brother-in-law's funeral was held earlier this week in TicTac.
Jaymi is the one who
called me from her office to let me know that he had passed away.
"Uncle D. died in his sleep this morning," she said ... sounding quiet
and sad and older, somehow, than her twenty-one years. We all knew it
was coming -- he'd been sick for a long time -- but of course that
doesn't lessen the blow any, once it finally happens.
"I'm so sorry to hear
it," I told her. "He was a very nice man." And then we both just sat
there in silence for a moment, remembering this very nice man who was
such an important part of our lives for so many years. In *my*
remembering, he looks the way he did twentysome years ago: a
strong, rugged, handsome guy with a beer can in one hand and a
cigarette in the other -- this was before rehab and Jesus and cancer --
while my daughter is no doubt recalling a much older, frailer, gentler
version of her uncle, the version he changed into after I defected.
I didn't attend the
funeral, for obvious reasons. (Geography ... finances ... the fact that
my former sisters-in-law would rise up en masse and have me tarred and
feathered, were I to show my face at such a family gathering.) Even so,
it begs the question: what is
the protocol here? How do you pay your respects to someone who is no
longer technically family, without upsetting the people who ARE?
It's not exactly
something they teach you about in Divorce 101.
My brother-in-law was a
huge part of my life for a lot of years. He was one of my earliest
allies in the in-law camp, when my ex-husband and I were first getting
together. He and his wife stood up with us at our wedding. We had our
babies at the same time. We took our kids to Chuck E. Cheese together.
We partied together and picnicked together and enjoyed the annual
knock-down/drag-out Thanksgiving dinner together. Later, he provided me
with an early up-close-and-personal role model for sobriety. For more
than a decade, my brother-in-law and his family were at the center of
our social universe. All of that ended when my marriage ended,
of course ... but for me, at least, the memories (and the residual
fondness) remain. How do you acknowledge the loss without crossing the
line? Do you send flowers? Do you sign the online guestbook? Do you
mail a sympathy card? (And if so, who do you mail it TO? The
sister-in-law who once called you an "emotional leech"? Or the
parents-in-law who probably submitted your photo to America's Most
Wanted, the day after you ran away?)
Or do you simply lay low
and not say anything at all?
It's taken me a few days
to sort all of this out, but eventually I found some middle ground that
feels comfortable and appropriate and right. I sent a condolence card
directly to my ex-husband -- "Your
brother was a wonderful person,"
I wrote: "Thank you for
sharing him with me" -- and next
payday, when I'm temporarily solvent once again, I'll drop a few bucks
into The American Cancer Society contribution jar in his memory. (Plus
I'll be able to remind the Tots, for the rest of their lives, that
smoking is a bad, bad, VERY BAD
thing, and that I'm sure their Uncle D. would be the first to agree
with me.) It's all sort of klunky and unsatisfying and awkward,
business of paying your respects to the family member who technically
isn't a family member anymore. But it's probably just as well that I
try to figure all of this stuff out sooner rather than later. After
all, this may have been the first time we've found ourselves in this
But something tells me
it won't be the last.
throw a rock