Happy Mother’s (in-law) Day

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Busting the stereotype of battling in-laws, Toby Saltzman finds solace in her sons’ wives when a health crisis strikes

Tears cloud my eyes as I recline in the spa sanctuary, not for sad, as you may imagine, but for happy, knowing that, while facing life’s most difficult time since my husband Ken’s sudden diagnosis with a rare form of lung cancer, I am blessed with the sustenance of two daughters-in-law, whose warm-hearted care runs beyond all expressions of words. Snuggled under a cashmere cover, my mind wanders to the incredible day we learned disease had seized this vibrant man who never smoked, exercised daily, loved his work, lived a healthy lifestyle and had no such family history.

First, we cried, pondering unanswerable questions that defy sense and faith. When Ken and our three sons decided depressive thoughts were not productive, we pinned hopes on the oncologist and the newest chemotherapy drug, resolving to pose positive.

Feigning fortitude while fighting off unwelcome subliminal images of the future for my love – who’d been my teenage sweetheart, then husband for 47-plus years – I retreated to seclusion, dedicating time only to Ken and wrapping myself into myself. That’s when daughters-in-law Jill and Joanna began massaging my soul with emotional healing. They called frequently, reminding me each time: “You are not alone. We’re a family. We’ll work through this together.”

Ultimately, they convinced me to loosen up. “Share feelings with your closest friends … they’ll want to support you,” they urged. And they were right. It wasn’t easy for Jill and Jo to stretch time between their own work schedules and shuttling my grandchildren to school and activities, yet they embraced Ken and me with attention, making life immeasurably easier.

Besides preparing and delivering meals, they took turns hosting the weekly family dinners that Ken and I had always loved planning, if only to see our brood gather around the dining table before the little ones would slide off their seats and run to play in the den. They delivered lunches for chemotherapy days at the hospital, where our sons thankfully skewed their schedules to join us with spirit-boosting stories. And after each tiring treatment, we returned home to find a surprise, often a panel crafted with family pictures and cute phrases touting family love and togetherness.

Just when I was feeling that the good life Ken and I had strived to build was spiralling away, Jill’s and Jo’s genuine sentiments nudged us to appreciate that our family life was as loving as ever.

It was a yearning to show gratitude for buoying me up when I was psychologically drowning that brings me here, to the lovely and serene sanctuary at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto Spa. Lest you think it lavish to offer facials, body scrubs and hot stone massages, I value our time here as much a personal treat for the world’s best daughters-in-law as it is an investment in family bonding.

Thankfully, my eyes clear as Jill and Jo appear, glowing from pampering programs boosted with the spa’s potions. Over lunch – while still clad in satiny robes – we laugh about the indulgent cachet of devoting time to ourselves, being in a bubble beyond cares and routines. When they flow the conversation to my writing and inspirations, I know they are subtly soothing me back to creative work. Tears appear again as I realize their concern for me is so wonderfully endearing.

As we leave the spa, promising to return another day, I recall a quote from years ago: “A daughter’s a daughter for the rest of your life, but a son is a son till he marries a wife.” Clearly, that person didn’t know the joys of caring daughters-in-law.