My husband’s ex-wife, the mother of his three children, died yesterday.
Even just a couple of months ago, and knowing she was sick, I never imagined writing those words.
What I am about to say is hard, but I need to say it.
I didn’t always have charitable thoughts about her. In fact, there were times when my thoughts were quite unkind and sometimes downright nasty. And, from what I understand, she sometimes thought the same way about me.
I guess you could say it was typical. Ex-wife/current wife…biomom/stepmom stuff.
But you know what? Over the years we did things together. And I am not even going to say “for the sake of the kids” because while they were certainly the reason we ever hung out together, we did things together because we were meant to be part of each other’s lives, at least for a while.
Some of my fondest memories in the past 20 years include her: sitting in the stands at the Little League field and the gymnastics meets. Some holidays. The time we took 12-year-old Jessica and two of her friends to see Hanson (you should have heard the screaming!). The graduations. The birth of our grandson.
She was gracious. She included me. In pictures with her kids. “You’re part of the family too…”
The thing is, I haven’t always felt part of any family.
Growing up I had two families:
One with my mother, stepfather, and adopted brother. And we’d often spend time with my stepfather’s family, but I wasn’t biologically part of that family. In fact, my mother and stepfather haven’t been married since the early 80s. They’re both remarried now.
And the other with my father, stepmother, and half sister and brother. And when I was with them, we’d often spend time with my stepmother’s family…and I wasn’t biologically part of them either. My father and stepmother eventually got divorced too.
All the divorces, all the remarriages. The steps. The halves. The once-removeds. The people who are there because they’re somehow part of the mix.
And then I married a man with kids and an ex-wife.
It seems so silly, but I am sitting here in tears because I see it so differently now…it was I who chose to feel separate and apart, for whatever reason. It wasn’t because of the circumstances. It was I who had barriers up. I am not blaming myself for it, but I see how I held back. It’s up to me to be willing to be included. To step up and own the fact that I belong…and to act like it.
I know I am rambling on here about me, when this is really about Elizabeth. But it’s all part of the point I am trying to make.
These people with whom we spend time…who love the same people we love…who teach us stuff…they’re family.
Last week, on her last somewhat lucid day, I went to see her. I had been afraid because I didn’t think I belonged there. I didn’t want to “intrude.”
I sat down next to her bed and reached for her hand. She roused herself and said, “None of this handshake shit…I want a hug.” And so I hugged her. A little while later she complained about chapped lips. Her daughter Jessica offered her some Chapstick, which she promptly waved away. She wanted something softer…there was a tiny pot of pink Vaseline lip balm by the bed and Jessica said, “Do you want me to put some of this on?” And she said no. Her son Jeremey asked if he could do it, and she said no. They both looked at me, and Jeremey said, “Do you want Karen to do it?” And she replied, with her trademark sarcasm, “Ding ding ding!” And so I put some balm on her lips.
Godspeed Elizabeth Marshall. And thank you for including me.
Jessica, Elizabeth, Bryan, Tim, Me, Jeremey