Family, Love+
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The In-Laws: The Collateral Damage of Divorce

I married young. Well, young-ish.

I should have listened to my grandmother (who didn’t live to see the wedding) when she told me it was a mistake. I should have listened to the voices in my head.

I should have called it off before we stood under the chuppah and definitely should have called it off before the mauve-flowered brunch. But I didn’t.

It was heartbreak to realize my husband had no interest in being married to me after two years. Sure there were signs. Big fat neon signs. And when he basically stopped speaking to me, I truly got the hint.

He was a horrific match for me. We had nothing in common, it seemed. And that day (it was Rosh Hashanah) when he told me at the park that he hated my father and that I was just like him, it stung. Sharply.

So when he asked for a divorce, I was all in. But at that moment, I didn’t think about how hard it would be to tell my parents who paid for my mauve wedding. And I didn’t consider what else there was to lose.

Like my mother-in-law.

My mother-in-law was a lovely and sensitive woman. Her smile was easy and comforting. She was patient and sweet and she loved me. She and I talked. We really talked. She told me about her life choices and how she respected my strength and wished she’d held on to hers. She was a woman who made choices for her family but saw a freer life through me.

Then, her son and I divorced. It was the right decision. But she and I cried on the phone for hours. And we decided that she and I were not getting divorced. We could — and would — still have a relationship.

We talked on the phone every week. She told me about what was going on with her. I told her about me. We discussed current events, food, weather, the exciting and the mundane.

Life went on. Time passed. I moved back into the city. My career was skyrocketing. I bought a house in Canton. I dated, I traveled, I hung out with old friends and with new friends from my job. (Those ad agency folks are a blast, I tell you!)

After a while, I met Andrew. After a year or so, he and his cat moved into my cute house in Canton with my cat and me. And then at some point, we got engaged. His family welcomed me with open arms. My family and my world were wonderful and growing. Our engagement was announced in the Jewish Times before I had a chance to tell her. Awkward, right?

She called me and sincerely wished me all the happiness in the world. I could tell she meant it. She told me she loved me and respected me. And then, she told me it was time to part ways; I needed to move forward with my new life. With my new husband. We cried together. When we hung up, I cried some more and I suspect that she did, too.

Not so long after, Andrew and I got married. He got a new job and three weeks later, we moved to Omaha and, shortly thereafter, started a family.

One day, while my infant was napping, I read in the Jewish Times that she had died. And no one told me. I wasn’t there to pay my respects. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I can still remember the depth of my sobs.

When I caught my breath, I quietly wrote a note to my ex-family. I walked to the corner to mail it.

Several weeks went by and then a letter arrived from my ex-father-in-law. I expected a preprinted ‘thank you for your thoughts’ note. But instead, I sat and read an emotional outpouring. The man who never really appreciated what I see as my strengths and, frankly, never seemed to care much for me took the time to tell me that she never forgot me and thought about me all the time. And that she loved me more than I could possibly know. And he told me he was glad I wrote.

That family is a million miles away in my head, though only about 20 miles away in reality. I don’t remember the sharp edges of that part of my life. I remember tidbits of conversations and the tomato juice served before dinner. I remember not feeling like I fit in and not feeling like me. With everyone except her.

This post originally appeared on Medium

(Photo: Barney Boogles/


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