I approached my former husband amidst the room of the grieving. Momentarily disoriented by his polite reach to shake my hand, I leaned forward with an insistent and brief but sincere hug.
“My dad always really liked you,” he said, forcing that smile I remember from our married years when he tried to look on the sunny side of sad situations. “And I always really liked him,” I said, looking away and choking back the tears.
My former father-in-law was a good man. I remember him quietly giving a “be nice” reminder when squabbling between me the lawyer and my ex the lawyer threatened the equanimity of a Thanksgiving dinner. A stark contrast to my own father who was more absent than present from his family, Lee loved the company of children. This tall quiet man, known for both his patience and his passion for adventure, was always at home with a baby in his arms. My oldest son was given Lee as a middle name. My youngest adopted it in adulthood.
I was mesmerized by display of hundreds of photos of my former family boating on the lake, enjoying birthday cakes, and celebrating feasts on festively decorated tables. I silently and somewhat shamefully noted there was no evidence of my decade of being a part of this family. Mostly I missed them. Despite more than 20 years having passed since my legal relationship to this family ended, my heart was still connected to the voices, the humor, and the storytelling I had once been a part of.
“I need to sit down,” said my children’s grandmother, who had been bravely accepting condolences from one person after another. She invited me to sit next to her on the funeral home sofa.
“I’ve never lived alone,” she said. Over 80 years old and she was in a new world. Lee died on a Friday. By Sunday she was required to move from their shared assisted living home to a place on her own.
I was reminded that divorce is not the only life circumstance that finds people abruptly packing boxes amidst their shock and grief. This strong woman was doing so after 65 years of being married to this man whose body now lay in the coffin, wearing the red sweater he wore every Christmas Eve.
Sorrow. Memories. Loss revisited. Grief. Change. Like divorce, it is a part of both death and of life.
“You’ll have to come see me,” she said. My sadness lifted with the hope of continued connection to this family that was once mine.