It's a strange feeling to go to the funeral of someone you've never met. Stranger still to be seated in the seats reserved for family. How do I explain myself when someone asks, "Who are you?"
It all started on Monday - at least my side of the story did. For others it began at some point in the last ninety-three years.
Son#5 was bored. After suggesting a number of options to relieve his boredom (everything from weeding to going swimming) I hit on a visit to his Grandma, adding, "She'd love to see you for no reason at all." This had appeal and so Son#5 took off on his bike and I settled down to remake curtains for the laundry that I'd quickly whipped up before Christmas only to discover they were crooked. (Not entirely my fault as I had hemmed some curtains I'd picked up second hand not realising how "out" they were.)
By the time the curtains were ready to hang, Son#5 had returned.
"Was Grandma pleased to see you?"
"I think so."
"How was she?"
This is not a word usually used to describe my MIL and I was compelled to ask further questions. It turned out that her cousin - "double cousin" as they called each other because they were related through both sets of parents - had passed away and she didn't know if she'd be able to make it to the funeral in a neighbouring town. I immediately said that I could take her and Son#5 replied, "I thought you'd be able to but I thought I should check with you first."
When I rang her later that night she did indeed sound "sad". My MIL is a very loving person but she is also very strong. It was a shock to me to hear her so down. Arrangements were made and today I took her to the funeral. Because of her relationship they seated us in the family section which, as I've already said, was rather disconcerting.
It turned out that I didn't need to explain myself. Those who didn't know my MIL had heard of her and all seemed anxious to talk with her. I found myself continually being introduced as "My DIL" and I couldn't fail to notice how pleased she was to have at least one family member she could introduce (even if I was only related by marriage). I met cousins of DH's that he has probably never met or would never recognise if he ran into them in the street. I heard family secrets aired and a few family tragedies - most that I'd heard before but this time I could put a face to the story. And by the end of it, I no longer felt like an impostor.
For a brief moment in time we shared something ... regrets ... grief ... a realisation of our own mortality ... the knowledge that life is fragile ... family ties ... something so fragile that it defies explanation or description but something real all the same.
I doubt I'll ever meet any of these people again ... which is probably the strangest thing of all.