It was a steamy Sunday afternoon when, without warning, my parents’ marriage came crashing apart. Suddenly, my mother was separated and heading toward divorce. She was 44 years old.
My mother was alone. She had three teenage daughters, no career and no husband. She never, ever thought she’d be in this position.
Gradually, my mother picked up the pieces of her life. Her courage still inspires me. Mom went back to school and eventually landed a job that suited her. After the marriage was annulled, she returned to the dating scene, although she quickly concluded that it was dreadful. One guy took her out for a Saturday night date, and 30 minutes later, when she declined to go back to his apartment with him, he took her home. Who says romance is dead?
As my mom rounded age 50, she met a wonderful Catholic widower whom she married a year later. My sisters and I liked Mike right away. Between them, they had one son and seven daughters. We were Republican and Democrat, Protestant and Catholic, devout, doubtful and everything in between, but we were family so we decided to make it work.
There were a lot of bumps, as is common with a second marriage. Chief among them were problems with my younger sister, who had a long history of drug abuse. Mike was firm but very kind to Marietta, and it was Mike who held her in his arms when she died. I could not have asked for a better gift.
As our folks approached their 15th wedding anniversary, the unthinkable happened. It was a chilly November day when I received a phone call with the news that my beloved stepfather had died of a heart attack. Police had found him slumped over the wheel of his car on the side of the road.
We were devastated.
Again, my mother was alone. Again, she hated every second of it.
Mom continued her job at the city library, and she did tailoring and alterations on the side. She involved herself in prayer groups and choir. She filled her home with people who were as lonely as she was.
Six years later at age 71, my mother met another devout Catholic widower at an Elder Hostel event in New York City. It was instant chemistry (despite the awkward fact that Mom had attended the event with a different gentleman). Hank was from the Midwest and had been widowed for several years. My family fell in love with him.
The big problem was that for generations, Hank’s home had been in Springfield, Ill., while my mother had spent her entire life near Boston. Sure, they fell in love, but then what? How does this work?
Hank made the selfless choice to sell his house, bid farewell to his hometown, and move to Wellesley, Mass., where he and my mother were married. My sister and I didn’t meet his children and grandchildren until the wedding rehearsal, but we liked them very much. They were delighted to see their father happy in love, even though it meant sharing him with another family. We felt the same about mom.
My mom and stepfather have been married for 11 years, and it has been a joy. The four of us grown kids have made it our business to share our parents with one another. The geography does not make it easy. While our parents reside in the Boston area, we four live in California, Texas, Ohio and Connecticut. Amazingly, at 83 and 87, Mom and Hank still travel. This helps.
It also helps that everyone has a sense of humor about the whole thing. During Mom’s wedding ceremony to Mike, the priest asked if they would accept children as a gift from God.
Mom and Mike, who were 51 and 60 at the time, were momentarily stunned into silence until the church erupted with the roaring laughter of their eight grown children. Mike shrugged his shoulders and mumbled, “Um, I guess so.” Mom said, “If we say no, we’ll have to go home.” The wedding proceeded.
More recently, a friend asked my mother how long she had lived in her home. She thought about it for a moment, then replied, “Three husbands.”
It was not my mother’s plan to have so many marriages, but that’s what life dished out. Fortunately, God is God throughout it all. As the hymn says, “To God be the glory, great things he has done.”
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.