The losses in divorce are great.
There’s a huge pile of them. And a lot of collateral damage.
With the holidays approaching, the one I’ve thought about most is the loss of my ex-wife’s family.
You see, I live here—in northeast Ohio—in large part because of her.
I willingly came here and was happy to be here.
But taking my wife out of the equation? I don’t really want to live here anymore.
Today, I live here because of my son. Because I would never, under any circumstances, choose to relocate somewhere where I saw him less, or made him feel like his father was abandoning him.
There’s just no way. There is no person. No amount of money. No anything that could pull off that magic trick.
Own your shit.
My ex-wife’s family is amazing.
Her mother is precious and kind. Always so steady. Even in the worst of times. A steady presence for her children and grandchildren. A steady presence for her now-estranged son-in-law.
My ex-wife’s only sibling is the best brother-in-law imaginable. Kind. Generous. Hard-working. An incredible uncle. He’s the perfect blend of his steady mother and his kind, generous, hard-working father who he lost two years ago. He and his wife have a beautiful little girl who’s life is rapidly passing me by, and will continue to.
Her immediate family took me in right away despite recognizing I wasn’t like them. I can’t pinpoint exactly all the differences. I’m maybe less country. A little softer. A little more selfish and self-centered.
They all have siblings. While I do have two stepsisters—good ones—and a half-sister 14 years younger than me, my upbringing was predominantly that of an only child. And I have those traits. The good and bad ones.
But they took me in just the same.
I think the one thing they always recognized despite my many flaws is that I always had my ex-wife’s best interests at heart.
From Big Families to Small Ones
My mom is the oldest of eight children.
Family gatherings—even the impromptu ones on random Saturdays and Sundays growing up—were pretty big events. The holidays, weddings and other family reunion-ish events were almost epic in scope.
I have a million and a half cousins. The youngest ones are still in high school.
So, even though I grew up an only child, I was always immersed in a big-family environment.
It was wonderful. I am so fortunate I was able to grow up as I did, where I did, and with the people I did, family and otherwise.
It was a rude awakening when my ex-wife and I moved to Florida—1,200 miles away from everything and everybody we knew and loved—upon graduating college.
Down there, everything was different.
No big family.
No huge social network.
Just my ex-wife’s aunt, uncle and adult cousin who lived more than an hour’s drive away. And the few friends we were lucky to make in a community dominated by retirement-aged people.
One Thanksgiving, it was just a half dozen of us eating turkey and ham in our apartment. A bunch of kids far away from their families and unable to afford the airfare home, or unable to get away because most of us were on-call newspaper reporters.
One Christmas I made lasagna for a few of us. We drank a little beer. We watched a basketball game no one cared about. We played a little basketball ourselves because it was 80 degrees outside.
Everything was strange.
We made the best of it.
But it was strange.
Home beckoned. And Ohio—all the good, bad and in-between—is home.
New Family Traditions
And so they began, almost immediately, as my wife and I relocated from Florida to Ohio in the fall of 2005, just before Halloween.
It took me a little while to get to know her large family. While I’m an Ohio native, this new, faraway region of the state was foreign to me. New faces, new places.
But here we were.
You could see on her face how happy she was. Celebrating Christmas with her parents. With her brother, who had also returned to Ohio after several years living in southern California.
Living a three-hour drive from my family and hometown was like living next door after those years in Florida.
It was wonderful.
Very kind, decent people on both sides of her family.
Her mother’s family. And her father’s family.
I was, and remain, particularly fond of her father’s side of the family.
There are aunts. Aunts who hugged me like their own every time I saw them.
There are uncles. Uncles who helped repair our cars and complete home-improvement projects.
There are cousins. Reflections of their parents, and in a lot of ways, reflections of my own family and my own memories, as I observed everyone come together during life’s best and worst moments.
They are beautiful.
And I love them.
And every time I flip the calendar, I get a little sicker as it represents more time disconnected from them, and the realization that the holidays are five minutes from now, and they can never, and will never, be the same without them.
My new family.
My new family that isn’t.
Living in the Now
I don’t have a choice.
None of us do.
We live in the present. We play the cards we’re dealt.
We can piss and moan and whine, and God knows I do that all the time. But the cards don’t change.
We play with them. Maybe win a hand. Maybe lose a hand. Maybe fold them altogether.
But there’s always a new hand coming. Always an opportunity for that next win.
And that’s what keeps me going now.
It’s been a decade now since a bunch of random young adults gathered in our apartment to celebrate the holidays the best we could even though everything was weird and wrong.
And that’s what I must do now. Be resourceful. Be grateful. Identify the good and celebrate it. Because there is always good to focus on.
But that doesn’t mean I can just forget everything that’s now missing.
When you lose a spouse, sometimes you lose more than a spouse.
Sometimes you lose a family. A big one. A wonderful one.
I haven’t spoken to any of them since the separation. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be my job to reach out. I never really know what to do in these awkward human situations. So I tend to err on the side of withdrawing.
I’m sure some of them think I just moved on and don’t care. I wish there was some simple way to let them know that’s not the case. To let them know how much they matter. To let them know how grateful I am for all they’ve done for me.
They turned a strange land into home. They turned strangers into family.
Like miracle workers.
And someday, I think, they’ll probably have to do that again. There will be some new guy. Some stranger they’ll need to turn into family.
My son’s stepfather, whoever that may be.
Once in a while, I pray for that guy. Whoever and wherever he is. That he be blessed with the strength and wisdom and kindness and ability to love required to care for my son’s mother, as she will deserve once she learns to love and forgive again.
That he be able to love my son as my stepfather loved me.
That he be everything I’m not.
That he be a much better man than I ever have been or will be.
I want that so much for my son.
I want that for my ex-wife.
I want that for that beautiful extended family who has treated me like gold all these years.
And I pray they will treat him the same and that he’ll deserve it.
But deep down?
I hope they always miss me and like me better.