My dad’s girlfriend is wonderful. She’s been part of my life for more than five years and I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate her and how grateful I am that my father found someone so caring.
When my current personal crisis unfolded, I took Bully Girl and went to stay with my dad and Mary (not her real name, of course). When I walked in the door, Mary was making dinner in the kitchen. She asked how I was, and I burst into tears. In that motherly way, she wrapped her arms around me, stroked my hair and held me while I sobbed on her shoulder (I should note here that hugging makes me a little uncomfortable. Clearly, I was a mess!) . Since then we’ve spent countless hours talking, listening, crying (that would be me doing the crying) and sharing stories of breakups past. When I left their house and returned to my old abode (I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t sell it), she sent a Hallmark card and two containers of soup.
Last week, Mary’s father passed away and earlier this week I attended his memorial service. As I pulled into the parking lot on Tuesday morning, an employee of the funeral home stopped me.
“Are you family?” he asked.
His question threw me for a loop and I hesitated. “Um, kinda?” I replied. “What counts as family?”
The attendant narrowed his eyes at me, shook his head a little and tried another approach. “Are you going to the cemetery?”
That made it much easier! I told him that I was not and he directed me to park at the far end of the lot.
I saw Mary right away when I entered the funeral home. I gave her a hug and asked how she was doing. She told me she was OK and immediately asked about my current state of mind. I looked at her with a bit of confusion… she was the one who lost her father, and yet she was concerned about me? She concluded that we were both going through similar emotions. As we approached the casket together, tears filled her eyes and we embraced again.
“Thank you for coming,” she said. “It means so much to me.”
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me,” I told her.
“Well,” she sniffled. “You’re my daughter.”
“And you’re one of my moms,” I finished.
(I’m lucky to have so many moms. At present count, I have four including the one who grew me in her womb.)
When the service concluded, I stood with my dad and Mary as I explained that I couldn’t go to the cemetery because I needed to get back to work. At the same time, some people around us began talking about my dad.
“That’s her fiancé,” one woman told another.
“I thought he was her husband,” someone else said.
Mary turned around to address the confusion. She and my dad aren’t officially married, but they don’t shy away from the terminology.
“This is my husband,” she said with a gesture towards my dad. As she put her hand on my shoulder, she further explained, “And this is our daughter, Tara.”
My heart swelled. Those of us with divorced parents are seldom addressed with the phrase “our child”. It’s always “my…” or “his…” or “her…” It was a first for me and it felt good. Like… totally, genuinely real.
Leaving the funeral, I had a lot to smile about. How much weight do biology and marriage really carry? Once again, life has proven: love makes a family.
(That was a nice line to end the post with, wasn’t it? Of course, as most of us know, love isn’t enough. You also need respect, time, emotional investments, dedication, compromise…and all that other stuff. But, hopefully you know what I’m trying to say here. ;))