Saturday, January 28, 2012

Difficult Choices: Death & Divorce

I didn't know my Uncle James very well. I was the flower girl at his wedding, and he picked me up in his strong arms a few times, but aside from that I don't remember him. I don't even have stories about James that I could share. When I think of his face, when I strain to remember his presence in my past, I see only a blur. It's as if my James file has been emptied out in my brain.

My Aunt married James many years ago- 20 something years, to give you a ballpark. Shortly after the wedding, something happened and he really did vanish from the family. No one talked about him, no one saw him. No one even mentioned that James had ever existed. My aunt appeared to move along as if she had divorced James, and all of us assumed that she did.

When he died, we learned otherwise.

They never got a divorce.

When my father told me that James had died and that he never formally divorced my aunt- I curtly mentioned that it sounded like a legal nightmare. As far as I know, he hadn't been with my Aunt in years, and he'd been with his girlfriend for over 13 years.

I was surprised when my dad told me that my aunt was going to the funeral. The marriage was decades ago, and as far as I know James and my Aunt had moved on with their separate lives long ago.

My Aunt and grandmother attended the funeral. My Aunt took the flag that was presented by the armed servicemen for James' army time. There were only four chairs graveside and my grandmother took one of those seats, telling others " I'm James' mother-in-law"...

All of this left me with mixed feelings. For my aunt- it was a matter of status and pride. She and James never divorced, and so she flew in for the funeral and quickly fit into the place of his wife.

My aunt kept saying that James' girlfriend knew he was married, and that this is what happens when you date a married man- even if the marriage was years ago and the "husband and wife" are living over 3,000 miles apart.

Yet, I can't help thinking that they were married only in name. She lived in Colorado- he lived in Baltimore.

My grandmother and aunt seem to think that this is the natural order of things. The wife gets everything ( even if she hasn't seen her husband in 20 years) and mistresses simply do not exist.

Maybe in the 50's. Maybe in the old world.

I can just imagine my Aunt, strolling into the funeral home with the class of Jacki-O, following all the upper-class protocol- treating James' girlfriend like a nonentity. Like a mistress and nothing more.

I can't say what was right or wrong in this case...

but my mind keeps going back to the girlfriend of 13 years- the woman who lost a man that she loved. My family gipped the girlfriend out of her seat.

The woman who was a current fixture in James' life came out of this with no recognition or support. I didn't know James, but I can't imagine why he would have wanted that.

The moral of the story.... make your wishes legal, make your wishes known...and if you are no longer with someone- divorce them.

James' benefits and death insurance etc will all go to my aunt. His girlfriend of 13 years will get nothing.

I think it's sad...and I really hope that this is what James wanted.

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