What do you do when the family you had and cared about when you are married, is no longer your family after you are divorced, even though you still care about them?
You see, before I was born I was abandoned by my own father. That kind of damage takes a long time to heal. Then, my step-father and I had our outs. He was a recovering alcoholic for a long time, but lost his footing when my Mom and he divorced (I was in college at that point). I had to learn to shut him out of my life, and he has at times put a foot through the door that I've had to again, shut. That kind of hurt similarly takes a while to heal. That hurt is only prolonged when the people you cared about as your family, suddenly disappear from your life. They die too, in a way, and you must grieve them... but what happens when they really pass from this earth? What are the "right" feelings to have?
I was with my ex-husband from 19 to 30 years old. He was my first real boyfriend. I loved him with an intensity only a silly girl can, entrusting him with all my secrets and desires. His family became my family. In college, his grandfather, Grandpa John, lived only about a mile away and he quickly became my "Grandpa John" as well. The same went for my family. My grandfather (with whom I am very close) and "Jack" became quite close as well. Our grandfathers met and spent time with each other. My own grandfather continues to speak very highly of Grandpa John.
Grandpa John, who was born the year women got the right to vote and the White Sox threw the world Series, was getting along in years even then and "Jack" and I visited him often for dinner, helping him around the house or running errands. Even after we graduated and moved an hour away, we visited continued to make the short trek to Plattsburgh to check in on him. We helped him put up his Christmas decorations as we listened to his stories about the War and his early days. He loved history and he loved telling stories. He was a remarkable man in so many ways. Even though he was getting on in years, he was quick witted, sharp at calculations, and as a retired accountant, he still provided advice and accounting services to his family and friends.
Grandpa John was my grandpa for ten years. He sent me birthday cards, talked to me on the phone (he called Jack almost every afternoon at the same time), and sent Jack and me Christmas cards. I reciprocated. I made him dinners (I still remember the time I made him Venison in the crock pot. Epic fail), sent him our family Christmas cards, bought him his birthday gifts. I continued that even one year after Jack and I separated and then divorced. I loved Grandpa. He was important to me and that didn't go away just because Jack didn't want me anymore.
But, unfortunately, after the separation and ensuing divorce, I never received anything in return. And I never again saw Grandpa John after the Fall of 2007.
I guess I will never know why he chose not to reciprocate my birthday card or Christmas gift. Maybe he wanted to, but felt it would mean he wasn't being loyal to his grandson. And knowing how close they were, I can understand that and respect it.
What is terribly hard for me to understand or accept is how. on November 14, 2013, when Grandpa John died quietly at my ex-mother in law's house, no-one told me. I didn't know until a week later, when one of my daughters mentioned how sad they were. It was a punch right in the gut. Grandpa John had died. He had died and a week had passed and no one had told me.
How do you deal with that blow? I spoke with my ex-husband and offered my condolences. I guess I was hoping I would be given permission to attend his wake, but I wasn't. The information I was given was very limited (most came from the internet) and what little bits my daughters chose to divulge. I did not press them because I did not feel it was right. They were hurting too, missing their great grandpa.
After this, I felt even more abandoned. My ex-husband, I know, was hurting because the man he had called Grandpa had died, but was I allowed to also grieve? I wasn't allowed to publicly or in the traditional way, and so it was privately.
Now, after all this, you may be thinking that I would be bitter. I must admit, a little part of me continues to be hurt, but not bitter. I try not to take it personally. I know that how a person treats another says more about who that person really is and what their fears are. I know that moving on means accepting that there are reasons I will never know and some pains that only heal if I put them aside.
What I know with certainty is that I heal each time I encourage my ex-husband to be a part of my grandfather's life. After the divorce, my Grandpa and "Jack" continued to speak periodically. And finally, when my ex-husband invited my grandfather over to his home with his new wife, I was taken aback a bit, but I realized that it was about love, not about my petty jealousies. My grandfather had come to love this man, as I had once, and who was I to severe those ties? (Especially when I so wished I had been able to remain in contact with Grandpa John). My grandfather still visits Jack, his new wife, and their new baby daughter every once in a while, however it is much less now as he approaches 80 and his health declines.
As he continues to age, I promise that I will continue to keep my ex-husband abreast of my grandfather's progress, and encourage my ex to call my grandfather when it's his birthday or he's not doing well. I will continue to do that because it is the right thing to do. It is what I wished for myself....
And as a final word, I'd like to add, that I wish for Francis John Collins, Grandpa John, peace in his final resting place. May he be reconnected with Connie and spend the rest of his days in her loving arms. I will always remember you, Grandpa, sitting in the kitchen at the typewriter, your glasses perched on the edge of your nose, piles of paperwork on the table (rubber banded together) the biggest smile on your face, and Sammy by your side.