone in Canada gets the day off, as she often had to create these memories by bending the norms due to restrictions of a balanced life.
So this Family Day, while not an American holiday whatsoever, our family will join in. And while Canada’s Family Day’s date changes, ours will not. From here on out, Feb. 15 will be “Family Day,” and while we may not have the day off, we will make the focus on each other and creating memories to last us through the years.
To celebrate Family Day with your loved ones, check out our February Bingo.