Marrying into a family isn’t always easy. But for Barbara Abramson, a humble and kind man made it so.
My father-in-law was the oldest of five children and the most serious of them too. His brother and three sisters worked hard but still enjoyed life. He just worked hard, shouldering responsibility for his family and rarely did anything for himself.
The day his son (my husband) was born–as the story has been told– he had to shave before going to the hospital. He never went anywhere unkempt.
When he knew I was about to become part of his family he pulled me aside to ask me my intentions. What he meant was, what were my intentions with regard to the family business. Each of his siblings, one brother, and three sisters had all gone into the family flooring business. Their respective spouses had as well. My husband was one of the few cousins from the “second generation” who continued on and my future father-in-law wanted to let me know it was expected of me.
“Oh no! I have a job,” I explained. I was working for a large media company at the time. He never brought it up again. Little did I know a dozen years later my job would be moved to Chicago and I would end up learning about flooring!
My son was born the year my father-in-law turned 75. He was the last of his siblings to have grandchildren. When he came to the hospital and saw his son’s son for the first time, he looked at me with tears in his eyes. “I used to be an old man,” he said. “Now, I’m a grandfather.”
It changed him. It softened him. He smiled more.
He was a true gentleman and was incredibly polite and courteous.
When you have a baby, most everyone asks you how the baby is doing. My father-in-law always asked about me first. “How is the mother?” he would inquire. Then he would ask about our son.
I think he was a little terrified of a newborn. The only way he would hold him was in a carrier on his lap, with someone sitting right next to him, just in case.
If he wasn’t working, which wasn’t often, he was golfing. If he had a bad day on the course, he blamed it on the clubs and bought new ones. Or new “used” ones.
He was an also extremely generous man, always bringing something when he traveled to visit family. Hand-bound area rugs from his store. Food. Money for the kids.
Polite. Thoughtful. Kind. I adored him.
My husband always joked his father liked me best. I rarely saw him get angry, but when he did, I was the one who could calm him down.
With issues of health, my husband’s family always kept secrets from each other. They didn’t want the rest of the family to worry. Bad news was never shared at night so as not to ruin everyone’s sleep. Some illnesses were never shared until there was a death, only to find out they had cancer or heart issues for years. Coming from a family without secrets, this took some getting used to.
When my son was nine, my in-laws took him with them in the car to drop off their taxes at the accountant’s office. They brought him back to the carpet store and headed to the pharmacy nearby to pick up a prescription. And then the phone rang.
A local police officer and family friend called to say there had been an accident. My father-in-law had hit the gas instead of the brake and crashed into the building. He was banged up, my mother-in-law who was not wearing her seatbelt suffered a broken leg and shoulder. She ended up in surgery and rehab for months during which time he came to live with us.
His skin, thin and fragile like the layers of an onion needed daily bandaging. For a while, a nurse came to administer his care, but I often helped as well. He was sad and angry and depressed. It didn’t help that the car was totaled and his license was taken away. He told his wife to divorce him. Of course, she didn’t.
Several years later, he was rushed to the emergency room coughing up blood which turned out to be from aspirating food into his lungs, caused by a condition of atrophy of his esophagus. Eventually, he was relegated to soft foods and then a feeding tube, at which time he started shutting down as the depression returned.
His method of communicating became shaking his fist at people. It was his way of letting us know he was in some kind of pain. It could be physical, or emotional. But never at me. I suppose he did like me best.
When he became too weak to walk, he lay in a bed for nearly 11 months before he drew his last breath.
I had never experienced being with someone at the end of their life before. It was an honor to help care for him. I’m proud that although I went into the family business kicking and screaming, I was able to help carry on his legacy.