Grief is a process, and not an easy one. This morning I learned that my father-in-law died. This is the second time I’ve mourned his loss. And I can tell you that it hurts just as badly the second time.
Let me explain: I was divorced in 2008. I noted at that time that divorce is like a death in the family—multiple deaths in my case, since my ex-husband’s family has been cut off from all contact with me. We had been married 33 years—all my adult life. I had embraced my husband’s family and loved them as my own, so losing them made divorce all the more painful. At that time I mourned the loss of each member of his family, including my father-in-law. Now I ache at the thought of how these people I loved (in truth still love) are suffering the loss of this sweet man. But they are as dead to me as he is, and that makes it very hard to endure.
My sons, although grown at the time of the divorce, have been caught in the middle. We are all doing our best to learn how to live with the fact of divorce. They’ve been told not to talk to me about my ex or any of his family. At first, I had also asked them not to talk to their dad or his family about me. But when I saw the difficult position it had put them in, I relented. It has been said that to truly love, you’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable. For my sons, I am willing to be vulnerable. I would rather suffer than cause my sons to suffer. But I can’t do anything about what they’re going through now. I can only stand by and watch them in their pain.
When my younger son called this past winter to tell me of his dad’s impending heart surgery, I could only listen sympathetically. His voice was constricted with pain at the possibility of losing his dad. At the same time there was another worry: he told me that he had gotten his dad’s permission to call me only after promising to make me promise not to try and contact his family. Of course I assured him that I wouldn’t try to contact any of them, while also trying to reassure him that his dad would be fine (which he was).
But there’s more to my pain than all this: I was the one who initiated divorce proceedings. That’s a fact that I don’t share with everyone because Christians can be very judgmental about the issue of divorce. My sons know that I divorced their dad, and not the other way around. No doubt his family all know that, too. At times like this I sometimes wonder: if I had known the pain it would cause my sons, would I still have divorced their dad? But I know the answer. I had to divorce him. Knowing that doesn’t make all this any easier. This is the path I’ve got to walk, and unfortunately my sons share the suffering.
Most of the time I live my life in the present, facing the future, and busily focusing on the tasks God has for me this day. But when something like this comes it’s an emotional blast from the past—in the explosive sense. And the pain, self-doubt, and loss are fresh and new. And yet in the midst of all the suffering (mine, my sons’, my ex-family’s), I know that God is good.