Growing up the fifth of eight children, I never fully appreciated the notion of wanting to add extra people to your family. Why would you want another brother if you already had five?
After law school, I returned from Boston to Omaha where all of my family, save one brother, still lived. I never lacked for the opportunity to be with family on any Christmas, birthday, or Fourth of July. My husband’s family lived here, too, and our children grew up on my mother-in-law’s famous sit down holiday dinners for 20.
Family changes when you divorce. You lose more family than simply your spouse. Even in the most amicable cases, your relationship with your spouse’s family is forever altered. Invitations for weekends at the lake evaporate. The birthday card never arrives. Polite exchanges are had at your child’s spring concert. It’s not the same.
When you lose family, your appreciation of the meaning of “family of choice” expands. You realize how having the same people you love show up again and again around your dining room table for the turkey dinner matters to you. You treasure that short list of people you can call when your power goes out, your car dies, or you need someone to drive you home after that small surgery. You wonder what you would do without them.
I was recently invited to attend the First Communion of the daughter of my law partner, Angela. This sweet child was born on my mother’s 80th birthday and she has always held a special place in my heart. I searched for a meaningful gift. I carefully wrote the words that were in my heart for her on this day. I arrived early at the cathedral wearing my pearls.
As we sat together after the ceremony, Anna looked preciously innocent in her sparkling white dress, crown of flowers, and little veil. She was surrounded by her parents, grandparents, her dad’s girlfriend, and me. Cameras flashed at smiling faces. This milestone in her spiritual life was an important family event, and I was at the table, having been playfully dubbed Anna’s Fairy Godmother.
As Angela and I were both called upon to redefine our families after both losing our spouses, we now freely acknowledge the family we are to each other.
When the grief of losing your spouse’s family has subsided, consider who you might choose to include in your new family. It could be the elderly neighbor you’ve always been too busy to get to know, the co-worker you’ve always wanted to know better, or the buddy who has always been there for you. Within each choice lies the possibility of being delighted to be at the family table.