This weekend is another milestone or anniversary-filled weekend. I look back, and five years ago, I was losing my second baby, early on in pregnancy. Two years ago, I was a bit terrified, knowing my then-husband was driving to my hometown to bring my children and I back to our current town, after I had fled for a few days in fear and confusion, spending them largely trying to decode mysteries and lies in our lives.
The memories of these dates came rushing back to me this evening, as I made the drive home from taking my children to see their grandparents.
This weekend, this year, was filled with my former husband's family. It nearly completes the first visits with each of his siblings or parents in over year (or more in some cases).
A month and a half ago, I spent a few hours at his mother's house. His mom has been a second mom to me for about 15 years now, but I hadn't been to her house since before he disappeared from our lives. I hadn't been to the house I spent countless hours, days, weekends, and weeks at in over two years. Her house was where he first told me that he wanted me to be his wife some day, that he wanted to have children with me, grow old together, and hopefully die together at the same time in a poetic Romeo & Juliet-esque finale (meaning simply at the same time or minutes apart). We spent many holidays there together. The house itself is jam-packed with memories that shaped who I was individually, but also who we were as a couple.
As I drove there that day, I prayed repeatedly that God would give me strength, peace, and grace, and that I wouldn't be reduced to a blubbering ball of tears. He answered my prayers and I didn't cry at all until the drive home.
Fast forward to this weekend, where his youngest brother, who I met when he wasn't even a teenager, who became one of my dearest friends very early on, his wife, and their infant son came to visit. I hadn't seen them in over a year at all, since a family gathering I felt completely out of place at the summer before. I was excited and anxious at the prospect of the three of them here, in our new home, for the first time. I didn't want it to be awkward or silent or feel like there was a giant chasm in our relationship.
We had a good time over lunch, watching our children laugh and play, and reminiscing some and talking about life now. We exchanged multiple hugs, and when they left, I didn't cry at all. I felt at peace, and I was so relieved.
His twin brother is married to one of my dearest friends, and they live nearby. (He was at our place also when the youngest brother was here.) They've been around before, during, and after my life crumbled, and they've never wavered. We see them regularly and my children adore them, as do I. We were blessed to be able to have an afternoon adventure with them at the science center, which the children talked about the rest of the evening. The science center and their baby cousin. It was a good day.
Today, the children and I were journeying to my former-husband's father and step-mother's house about an hour away. Up until today, I hadn't been there in nearly two years. The last time we went was Thanksgiving in 2014. He had shown up late, angry, and bitter, and the drive there was wretched, as was the drive home. Knowing this and feeling some of the residual emotions still lingering, the prospect of going back there today, without him, was uneasy. But, in my heart, I felt I needed to.
As I was preparing myself for the adventure today, I told a friend that it's sort of like ripping another band-aid off my heart.
The wounds that were left when our marriage crumbled were deep, intense, gaping holes. I remembered him vividly telling me that no matter what happened, I would always be a part of his family, not only because of the kids, but because they loved me. I tried to believe him, but always was weary of the truth, because so many of the things that he had told me in that period were blatant lies.
While I have been in contact with the majority of his family this entire time, I hadn't gone back to his parents homes, and I hadn't seen most of them much at all, because, for all of us, it was painful. We may not have spoken it, but it was true. He ripped all our hearts up a bit, and seeing each other was a vivid reminder of that- the life and lives he helped create and then abandoned. There are always questions, but most of the time they are unspoken, because we know we do not understand or have the answers.
I have ripped nearly all of the band-aids off, in regard to his family, the other half of my family.
Some of it remained constant, and some things have changed.
I think the changed have helped me, honestly.
There were slight differences at his mom's house. New photos of my kids on the fridge, the basement looking completely different from it was the years I spent hanging out in it.
His youngest brother and his wife have a son. They visited us here, our new apartment where he has never set foot.
His dad and step-mom have new furniture. I know that sounds trivial and silly, but it wasn't like walking into a big time machine, and the newness of it helped me ease back into the walls.
I mustered up the courage to see these people all again, without him, in new circumstances, a year or more later from the times that were very meaningful in this journey. I am so glad I did.
Because I realized, for once, he was right. He didn't lie when he said his family would embrace me as their own, and that they wouldn't shut me out. I haven't been replaced, and my children and I are loved and welcomed. They still hug me and tell me they love me, and of course they do the same for my children. Yes, there's still pain and awkward pauses, but they don't sever us like they could. Yes, we still wonder, and yes, I still cry. I may cry each and every time. I don't know that it will ever be a completely pain-free experience, though I pray that it will.
I cried today when I left his dad's house. I realized in the moment they were hugging me that he was right about his family.
I ripped the band-aids, and the wounds have healed. Yes, they've scarred over some, but they're no longer gaping. Things are definitely not the same, but they're not terrible. In the pain we all feel, we still feel joy and blessings. Each of the times I ripped the band-aid off, I have been told that his family hopes to see us again soon, and that they are proud of me and my children.
I think... I think I am proud of us, too.