Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Life Well Spent...or Not?

The man who was married to my husband's late mother was laid to rest today.
You don't have to say you're sorry. He was the man married to my husband's late mother, not his stepfather. There is a big difference.
I feel guilty even writing this post, but did want to get this out of my head and heart. I think once I do that, I can feel better about the situation and move past the guilt of the anger/indifferent emotions I felt at his service.
My husband's family has never been close. His father was killed in a horrific car accident when my hubby was only 3, leaving his mother a young widower with 3 small kids, the youngest only 1-1/2 years old. I think alot of her own emotions died with him in January, 1970. Less than 4 years later, his mother married this man who we buried today.
From day one, he and his older kids did everything they could do to make my husband and his older brother and younger sister's lives a living hell. They were locked out of the house a small children. They didn't always get to eat dinner. When my husband and I met at the tender age of 14, my husband owned 2 shirts and 2 pairs of pants - one pair of painter's pants that were about 3" too short, and the other pair of pants was the front of one pair of jeans and the back of another pair of jeans sewn together to make one pair. My husband at 14 was 6'2" tall and weighed in at about 125 lbs. My mom started feeding him and we got clothes for him. So, you could say, my parents were almost my husband's parents. And there are a few other things that we think may have happened to his sister, but we cannot prove it so I don't even want to put that horrible accusation to paper (cyber paper anyway).
Because of how this man treated my husband and his two siblings, I didn't think much of him either. And to be honest with you, I didn't think much of his mother for letting her husband come before her children. He never worked a day in his life while they were married - she supported him. He took the money set aside after their fathers' death for my husband and his two siblings. He put illegal drugs in their ground coffee, he kept poisonous snakes in the house. He finally figured out a way to get rid of my husband and had him sent to "Boystown", which was probably the best thing that ever happened to him (and us - it happened 2 months into our relationship - and we two 14 year olds overcame being apart for almost 2 years and just seeing each other once every couple of months...mature beyond our years in a way.)
I could just go on and on. I always said one day I'd write a book about our unusual love story becuase we made it through such unusual odds and at such a young age. (That or go on Oprah!)
So, needless to say, when my husband moved out on our wedding day, he never looked back. His mom and her husband came to our wedding and that was the last we saw of them for about 4 years or so. We lived two streets over from them for 16 years and his mom saw our daughter once when she was 18 months old because she happened to be taking out the trash one night when we drove by. Fast forward another 10 years with no contact.
In about 2004, our daughter was about 14 and our son about 6 or 7. We received a call from my husband's mom's husband. They wanted to get together for a dinner out to meet our kids. We were shocked. We were very guarded as we thought her husband was setting us up to try to hurt us again. But we got to the dinner at a family buffet type place where we'd agreed to meet. They were both nice to us. I was still guarded. My husband tends to be one to not believe people can change, especially after all this man had done to him & his siblings. But I could see he wanted to believe it. And so did I. It was nice to see them in such a different capacity. However, I told my husband as we walked out of the restaurant that I would bet money that one or both of them were sick - really sick. Turned out I was right. They started contacting us occasionally and we believed he was really trying to make amends for his past actions. At least we choose to believe it.
About a year later, my husband's mom was in a rehab center with kidney problems no doctors could decipher. She wasted away little by little. On the day they called my husband to tell him he should come if he wanted to be there when she died, he did go. His sister, also pretty much estranged from their mom came. Nobody else came. His mom's husband, the stepsister running their affairs, etc...nobody. Just my husband and his sister to help their mom leave this world. It was so sad. I am so proud of my husband that no matter the issues he had with his mother, he loved her and showed her compassion at her last breath. I bet his mother thought to herself as she left this world, "Of all the people who I'd thought would be here at this moment, I would not have thought these two." My husband came home crying at what he'd just been through, but he was okay after that.
Her funeral was run by the stepdaughter. We really had no say in anything. But that was okay. My husband was there when it counted.
After her death, my husband had talked to his stepfather and did yard work for him when he was still in my husband's childhood home. And I think my husband had come to a place where he was okay with the past. Surprised me, but made me proud.
At the funeral service today, I felt very out of place. We only knew my husband's 2 half siblings - his younger sister and brother, who both seem to have their heads on straight. We also met the oldest son of his stepfather, who seemed very nice and even introduced himself to our son as his uncle. The step sister that has taken control of all affairs - we knew her and I'm not quite sure about her intentions.
What I am sure of is this. I forgave that man. I think my husband has too. But it was very hard to hear the pastor say how this man worked 18-1/2 years in a grocery store - yes, maybe the first 18 years of his adult life. He sat on his butt and made my husband's mother support him and took his stepchildren's insurance money to buy a boat, firearms, drugs, etc. They talked about how he was such a caring father. I remember the man who would not keep an eye on his 4 year old son, who when nobody was watching him, held a bic lighter to his leg until he had 2nd degree burns, and then tried to blame my husband, who he said should have been watching him instead. I remembered how unsupportive he was when my husband passed his driver's test and we got him a used beater of a car. At the time, the insurance co. needed the insurance policy number of everyone in their household - some silly red tape, but the man who married my husband's mother would not give his - so my husband could not get insurance. That was the one time I didn't hold my tongue and just let that man know exactly what I really thought of him. (Hey, I was only 17 and still do not regret what I said. Every word of it was true.)
Yet, I really think that when he and my husband's mom called us in 2004, knowing they were sick, that they truly were sorry for things that had happened in the past. They never said the words "sorry" or "regret" but they did reach out first. And I think he was the one who instigated it. And every since then, we only saw him/talked to him occasionally, but he treated my husband and I with respect and was friendly to us and our kids.
So, I really tried to listen to the sermon today (the pastor was a fabulous speaker) and tried to get past all that baggage from our past. I noticed his own children did not even cry. So, I wonder if the eulogy was truly heartfelt or just people trying to find something nice to say when asked if they had a nice memory of him. In the car on the way to the cemetery, I asked my husband if he could think of one happy memory of his stepfather and he never did answer. I was hoping for something. But I don't think I'll ask him again.
According to his older, biological kids from his first marriage, the man was Ward Cleaver. For most of his life, we saw more of "Jack" from "The Shining". I wonder if his was a life well spent and I think I have come to the conclusion that it was well spent. His reaching out in forgiveness a few years ago, even after all he knew he inflicted on us, enabled my husband to get past his worst childhood memories and move on to remember the fewer and more far-between not-so-bad times. And if for no other reason, I think my stepfather-in-law's life was a life well spent.


