In-Laws, Outlaws, Exes and Grief

Did you know the divorce rate is on the decline in North America?  It seems the Millennials lived through enough broken marriages that they are willing to give wedded bliss a better effort than did their parents.  From a statistical perspective, 60% of couples married between the ages of 20 and 25 are likely to divorce.  Interestingly enough, a couple that marries after the age of 25 is 24% less likely to end their marriage in divorce.

Whatever the statistics, there are as many different kinds of divorces as there are couples.  Once separated, some people don’t speak to or see each other again.  Like, ever.  Other couples decide they really are soul mates and remarry.  Like, each other.  Sometimes those second marriages are more successful than their first.  Sometimes not. There are exes that just can’t stand the thought of each other, and those who pine for their lost love for the rest of their life.

Letting go can be hard to do

After 18.5 years married and now 26 years apart, I’d like to think my ex-husband and I have forged a healthy friendship based on the love we share for our children and a genuine concern for one another’s well-being.  We don’t see each other very often due to the geographical distance that lies between us, but we do show up when needed.  We go through phases where we talk on the phone quite often and then again might go for months without speaking at all.  Not because we are experiencing any kind of acrimony towards one another, but because we are busy with our lives and there is nothing pressing that needs to be discussed.

One of our sons recently shared that he had never heard his dad say a bad word about me.  He added that in all fairness, he’d never heard me do so either.  That snippet of conversation seemed to be the best endorsement a divorced couple could possibly hope for from one of their children.  And while there really aren’t any winners when a marriage comes to an end, that felt like a win for us both.

It came as no surprise then, when Dave (my ex-husband) called a couple of weeks ago.  What was surprising was his first sentence. “Are you sitting down?”  I wasn’t, and felt my feet start to tingle with anxiety at the significance of his question.  Dragging a chair over to the phone, I sat and waited for what could only be difficult news.  And it was.  His brother had died that morning.

In loving memory

Tim was only 62 years old and had passed away very suddenly.  He had been recently diagnosed with cancer, so long undetected in his body that it had metastasized.  He was given the choice between 10 months to live or an extensive surgery with the odds of leaving the operating table alive set at 50/50.  Many weeks had passed since his complicated and successful surgery and he was well on the road to recovery, hopeful for a full and continuing life.  That morning Tim had not been feeling well and a retired paramedic friend had taken him to hospital to see why.  He died 2 ½ hours later.

Forever in our hearts

Needless to say, Dave was devastated.  His family had already lost a son and brother 43 years ago, and now a second had just slipped away.  The two sons now lost were twins, and the family was shattered on each occasion.  Their father had passed away several years prior and their mother was now left to deal with the loss of another child without her beloved partner to share her sorrow.

What do we say in such circumstances other than we are so very sorry?  To feel the loss, deeply, as an ex-member of the family and offer condolences to the bereaved.  To speak words of comfort and reminisce about the family member who has left us all behind.

Tim was a gentle soul.  He was kind, warm-hearted, funny and devoted to his family.  His sense of humor was dry and often self-deprecating.  He was a good friend, father, brother and son and he was loved and appreciated by those who knew him well.  Having lost his twin brother and being twice divorced, he’d also had his share of heartache.  He lived on the other side of the country but flew home two or three times a year to see everyone and reconnect at family events.  He called his mother 4 – 5 times a week to check in and make sure all was well in her neck of the woods. He was beloved.

All for one and one for all

Tim began his working life as an industrial engineer with the military.  More specifically, as an officer in the Corps of the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.  He served his country well and continued on in his chosen field once retired from the armed forces.  He found his true calling, however, when he discovered scuba diving.  He took to the ocean like the proverbial fish to water.  In fact, when Tim opened his eyes 24 hours after surgery, he saw people walking around in scrubs and thought, “Well, I guess that I’m not dead.  Wonder if I’ll be able to go diving?”  He texted that story to his brother just a few minutes later.  Tim had been a scuba instructor for several years and touched the lives and hearts of those he met both above and below the surface of the water.

Under the sea

Long after separating, Dave and his parents attended my dad’s memorial, and I was ever so grateful to have been invited to attend his father’s funeral.  I had the most surprising and wonderful experience when I got to his mother’s home to visit and become reacquainted with the family.  It felt like old home week.  The house was filled with love and friendship and I felt welcome.  When Tim arrived, he had hugs and kind words for everyone in the room.  I had forgotten how enveloping were his hugs, and how they felt encouraging and supportive.  You walked away from one of those hugs feeling like everything was going to be alright.  I had not realized how much I’d missed that family of in-laws and outlaws over the years and was delighted to be in their midst again.

For better or for worse

The youngest member of the family and I have kept in touch through these many years.  She is a delightful woman; kind, intelligent, witty and loving.  She gives everyone the benefit of the doubt and even still, doesn’t suffer fools gladly.  Her annual Christmas letter always brings tears to my eyes as it is filled with talk of family, love, the Christmas Spirit and good wishes for all.  As she recently wrote, our roots run deep, and I love her dearly.

We live with simple hearts in a complicated world.  We love, we hate, we win, we lose.  Relationships begin and sometimes they end.  Babies are born and lives are lost.  We fall in love and every so often our hearts are broken.  Through it all I have been blessed with a loving family, awesome friends and yes, wonderful in-laws.  I love and admire my ex-family-in-law, and my heart breaks for their loss.

Until we meet again.

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