Last week a high school classmate passed away. More than a few years ago, he was diagnosed with the heart problem that previously claimed the life of his mother. The doctors were able to treat the condition with medication and an implant in his chest that (among other things) could shock his heart back into a normal rhythm if needed. About four years ago, when he was telling me about it, he said that he felt better than he had when he was 20, and realized that the condition had been affecting his life for quite some time. Then he grabbed my hand and rubbed it on the lump in his chest so I could feel the medical device, and laughed when I became more than squeamish about touching something that might be keeping him alive. Listen, I’m a klutz with bad luck as my shadow. I knew how dangerous that was.
Recently, he came down with pneumonia and it proved too much of a strain for his heart. It had become worn out. They approved him for a transplant, which was no less than a miracle. People began rallying and planning a benefit to help with costs. It was heartwarming to see the support of our hometown friends. He received an artificial heart while waiting for a donor heart, but again, the lungs proved problematic. He lost the battle and his wife lost her best friend, his kids lost their hero, and friends and family lost someone who always greeted you with a sly smile and made you laugh (or made you squeamish and laughed).
Tomorrow is his funeral, but I’ve decided not to go. I’ve given much thought to it and I know that I will feel some guilt about it, but I think it’s best for me. I will continue do what I can to show love and support for his family, but this won’t be it.
Let me explain.
My father-in-law passed away in July 2009. Since I was already divorced at the time, I guess the correct term is ex-father-in-law, but it never felt that way. He always told me that I was the daughter that he never had and he continued to treat me like family, even after his son decided that I wasn’t.
The months leading up to his death were difficult as he was in the hospital on more than one occasion. The doctors would stabilize him and treat his symptoms, but there was nothing that they could do as long as he continued to drink. By that time, he felt like drinking was the only thing worth living for, so you can see the dilemma.
I was at the lake with the boys for the 4th of July when my ex contacted me to say that he was in the hospital. We were scheduled to return the next day, so I asked if this hospital trip was like the other times or if we needed to leave immediately. He said it was like the other times, so we stuck to our plan of fireworks on the lake and headed home the following morning. Unfortunately, by the time we got home, he was in a coma and the doctors felt certain he would not make it through the night.
I wanted to be angry with my ex, but I knew that he was in shock. He was never good with hospitals, so he usually visited his father at home once he was released. He really didn’t know what was happening those other times, and he wasn’t ready to accept the reality of this time.
I was, however, angry about the fact that I had to say good-bye to this man (who loved me like his own) in front of an audience. My ex wanted to stay by his father’s side, which was understandable, but it meant that his girlfriend (you know, the slut he cheated with) would not leave his side. My pain was her entertainment.
Since my ex doesn’t care for hospital visits, you can imagine how he feels about funeral homes. He called me and asked me to meet at the funeral home with the family to help with the preparations, and I was willing to help out. Regardless of what we were going through relationship-wise, we had both lost someone who we loved. Someone that deserved for us to put our feelings aside and work together as a family. And we did.
Until the funeral. At the funeral, the girlfriend once again assumed her position by his side. She rode in the limousine with him and my boys and sat with him in the family section. I was left to sit alone in the general public section. You know why they have a family section? Because seeing the family sob uncontrollably, their whole body shaking, affects everyone around them. Just ask all of the people who were sitting around me that day.
Luckily, a high school friend’s wife sat with me and although she didn’t know me that well, she continued to hand me Kleenex and hold me tightly as I sobbed and pointed to the pictures in the booklet and told her their stories. This was us dancing at my wedding and he had tears in his eyes through the entire dance. He was so happy and excited for us. This was when he wanted to take the boys to the circus, but they were little, so at the last minute he asked me to go along for reinforcements. He was exhausted by the end of the circus from chasing after the kids.
Divorce will really smack you in the face when you find yourself sitting in a pew alone with your pain displayed for all of your former family and high school friends to see.
I know that the circumstances are somewhat different today, but in a way, they are the same. Since we all graduated from high school together, once again, all of our old friends will be gathered. The Ex will be seated with his new girlfriend and I will, once again, be seated alone. I will feel alone.
So I’m not going to go to the funeral. I will send up prayers as I have been doing for the past month and I will offer support and food and anything else to let his family know that I am so truly sorry for their loss. I just don’t want to relive mine.