Lessons from My Father-In-Law

My father-in-law, John, served in the Marines in World War II. When I first met him in 1983, my initial impression was of a good and principled man, but gruff and blustery, with rough edges, not too skilled in the emotional realm. He was tall, broad-shouldered, physically strong, and more than a little imposing. I went through the first 20 years of married life respecting him but also wary, watching what I said in his presence, trying to stay in the background so as not to attract his judgment.

When my mother-in-law suffered a series of strokes, John became her full-time caregiver for a dozen years, dressing her each morning, cooking her meals, taking her to doctor’s appointments, and getting the best hearing aids money could buy to deal with her increasing deafness. During those years, my husband and I spent more time with my in-laws, and the distance between John and me began to lessen. This once gruff man turned tender as his wife of 65 years failed. He honored his promise to care for her at home, at great cost to his own health, and was devastated when she died.

Recently, at age 90, John fell and broke his upper leg, requiring a partial hip replacement. He could have turned bitter. He could have retreated behind a wall of pain and pushed away the support of his five children and their spouses. Instead, he made a different choice, opting to be vulnerable, affectionate, and more appreciative than ever. While his vulnerability was real, so was his determination to recover, applying himself to the intensive regimen of physical therapy prescribed by his doctors so he could get back to independent living.

For more than 30 years, I’ve practiced yoga and meditation to reap their many health benefits, and I’ve stuck with those practices because they helped me be more open, present, connected, and compassionate. In all the years I’ve known him, my father-in-law hasn’t done a single posture or sat to meditate even once, but he has met the challenges of his long life head on and let them profoundly transform him.

The last time I visited him in the rehab facility where he was getting therapy after the hip replacement, John reached for my hand from his hospital bed. “I really love you,” he said, his eyes holding mine. Drawing me down for a hug, he whispered, “Thank you for everything you are doing.”

“I love you, too,” I told him, as a wave of affection washed over me. Both of us blinked back tears before he released my hand and told my husband and me to go home and get some dinner.

I turned to wave from the doorway of John’s room, hoping my life and practice leave me that gracious and loving when I’m 90 and in pain. I walked away thinking to myself that, after all these years, it’s my father-in-law who is the real yogi. The thought made me smile. If I said that to him, he’d shake his head and change the subject. But what had just happened between us—his love so freely offered, and mine so willingly received—proved that our relationship had truly evolved over time. This shows me that both the practice of yoga and a life fully lived can work miracles.

Danna Faulds is the author of six books of poetry and the memoir Into the Heart of Yoga.

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Danna Faulds, author of six poetry books and the memoir Into the Heart of Yoga: One Woman's Journey, is a long-term Kripalu Yoga practitioner.

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