Farewell, Poppy. I’m sorry, Meemaw.
My ex-father-in-law passed away a few months ago. “Poppy,” as his grandkids called him, was a good man, a Purple Heart veteran who served in the Navy during WWII. He was stubborn, often controlling, yet he had a big heart, especially when it came to his two granddaughters. After three sons and three grandsons, my girls were a welcome addition to the family, and he loved them dearly.
A. was also a very hard-working man who had a tomato business that got overtaken by the big greenhouses, and who then started a seed business that enabled him to travel to many tropical areas. While working, he’d scout out vacation spots, and he and my ex-mother-in-law (“Meemaw”) would treat the whole family to a yearly all-inclusive resort vacation.
Though we only got to see them once or twice a year, I have many happy memories of our visits with Poppy and Meemaw, and plenty of photos that captured our time together.
When my ex and I were splitting up, it caused A. a great deal of pain. During one visit, he sat down with his son and me for a “family meeting,” and laid out his plan for keeping us together. By then, however, the damage had been done. It broke my heart to see him trying to save what was already lost.
I never had a chance to make my amends with him, and I’m not sure how I would have gone about it. By the time I was well into the AA program a year or so ago, A.’s health and memory had already started to decline. Over the years, however, I’d been making what I now see were “living amends.” Things like helping my ex facilitate Poppy’s visits with his granddaughters and compiling a photo book of the girls’ activities each year to send to him and Meemaw at Christmas.
I remember one Christmas visit, post-divorce, when A. had just completed treatment for prostate cancer and was having difficulty with his frequent bathroom visits. He and Meemaw were set to attend our city ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” in which my older daughter performed as an angel.
This very proud man didn’t want to be seated in an auditorium, stuck in the middle of a row, when the chances were very good that he’d have to excuse himself several times throughout the performance to use the restroom. He didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, and was frustrated and upset. So he had decided not to go to the show.
I knew several people at the ballet, so I was able to get him in a side door and into an aisle seat right up front. He had easy access to the hallway, so his restroom breaks wouldn’t prove to be a problem.
It was a small thing that I was able to do, but I could tell it meant the world to A. to be able to attend.
When my ex and my daughters flew out to the funeral, I didn’t go, as my ex had made clear that he’d rather I didn’t attend. After being part of the family for ten years, I really wanted to go. But I respected my ex’s wishes and didn’t. I was very sad as a result. I would have loved to see the whole family in person, to reconnect, to express my sorrow for their loss. It just wasn’t possible. Instead, I sent notecards with some of my favorite photos for my daughters to deliver to their aunts, uncles and cousins.
A week after the funeral, Meemaw came to stay with my ex for two weeks. The girls were delighted to spend so much time with her, and vice versa. I asked my ex if I might take his mom to breakfast one day, and he consented.
I had talked with my sponsor about possibly doing a 9th step with my ex-mother-in-law if the opportunity presented itself, so I was prepared just in case. As it turns out, we just had a lovely breakfast with warm, gentle conversation. At times Meemaw seemed to have forgotten that her husband had died. Other times, her eyes started to tear up as she talked about waking up in bed and experiencing the painful reality of his absence. I did what I could to comfort her, and by the end of our meal, I felt that we had both benefited from our time together, even if no explicit mention of past difficulties had been made. I felt a shared, genuine affection — and a sense of peace.
Did I take the coward’s way out by not directly addressing the wreckage I’d caused? I don’t think so. I feel I would have upset or confused Meemaw if I had tried to explain my sobriety or my program and brought up my hurtful actions and words of the past. I believe our visit was just right for the situation.
Although I missed attending Poppy’s funeral, I’m grateful I had the chance to spend time with Meemaw. About six weeks after her visit, I got a very nice thank-you letter from her. She wrote in response to the card I’d sent along with my daughters to the funeral, and she said that it meant a lot to her, and that she knew I had cared deeply for A.
I did. I still do. And he’s in my thoughts today.
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Tags: 12-Step Program, AA, AA program, Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholism, amends, change, death, funerals, life, living amends, making amends, Ninth Step, recovery, relationships, serenity, sobriety, Veterans Day