When you marry, you not only gain a life partner, but a whole bunch of new family members. If you are lucky, they like you and you like them, and Christmas and Thanksgiving and kid birthdays and family reunions are pleasant and full of memories.
If you are blessed, some of those new family members take in you into their hearts and love you and you do the same to them. Eventually there comes a day when they are no longer "in-laws" but just family. Beloved family.
I have been blessed. My darling hubby's family is not perfect, and there are those that I'd just as soon never see again, but for the most part, I've grown to love these folks as though I had grown up with them. Even crazy Aunt Dottie. Especially Aunt Dottie - because that girl has some *wild* stories! For each family member, that moment where they became *my* family was different. For Aunt Dottie, it was the first time I met her, the day after MDH's father had passed away (Dottie was his dad's sister). She came up to me, gave me a hug and whispered in my ear "I'm the hussy of the family." I loved her instantly.
For Uncle Cooper, it was the first Christmas in our first house. We bought it when E was 2 and I was pregnant with J. By the time Christmas rolled around, we had two little boys and I threw everything I had into making that first house that we owned a home.
Now remember - I love Christmas. It's my favorite holiday. I now spend a day and a half just putting up the tree and decorating it. Making my home full of Christmas cheer is something I love to do. But a decorator I'm not. Back then, decorating was buying things here and there, and getting hand me downs and throwing them together. Most of *my* decorating sense at the time was left over from living with 3 other chicks in my early 20's - which could be called "Party Girl Chic 1988" at best.
That Christmas, Uncle Cooper and Aunt DeDe came by the house after seeing his mother. They live in San Angelo, but drove up to see his mom who lived in Lubbock pretty often. And they always made time to come see us, and they just *adored* E & J. At the time, they didn't have any grandchildren, and I think our boys were substitutes or something. So they dropped by for a visit, and shortly after Cooper came in, he looked around my home, and turned to me and said "Isn't that tree pretty? DeDe, will you look at this house? Boy - this whole room is just great. Mysti - you did a great job."
And with that, Uncle Cooper became family. I was very fond of him before, but that moment of affirmation soothed the soul of this young mom and wife in a way that even I didn't realize I needed. I felt like that maybe, just maybe, I was getting this wife & mom thing done after all.
We had many years with Uncle Cooper. I can still see him watching a little E or J and saying "DeDe, will you look at that?" with boundless pride and love at something they had done, whether it was crawling for the first time (which E did at 8 months at their home in San Angelo) or waving a toy and grinning. Uncle Cooper was as close to a paternal grandfather as my kids will ever have, as MDH's dad passed away before we married. He was a man who loved his wife and daughter, and never said an unkind word to anyone unless it was warranted. And even then he was more likely to keep his counsel I think than to be ugly.
He worked for Santa Fe until his retirement, and then spent his days golfing as well as with the Silver Hair Legislature. And last night, after a battle with leukemia, Uncle Cooper passed away. The world is much sadder place without him. And this morning, my heart is breaking. I know he's in a better place. But I already miss him so.
Please keep DeDe and Denise, his wife and daughter, in your prayers today. And my husband, who was always so close to him. Today will be hard for all of us. This weekend .... well - I just don't think I'm ready to think about it yet.
I still can't believe he's gone.