Last month our blended family experienced another death. This time it was on the other side of the family. My husband and I were included in everything, which was more than appreciated. I tried to help the family as much as possible in a time when it feels like there is very little to be done to ease worried minds, and dry endless tears. Death is never easy for anyone at any time in life, but we were reminded just how difficult it can be for a blended family. There were some awkward moments, some rude comments, some glares, some outbursts, and many people just plain don’t get it. I know—we are weird. I’ve heard it so many times before. I understand. Should death not bring people closer together? Isn’t that what the deceased wanted?
The thing is, we were trying to honor the wishes of the person who passed away. We knew he would have wanted all of us to have been together supporting one another because he was one of the kindest souls I have ever known. I never heard him utter a bitter word. It was my brother-in-law, my ex-husband’s brother who passed away. He was my daughters’ uncle, but before he was that, he was my little brother. My brother-in-law was one of those people you were proud to know. He was nice, went-out-of-his-way-nice to everyone, no matter who they were or what they looked like. The other person could have just screamed at him and he still would have shrugged his shoulders, patted them on the back, and told them it was okay. I could not have imagined missing his funeral. The mere idea of not setting foot into that mortuary tied knots into my stomach. I watched him graduate from high school, and we even got our noses pierced together! He stood up in my first wedding. He held my babies and watched them grow into young ladies. We stood together at concerts, and laughed hysterically at family gatherings. He cried for me when my dad passed away. He lived with me for a while in Santa Fe, and also in Nebraska. He still called me his sister after the divorce. An acrylic painting I painted for him still hung in his apartment in his bedroom. Divorce changes many things, but it does not erase the love you feel for family members from the other side when the papers are signed.
My name was added in the obituary as a sister-in-law, not an ex-sister-in-law, and some people reacted in a negative way. They did not understand how I could be included as part of the immediate family. They felt it was insulting for Molly. Most of those people were unaware, at first, that it was Molly’s idea. She felt I had been part of the family before she was and I deserved to be present to honor his passing. Brian told her on more than one occasion she was his sister, but I would always be his sister no matter what. I am an ex-wife to my ex-husband, but I am not an ex to my children, to their grandparents, to their uncles or any other family members. I love all of them just as fiercely as I did–possibly more! Molly felt more than anything, it was important to honor Brian’s wishes. She knew what a loving, forgiving, open person he was. He would have wanted all of us there together, but I did not want to add any burdens onto the already grieving family. I would have done whatever would have been easiest for the family, especially his parents. Several different people mentioned to Molly they were shocked to see my name in the obituary. She defended me, of course, telling them it was her idea in the first place. Most people are blown away that the step-mom would ever consider including the ex-wife in the immediate family funeral arrangements, which means seeing her there during the viewing, the funeral, and the lunch after. But I MUST add I also know when to go home and when to shut my mouth. I know when it’s time to allow my ex and his WIFE to have time together. I am very considerate of boundaries, and extremely grateful to her for including me in the mourning of my brother-in-law.
Some people think divorce means you must cut all ties completely, and I suppose if you absolutely can not get along then so be it. I never asked for my name to be added into the obituary or into the funeral guide, but I am truly honored to have been included. Thank you, Molly and Jeff for allowing me to mourn my brother alongside you guys! I will never forget it!
Trish and her Brother-In-Law, 14 years ago
I was asked to watch Molly’s children that weekend to help out, because the family was unable to make it home on time one evening and she needed help. Her family was unable and she did not know who else to call she could trust. She called me. I know the babies and they know me. They trust me. My daughters also know where everything is, so we headed over. I gave them each a bath. Not everyone understood why I would ever agree to do something like that for my ex-husband and his wife. When you really consider everything and everyone involved, their entire family was there for me when my father passed away. Molly even helped me clean my dad’s apartment and I honestly could not have done it without her. So when she asked me to help in any way I could, there was no question. I also wasn’t only helping her. I was helping the parents of the person who passed away. Parents who just lost their son. I was helping the grandparents of my daughters. I was helping my daughters’ father. I was helping my daughters’ siblings. I was helping my daughters’ other mother. I was helping my family. Any way you choose to look at it, I was helping my family to heal. To some people I know our situation is difficult to grasp. We blur the lines. We get along too well. We make up after disagreements, and we allow our children to learn from our mistakes to a degree (although we only disclose what is appropriate to their age and emotional frame of mind).
Painting Trish painted-that hung in his room
During the service, Molly reached back and grabbed my hand, without thinking. I instantly felt all of the eyes, burning into me. I really don’t know if people really did notice, but I felt self-conscience. I had already received glares from some from the moment I walked into the funeral home. Most of the family and friends were very supportive, loving, and welcoming. There were a select few who did not understand why an ex would be there. This time I was the odd one out, and I must say it did not feel good. I would have stayed away if the family would have wanted me to stay away. I did remain respectful at all times. I offered to be helpful, yet I also kept in mind who I was in the situation and tried to be considerate of that at all times.
We experienced rude treatment of some form during each one of the these experiences, and I think it is part of the blended family experience, and part of any family experience for that matter. I know any family has some degree of drama and turmoil. At my father’s memorial, someone wore a bright red sparkly dress, and she smiled during the entire service. There were also a few rude comments made not gone unnoticed, rather I chose to take the high road because I knew it was what my dad would have wanted.
The most recent funeral we attended was also for that side of the family. Some ladies inquired about who I was, and I told them. My ex-step-mother-in-law sat next to me, and she backed me up. She made a “sister wives” joke reference about Molly and I (something mention earlier in the day between Molly and I). The two women reacted negatively. My youngest daughter by my side, I spoke about our blended family in between bites, as the women stared at me with o-shaped mouths. One of them told me she could never do what we did. They both told us it was very different and unusual. They stared at me like a zoo animal while I ate lunch. Molly walked over to us to fill us in on something going on with Ali, who had sat with her during lunch. The two women grimaced as they noticed Molly, whispering to one another. One of them saw me glancing at them, shook her head at me, and then they both stood up and left the table.
I understand our situation is different, unusual, and out of the ordinary, but there is absolutely no reason to be rude, judgmental, and downright mean. Whatever we choose to do works for our family, even our extended family. During a loss might not be the best time to communicate your issues with our situation. We were at a funeral luncheon paying respects to a grieving family.
I wanted to tell the if she wanted to try to get along with the other woman she could make an effort. I knew it was not the time or the place to try to tell either of the women anything. I also knew it would only be disrespectful to the family we were paying our respects to in the first place if I said anything to them. Lastly, I have learned that I will never change the opinions of those close-minded people who refuse to even try co-parenting, regardless of what is best for the children. I will not change their minds by lecturing them or arguing with them. The only way I can try to change their minds is by teaching through example, which I believe we are already doing. It only takes one person to initiate change, if you are not strong enough to initiate the change and do the healthy thing for your child.
Has your blended family had to deal with a loss involving both sides? Did you include an ex at the funeral? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of eleven and fifteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish is the owner and founder of Family Fusion Community. Trish has been featured on www.playground-magazine.com, and www.bigblendedfamily.com. She is a regular writer on www.herviewfromhome.com, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.