The Sunday before Thanksgiving I step out of a cold and snowy day into a brightly lit kitchen filled with the smell of holiday baking and the warmth of family, smiles, acceptance, and belonging. This is my ex-sister-in-law’s house. My ex-mother- and father-in-law are here, my ex-niece, and my two daughters are with me. After greetings and hugs, we settle in to make Thanksgiving pies together. It feels normal and good; we toss around the same jokes and hilarious memories we’ve shared for years. It occurs to me that the baggage of divorce, the awkwardness lent to these relationships by the prefix “ex”, has, for this moment, vanished. I am suddenly moved to tears by the kindness of this family and the togetherness of this day. I am overwhelmed with the blessing of being a part of this day. I feel unadulterated love for every person in the room.
For fifteen years, the institution of marriage ensured that I had a “legitimate” place here. I realize now that I took it for granted, and sometimes even resented it as an obligation. I was not happy in my skin then, and I was not willing or able to fully appreciate the extraordinary gift of being part of this family. I was quick to focus on an annoying thing somebody said or did at a family gathering at the expense of seeing how lucky I was to be there. This is not to say that I had zero appreciation then, but in hindsight I recognize there was a deficit of gratitude, to my own detriment (not to mention that I undoubtedly behaved like an asshole frequently).
Life continues to do its thing with all of us – divorce, illness, broken hearts, growing up, losses and successes. My ex-mother- and father-in-law are dealing with the trials of
aging (gracefully and with good humor, I should add). Things are not easy. Amidst the constant and insufferable toil of being human, this family is an oasis for one another. They hold each other up, they help each other, they come together to celebrate, and, I’m sure they annoy the shit out of each other from time to time. Even though I am no longer officially their daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, or aunt, they have held a space for me with them. It is not the same as it was, but it is beautiful nonetheless. I thank them for this.