karen o’malley, saint

If you’re a married woman there is at least a 90% chance that your mother-in-law drives you nuts. There’s maybe a 50% chance that you can tolerate her but prefer not to, and an even lower chance that you actually like her. I don’t think the same is necessarily true for married men, though, and it likely comes down to the stereotypical drama that women create with one another – the competition, the cattiness, and the fact that while most daughters tend to stay close to their mothers into adulthood, sons who get married eventually have to give into the whims and fancies of their wives. As they should! Not surprisingly, this fact can create turmoil within the wife/mother-in-law (not to mention grandchild) dynamic.

But every so often an angel drops down from the heavens into the lap of that unsuspecting bride-to-be. Let’s call her Karen O’Malley, the example by which all mothers-in-law should measure themselves. Not only do I like this woman, but I would go to the ends of the earth to defend, support and protect her. Today is her birthday and on this special day I want as many members of my social media circle (and hers) to know what a gift she has been to my life. From the very early days of my relationship with her son, Karen has been a beacon of warmth, light and love. She welcomed me into her world without hesitation and without judgment, despite some of our differences. Even at wedding time, as we were making the unpopular choice to have an out of town event, she remained an expert of graciousness, respect and support.

A few years into my relationship with Karen, we both found ourselves on the brink of losing our own mothers to the same type of cancer. While we’d been close to that point, I do believe that an unspoken shift took place in our relationship that would bind us together forever, come hell or high water. And I’m pretty sure both hell and high water did come a few years later when Sean and I uprooted our family to Colorado. Our marriage suffered a very dark phase during that time – a time in which any other mother-in-law might have abandoned me. But not Karen – she was no longer a mother-in-law, but the mother I no longer had. I was her fourth child and there was no way she was ever going to let me suffer alone. The sheer number of tears I have cried to this woman in our years together could flood the Chicago River.

Turns out, we are actually a lot alike. We both work hard at everything we do – careers, child-rearing, cleaning, you name it. My offer to have her live with us will always stand because having her visit is like cloning myself – neither of us can stand to sit still so we are always getting something accomplished wherever we are. When business is done, though, we can both chill out, be funny and have a great time. Again, when business is done, and not a second before.

Sean once told me that he realized he was in love with me when he met my family. And to his credit, between all my moms, dads, siblings and grandparents I have one of the most incredibly supportive, dynamic, and hilarious families you’ve ever met. But Karen brought a truly unique warmth and love to my life that I never knew before I met her. At my most vulnerable moments I long for her company. I can’t imagine not having spent the weeks after my babies were born with her. I can’t imagine not having someone in my life calling me “doll.” I can’t imagine not having her love in my life.

To one of the loveliest, most beautiful, most selfless people I know, happy birthday from your eternally grateful daughter, Marissa. XOXO.

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