Many years ago my friend, Katie, was asked by her ex-husband’s fiancé to be her matron of honor at their upcoming wedding. When I heard this I had no problem telling Katie how strange I found the request to be. Even more bizarre was Katie’s acceptance of the invitation. It would take me a long time to understand what motivated her decision and little did I know that I would also be presented with a similar opportunity in my own life. Katie and her ex had a five year old son who would be co-parented by his dad and his new wife. She knew the importance of harmony between the two households.
Being a stepmom to my husband’s two teenage daughters required little effort on my part. I liked them and they accepted me as their dad’s wife. They appreciated the fact that he had someone to love and care for him. We saw the girls on major holidays and several times during the year. I always wished the girls had a closer, more meaningful relationship with their dad but the divorce and the distance between us made it difficult to work on that. They lived with their mother and stepfather about three hours from us. During their visits I tried to give them space and time to rekindle the love and comfort they once had. To be perfectly honest, I viewed us more as four friendly individuals enjoying a pleasant event…than a family.
My husband was diligent about child support and always willing to contribute to the extra needs and desires of the girls. His contact with Claudia, their mother, was infrequent and usually out of necessity. I had probably been in her company a half-dozen times in the 14 years we were together but she would often send a card thanking me for caring for her girls. I knew I respected this woman but I had no idea how much I would come to value her friendship and just love her.
The story of how I ended up living in the same town as my daughters and their mom is a long and complicated one; but I did. By this time my youngest stepdaughter, Christy, was married and pregnant with twin girls. Claudia asked me to help with her baby shower which I was delighted to do. In the weeks leading up to it we spent several hours together, talking and getting to know one another. It wasn’t long before we were babysitting the twins, meeting for coffee and planning family gatherings at my house. My relationship with the girls also grew during this time. I came to really know them through their mother who invited me into the lives of her daughters and grandchildren. I am still amazed at the grace of this woman who realized we are all connected by life’s circumstances and we can embrace that by living at our fullest potential; offering love, friendship and support for the good of everyone.
As it was with my friend Katie, a lot of people did not understand the relationship between me and Claudia. We often laughed about it ourselves. But we knew it was meant to be. A few months into our friendship Claudia was ill. Several weeks later she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer which had already spread to vital organs. Her prognosis was dire and she opted for alternative treatment in Mexico which kept her away weeks at a time. One day she asked me if I would allow her some alone time with the girls’ father so she could make her peace. They did that; I was glad for them.
About a week's time, Claudia was in the hospital recovering from colon surgery…due to the ravage of the cancer. She was groggy from the medications and as I fed her ice chips she told the ICU nurse that we were ex-wives and that we loved each other! Within a few days she was able to return to her home. I bought her a blue nightie so she would feel special. She had our daughter Jodi call me to say she was wearing it that evening. The next call I received was eight hours later: Claudia’s heart had stopped and she was gone.
Who could have ever convinced me that someday I would grow to love this woman who raised the beautiful daughters I now call my own? How could I ever thank her for the privilege of being part of their lives and those of the four precious grandchildren who call me Nana? I am humbled and grateful for the mother she was.
Dear stepmoms…there is another woman in your life. If you desire a relationship with her children, learn to have one with her. She is vital to the outcome. Wish her a happy Mother’s Day... as I do YOU.