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What It's Like To Attend A Former In-Law's Funeral

And why exes are family forever.

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Woman's hand on casket with flowers in the background
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As soon as the choir started singing I the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry… the tears started streaming. I sat in a pew by myself, just off to the right, while my children and ex-husband sat a few rows ahead. I was there to support them as they mourned the loss of their father and grandfather. I was surprised, or overwhelmed, maybe, by my own sadness. He was my ex-husband’s father, after all. But there I sat as the words Heeeere I am Lord catapulted me into grief, which felt — complicated (by divorce).

My ex-father-in-law had been in my life for 23 years. Memory after memory came bolting through my brain: I remembered the first time I had dinner at his house — steak, pasta and broccoli, as only he could make it. I swear I gained 30 pounds that summer thanks to his gourmet cooking. I remember the job interviews and advice he would give me to prepare, tips on being a great salesperson when I interviewed for an entry-level sales job or how to be the best sports coach (fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals). I remembered the times I struggled with drinking too much and the conversations no one knew we had (he would subtly but supportively suggest I cut back). I remembered the constant yeses he and my mother-in-law would give: Can I move in after I graduate from college? Yes. Can we stay here while we look for a condo? Yes. Can we pop over with three kids for dinner? Of course. And I remembered conversations before and after every hockey game my three children played because he never ever missed a puck drop.

No one stands at the altar and says I do while secretly preparing for divorce. Similarly, no one signs the divorce papers and prepares for life’s hardest moments as a broken family. Divorce papers don’t include plans for navigating death, chronic illness or trauma when families — broken or not — need to rely on each other more than ever. But these times do come and ex-husbands, ex-wives and ex-in-laws of every variety may have to navigate together as one big, supportive, albeit broken, family. It isn’t easy, and there’s no rule book, but you can do a few things to be sure you’re well-grounded in strength and love when life throws you and your so-called ex-family straight into life’s toughest times.

You can prepare.

While you can’t prepare for death, illness or tragedy, you can prepare to be the kind of person who will lovingly and supportively help your ex, his family and your kids through the hard times. This will look different for each unique situation. For some, this may mean keeping your distance and sending flowers. Others may feel comfortable getting involved with some of the heavy lifting. The point is, when the time comes to do your best, you will need to know how to put your ego aside, practice compassion for your ex, and work together as a united front for the kids. Don’t wait until tragedy strikes. Practice these things in your everyday life.

Exes are family forever.

Whether you like it or not, your ex-spouse, ex-mother-in-law and ex-brother-in-law are always (in one way or another) your family. If you have kids, you may be intertwined for longer. But even if you don’t have children, you have history and memories together as a family. A divorce decree doesn’t change that, so don’t wait for the passing of a loved one to start acting like it. Life is short. You don’t want to be bawling in the pew at a funeral wondering why you didn’t do more, say more, appreciate more and, ultimately, love more.

Death doesn’t mean goodbye.

The greatest lesson I learned was from my beautiful, resilient, loving kids: Death doesn’t mean goodbye. In the days and weeks that followed their beloved Grandpa’s passing, I watched my kids keep him alive. On a walk around the block, it unexpectedly started pouring rain. “That’s Grandpa,” they said as we ran home in a sun shower. At my daughter’s first hockey game after his funeral, she scored a goal and pointed up to the skies to her Grandpa, who she knew was watching, just as he had every single game for 16 years. He is still with them — with us, it just looks and feels different.

Death is hard. Divorce is hard. Combining the two has the power to be extra hard, but as is the case with all things, love is the answer. Life is so short. I have tried to live every day as if it were my last, but now I know I had it wrong all along. I need to start living every day as if it were everyone else’s last.

Have you ever attended the funeral of a former in-law? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships