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Prompted By Divorce

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I was at work when my mother called to tell me Ruth M had died.   My mom was at the age when she read the obituaries every day looking for the names of friends and acquaintances,  and had seen Ruth’s name in the morning paper.

Ruth was my ex-mother-in-law and I hadn’t seen her since Alan and I divorced more than a dozen years earlier,  and I had no desire to go to her funeral.   But nevertheless I asked my mother where and when the service would be.

She told me it was that morning and where,  and when we hung up I called the funeral home.

“I knew the deceased,”  I told the receptionist,  “but I can’t make the service.  When it’s over please give her son Alan my name and number,  and ask him to call me.”

An hour later my phone rang.   Alan apparently had gotten my message.

“Hi Pussycat,  want me to pick up a quart of milk on my way home?”  he asked.

Alan was living in California and had just flown to New York for the funeral.   He said that shiva for his mother would be that night at his brother Zach’s Manhattan apartment and he hoped I’d come.  I told my husband I was meeting an old friend,  and I went.

Zach greeted me warmly at the door,  and then I saw Alan walking towards us.  We embraced and found a private spot to talk.  We spoke about our life together,  our lives since,  and how good it was to see each other again.   But after a long,  open-hearted  conversation I knew we’d never have resolved our differences,  and divorce had been the right decision.

Then heading home from Zach’s apartment an hour or so later it hit me – despite our long talk at her shiva,  neither Alan nor I had even mentioned his mother.

And although one should never speak ill of the dead,  the truth is –  as both Alan and I knew –  Ruth had been one battle axe of a mother-in-law!

(For more about me and Alan see Shuffling Off to Buffalo,  My Snowy Year in Buffalo,  Flowers on the Windshield, and  Both Sides Now.)

– Dana Susan Lehrman 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Funerals, Shiva, Divorce
Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    A delicate way to handle divorce, Dana. I rather like the “Hello Pussycat” greeting. It’s clear the two of you had a special bond, but marriage was not a part of it.

    I understand about “not speaking ill of the dead”, but Ruth was what she was. I’m sure that didn’t help with the marriage.

  2. Thanx Betsy, you’re on target!

  3. pattyv says:

    I think all the loves of our life are special somebodies we will always reflect on and wonder about. But the men we married have an added place in our flashbacks, probably a question mark we’ll carry to the grave. “Hello Pussycat” got me too. Alan was definitely a charmer. I didn’t have a mother-in-law problem during the divorce, just seven sisters.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    We often forget that when we divorce a spouse, we are also leaving a family. In your case, it sounds like that was a good thing.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    Maria’s parents were, um, bad people, in so many ways. The more time passes, the more I realize how many bullets I dodged when she dumped me.

    My first actual mother-in-law was convinced that more than one of her relatives was out to poison her, an obsession she shared with her daughters. Both of her parents looked down upon, among other things, people of Italian heritage. So saying adios to that clan when Wife1 bailed out was no loss at all.

    Gina’s Mom is comparatively pretty good, and the rest of her family are wonderful people who made me feel welcome from the first time she brought me home to face the Inquisition!

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    This was a charming story, that was surprisingly tender about meeting a former spouse, and with a funny and honest punch line at the end. Still smiling.

    • Thanx Khati, luckily there was little contention between us as there is in many – most? – other divorces, perhaps because of our personalities, but also probably the fact there were no kids or much communal property to divvy up!

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