Loving your relatives during the holidays

By Tony Rossi         
Bob Brody never got along with his mother-in-law—and he let the whole world know it in a Thanksgiving column he penned for New York’s Daily News a while back.
His specific problems with Antoinette “Nettie” Chirichella of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, were that she talked too loud and too much, was an incessant worrier, and tended to focus primarily on all the negatives in the world. Brody wrote, “The woman got under my skin more than acupuncture.” He prided himself, though, on restraining his annoyance at her for 23 years.
Then, in 1998, something changed. It wasn’t Nettie, who still acted and talked the same way she always had. Brody, however, became different. He said, “Maybe Nettie grew on me. Maybe I simply grew up. Maybe it dawned on me that even though she might never change, I certainly could.”
Brody started willingly spending more time with the woman he had considered an annoyance for the previous two decades. He wrote, “After so long avoiding conversations, I started to talk with her. I asked about her life, listening as she reminisced. I took her for long drives. I treated her to dinner at the restaurant of her choice every Sunday at around 5:00. We actually enjoyed our next Thanksgiving together.”
Brody learned that Nettie had worked as a seamstress in a sewing factory for 47 years. It occurred to him that maybe she talked loud because she had no choice if she wanted her co-workers to hear her over the noisy sewing machines.
Brody’s newfound appreciation of Nettie kept growing, especially when he took into account the fact that she had raised her daughter (Brody’s wife) by herself on a measly salary. And now, Nettie had been taking care of her two grandchildren so Brody and his wife could go to work. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that Nettie was someone to admire.
Brody wrote, “Nothing was ever easy for her, yet she never gave us an ounce less than her all. Nettie never second-guessed me, never questioned my bad decisions or came down on me when I got fired from my first job; never stopped believing in me even when I almost stopped believing in myself. So I made amends with an act of apology long overdue.”
The newfound camaraderie between son-in-law and mother-in-law unfortunately didn’t last long. The following year saw Nettie succumb to complications from open heart surgery. She passed away at the age of 78.
Reflecting on his relationship with Nettie, Brody said, “Nettie has been gone for 12 years now, and I would give most anything to get her back, even if only for an hour, just to keep my apology going. I would love to see her just once more with her grandchildren, both grown so smart, beautiful and talented. We keep her cane on display in our living room, leaning against a dresser, as if to lend our family her support through eternity. If I ever forget how to feel grateful on Thanksgiving, she’s all the reminder I need.”
As you gather with relatives this holiday season – maybe with some you’ve never been particularly fond of – why not follow Bob Brody’s example by really listening to them and getting to know them. When you hear their stories and discover the joys they’ve experienced and struggles they’ve survived, you might just come to see them as blessings for which you can feel thankful.
This column was written by Tony Rossi, director of Communications for The Christophers.         

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.