Today I had the unusual yet wonderful opportunity to visit my 'other family' due to a death in their family. My former father-in-law passed away on Wednesday.
When my former husband and I split over 8 yrs ago, it was amicable. Ours was a rare parting of ways. Although the circumstances were all too common, our life after the fact of love and marriage transitioned into one of a positive experience not only for us but our three children. We had our differences that drove us to end our marriage, but the one thing we had going for us is that we were always on the same page with respect to our children. That single element of our marriage was carried forth & paved the way for us being able to parent successfully as a divorced couple and avoid the pitfalls and mud-slinging that becomes an all too often occurrence when there are children involved.
With the end of our marriage, many other things came to an end. Our lives as we knew it with our respective families ended as well. Gone were the holiday celebrations and other special family times not just with us and our children, but with our extended families. All too often when divorce occurs, it creates a tremendous crack in the old familiar routines of life. You go your separates ways and life takes you down paths and twists and turns you could never anticipate even if you tried to imagine. And as a result time slips away and before you know it, you have gotten far away from staying in touch with each other's families.
For the first time in as many years, I went to see my former in-laws today. My mom, God love her, was sweet enough to offer to go with me for support. Even though when my former husband & I parted ways and there was no animosity between our respective families and either of us, I felt really nervous and awkward going to my former mother-in-laws house to visit with her during this difficult time. I don't know if it was the fact that I hadn't seen her and my former father-in-law in such a long while or if it was a twinge of guilt in knowing that my former FIL had been sick for quite sometime and I kept telling myself that I needed to go see him over and over and time ran out on me before I ever took the notion to.
When I arrived inside and greeted my former MIL, the tension I felt within immediately disappated. I was at peace and at ease. It wasn't so much about the fact that she made me feel welcome after all this time as did the rest of the family, but for a brief period of time, things felt 'normal' to me again for the first time in many years. Seeing everyone and having the opportunity to visit with them and get caught up, took me back to days of old & remembering all the chats we all had in that very same setting, in that very same room, and with the same group of people who were there back then too.
Later this evening, I went to the funeral home with my dad and stepmom to pay my respects, and came away with yet more reflections as I saw even more people who were part of that era of life as I knew it back then. In being taken back, I couldn't help but feel a sense of regret that my former husband and I didn't work harder to save our marriage instead of letting it fall apart. Back then we weren't thinking about years down the road when we would be older, as would our kids, as would our relatives and their children, and that as a whole we would all be getting older and life would become more precious and short. We weren't thinking about loss (outside of the marriage itself) of loved ones and how that would come to affect us all.
Throughout the course of the day the memories came flooding back. I think the hardest thing for me to deal with today is the realization that we never really fully heal from certain chapters in our lives that reach their end. Sure, we go along and live our lives, keep moving forward and never really stop to think about it. We push the past down and as far back in our minds to stay locked up forever...until life sneaks up on you and reminds you of what was.
My 'other' family made me feel welcome today just like they always did even when my former husband and I were married. The irony of it all is the things his family had to say to me and my parents was incredibly loving. My ex has been remarried for 4 years and while that is another story for another post for another day, I couldn't get over the fact of how his family embraced me as if we were still married, even despite the fact I had not seen them except here and there through the years.
What made today even more incredible is how I couldn't decide if I would have rather they embraced me or shunned me. While it felt good to know they still consider me family, in some strange way it would have almost been easier to face this day had they not been so nice to me. I think I could have handled it much easier. It further didn't help matters knowing inside that his family has always made a point to embrace and accept me far exceedingly over the 2nd Mrs. O'Neal. I don't say this with malice nor to come across in a negative way but to simply explain that they don't do it intentionally. You see, there's an old saying that goes "you get what you give" and well it goes without saying that the 2nd Mrs. O'Neal has never strived to make the necessary investment into 'my other family' for the sake of building those relationships. Most 1st wives would be thrilled about this, but I'm one of the few that just feels sad on the inside because she's failed to do this not only for herself but for the sake of my former husband and most importantly for our children, who have been a witness to this from day one of her being in the picture.
Today was indeed a time of true reflection. The woulda, coulda, shoulda thoughts of the past I had long since put behind me ran through my mind and of course, I wouldn't be human if I didn't wonder if they had entered my former husband's thoughts too as he watched things unfold between his family and I. Thoughts can be ignored, but it is truly difficult to deny or feign off actions as they happen.
That part of my life is over and done with and the memories of that era with my 'other' family will stay with me for the rest of my life. The likelihood that my former husband and I would ever reconcile is slim to none given he's married and the fact I've not spent a great deal of time over these last 8 yrs putting a lot of thought into it. But today was filled with melancholy moments for me. I was forced to look backward at life as I once knew it and ask myself a few critical questions that I would've never embarked on back then. While stranger things have happened and we never know what the future holds, we can never go back to the way things used to be and we should never look back, but sometimes its necessary in order to keep moving forward.