Becky said...

Very nice post, MAM.

Diver Daisy said...

Are you an angel or a saint? :) I do find your long love affair with your hubby most interesting and absolutely precious. My grandparents met when my grampa moved in next door to my gramma. They were 3 and 4 years old. They married when they were 22, one week before he left for the war. I find long marriages so inspiring and beautiful. I can tell you find a lot of comfort in each other.

Minivan Ninja said...

That's a fascinating story. It's amazing how people can come out of what is a far less than ideal situation and still become fantastic people (your husband). I think I agree with you that it was a life well spent, especially in that he made the effort to make things right in the only way he knew how. A lot of people never figure that out.

Martial Arts Mom said...

Becky - Thanks. I admire how much you post. I just can't wrap my head around anything interesting enough to post every day - or even every other day! :)
Diver Daisy- Angel? Saint? Surely you jest. That husband I've had the 28 year love affair with with be the first to laugh his butt off at that one! : )
Minivan Ninja - Yes, that's the way I'm trying to look at it too - that he tried - better late than never. : )

Karen ~ Cider Antiques said...

Hi there, We have a similar story in our family. My Aunt on my Mom's side married her High School sweet heart in the 1960s. She and Neil met at about age 14.

Neil's father had taken off when Neil and his 2 bothers were very young. Their mother was an alcoholic. The 3 brothers spent several years in an orphanage when they were growing up. Our family helped Neil get through his teenage years more than his own relatives did.

Within the last few years his mother has made contact. Our family feels it is better late than never, but hesitate to get too close. My Aunt rarely attends any of the get-togethers and leaves the heart mending to her husband.

Nothing will change the childhood that Neil experienced, however, so in that sense it was not a life well spent. Forgiveness is good though, as it does provide personal benefit . . . a lighter, happy heart :)

Wishing you all the best for 2009.
~ Karen

Martial Arts Mom said...

Thanks, Karen, for the great story. It does make one feel grateful they had such great parents (and I do have great parents.)