One week ago, I learned that my former father-in-law passed away.
For eleven years, he had been a part of my life. He was the one member of my ex-husband’s family who never judged, never spoke a harsh word. When I left, he quietly kept in contact, including me on his email list of jokes (of which there were many). He made a point of reaching out to me occasionally, to let me know he still cared – that I was still family to him.
He had grown up Jewish, and married outside his faith. While the family celebrated several of the holidays, I felt very strongly that any children I might have should know their heritage, and so I threw myself into learning about the faith of my husband’s ancestors. It bonded my father-in-law and I – we never discussed it, but I felt like it made him happy to have this part of his family honored. For eleven years, I lit Hannukah candles with my father-in-law in mind. I stumbled over transliterated Hebrew, and boiled eggs for the Seder plate. I grew to deeply love the ceremony and the history of the religion. Even after leaving, I cast bread into the river near work for Rosh Hashana, and I thought of him, and his family, and the beautiful legacy that he was trying to pass on to his son, and the children we never had.
He built things that helped us see the stars. He built things that helped us see the earth. He told amazing stories, such as the time he and his college buddies changed the Hollywood sign without touching it, and rewired traffic lights, and all sorts of shenanigans that imaginative engineering students get into. He was vibrant, and brilliant, and hilarious, and so very kind. He rescued cats, and supported the library and tried very hard to burn bratwurst because he knew that’s how I liked them from the grill (even though he was incapable of burning things).
Three weeks ago, my divorce was finalized, and I started a new beginning. I left behind the last name that, for a while, I shared with this amazing man. With the stamp of the notary, this man was legally no longer related to me. Today, while we always say we’re not divorcing that family, I feel that I have little claim over this grief that I am experiencing. There is a hole in my life, and I feel like it is not mine to have. In my new role of ex-daughter-in-law, I have no idea how to grieve. I want to craft a memorial for him that exemplifies the man he was, but I have no right to that any longer.
So instead, I’ll say the mourner’s kaddish for him. Because I know his son, my ex-husband, will not. Because he deserves it. Because he would appreciate it, butchered Hebrew and all.