Letting Go: Coping with the Loss of My Ex’s Family After Our Divorce

January 16, 2014  |  

I knew that ending my marriage would be hard. Divorce is tough. Like they say in those Geico commercials, “Everybody knows that.” What I didn’t know was how difficult it would be dealing with the fact that I wasn’t just losing my husband, I was losing his family, too.

When we got married, we moved to his home state so he could be closer to his family. After spending my entire life so close to my parents and siblings, I was more than ready for the change.

For 12 years we did almost everything together. Twelve years of attending our kids’ games, school concerts, birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals. There were lunches with his mother, family dinners with his brother and sister-in-law, traditions that they had shared with me, along with the ones we developed over time. I had become closer to them than I was to my own blood. I had become one of them.

Then came the divorce, the end of the relationship that tied me to some of the people I had come to love most in the world. It was the end of all the things that made my life feel whole, and it hit me like an unexpected death–like several unexpected deaths. Suddenly, I was left to grieve the loss of the family I cared for for my entire adult life, people who had helped to shape my very concept of family. I mourned that death like any other– with denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

When we first separated, my friends warned me that things would change, that my in-laws would naturally take their son’s side in the divorce. I refused to believe it. After all, what we had was different than most families. I was like a daughter to them, and as their daughter, I expected them to be just as concerned about me and my well-being as they were his. But my friends were right. The people I had cherished like my own parents were now boning up on divorce laws and jotting down lists of lawyers for my husband.

I was confused. I was hurt. I was angry.

My anger soon turned into desperation. I wanted my family back, and I was willing to do anything to be a part of that unit again, even if it meant going back to my dysfunctional marriage. It was too late, though. Soon he was dating again, and before I knew it, he began seeing someone seriously. He talked about introducing her to his parents– o my parents. I had prepared myself for the day that he would move on, the day that he would replace me with someone else. But I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the idea of someone replacing me in their lives, someone else sitting in my spot at their dining room table.

I cried uncontrollably as birthdays, holidays, weddings and funerals went on without me. I’d like to say that it got easier, that each passing event hurt less and less, but it didn’t. It only hurt in different ways. The funeral of the aunt I watched grow weaker over the years, the first birthday of the niece I barely knew, I missed it all. Day by day, little by little, I had to learn to accept my new role. Eventually, I had to accept that I’m not their daughter anymore, I’m simply the mother of their grandchildren.

Because of that, they’ll always be in my life in some way, shape, or form. There’ll always be games and school concerts and the kids’ birthdays, but they won’t be the same. They haven’t been the same. There’s an awkwardness between us, like there’s something that needs to be said. What that something is, I don’t yet know. As I try to figure it out, I hold onto the hope that one day there’ll be new in-laws for me, and that one day, I’ll have a place at a different table. But more than anything, I hope that I’ll keep that special place in their hearts, just as they’ll keep a place in mine.

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