Most days I manage to hold him at bay, that son-in-law I once imagined I’d have. It’s pointless to indulge in thoughts of what might have been if life had gone as planned. But sometimes, when I least expect it, he kicks down the door to my inner sanctum and wreaks a little havoc. His most recent visit was last Easter Sunday.
Let’s face it, when your perfect baby is born, it’s only natural to have a set of expectations of how life is going to play out. When we finally resigned ourselves to what remained after Jen’s brain injury, those expectations had to be dealt with. One by one, they were tenderly wrapped up and packed away in an inviolably private place which, I’ve learned, doesn’t have a key. I can’t keep them permanently contained, try as I may.
A couple of years ago, a friend sent me her list of ten Personal Principles which inspired me to come up with my own. It’s quite the exercise, really, to sit quietly and come up with the top ten tenets which help guide you through life. And indulging myself in thoughts of my phantom son-in-law is in direct violation of Personal Principle #2: Exercise Mental Discipline.
I really let my guard down that Easter Sunday and let him waltz right in while I was setting the table for dinner. Fitting he should appear in the dining room where that empty sixth chair serves as reminder of a missing family member. I remember wondering what his name is. And who he married instead of Jen. What does he look like? Does his mother-in-law appreciate him?
And then I imagined the grandchildren he would have given me. Oh yes, I was really on a roll that day. I should be hiding Easter eggs, I thought, and filling baskets with jelly beans and garishly-colored marshmallow peeps. I should be placing chocolate bunnies at place settings and presenting a lamb cake to squeals of delight. I should have been an Oma, I would have been awesome. And my beloved husband….well, we’ll just stop right here.
We all have one, I think. A Phantom Son-in-Law of some incarnation. He is the metaphor for life’s Plan A – the one we thought we’d lead when first embarking into the great unknown of our future.
One of my wisest friends once counseled me that the secret to contentment in life is how well we cope with Plan B. Truer words were never spoken.
Dealing with Plan B – however it manifests itself – can be achieved fairly happily if I stick to Personal Principle #2. I didn’t have to indulge myself in reincarnating the phantom that day. I could have derailed that train of thought, but I chose not to because I selfishly wanted to conduct my own personal pity party. It’s kind of like scratching poison ivy – you know you shouldn’t, but it feels so excruciatingly good – until you pay the heavy price for that brief lapse in self-control. Emotional rashes leave scars too.
Exercising mental discipline means not allowing myself to go there. I keep the Phantom and his kids in that attic and when they begin to stir, I make the almost physical effort to push them away, sometimes violently. This works for me; I don’t know that it would for everybody. We all have to find our own way of puzzling out a peaceful co-habitation with our specters, I guess.
I want to write here occasionally about my Personal Principles, but it’s tricky for me. I would despise it if I came off as preachy or looking for sympathy. Believe me, I am so far from having all the answers, it’s ridiculous. Nor is sympathy a motivation; I have so much to be thankful for. Just the act of writing things down in this format helps me gain clarity, so if nothing else, I’ll consider being able to do so a glimmer of life’s silver.
How about you? Have you ever considered developing a list of ten Personal Principles? Do you have a method of coping with life’s inevitable Plan B? Does your Phantom Son-in-Law kick down the door occasionally too?
Thanks for reading,