We seldom think of the other woman in our husband’s life. We want to be the only one. We want to be the limelight that shines on his life, but sometimes helping him remember the other woman makes all the difference.
As time goes by, you can see the consequences of your choices and how they influence your children. Some of those choices bring you joy and some of them bring sorrow, as you realize those choices are frozen in the unalterable past. When my widowed daughter, Holly, married again, I went to her house and noticed she had put the pictures of her late husband and the wife of her new husband on the wall side by side. I remembered how I had made a conscious choice to never let my children forget their mother who had passed away. It was not easy, but the rewards were immense.
In the early years of marriage, the family would pull out the photos and talk about old times. Reg, my husband, would point with pride to his Germany pictures and tell the children of his travels with Mary, his first wife. There were pictures of castles and German costumes. There were military friends and airplanes. There were photos of leaf-gathering excursions, family outings and pets. Everyone was smiling and happy. A lonely feeling welled up inside me; I was not part of their memories. I felt like a stranger. I was tempted to hide the photos and put her things away – after all, she was gone. This was my time. The family needed to move on. Dwelling on the past would not change anything. I knew I could express my lonely feelings in a strong way, and Reg would not talk of Mary in my presence. He would respect my wishes to keep her out of our relationship, but somehow that didn’t seem right.
Long ago, my mother taught me a great lesson. Mother spent years caring for my aging great-grandmother Despain. Grandmother Despain suffered with diabetes and became bedridden in her later years. Those years were difficult for Mother. I understood more fully her burden as I cared for my mother in her final years as she suffered dementia. Mother said of the experience, “The way you treat your parents and grandparents will be the way your children will treat you when you grow old.” How true her words. I never once thought of treating her less than the queen she was.
I soon learned not everyone had learned that lesson. I visited with one of Reg’s friends who lost his wife about the same time Reg did. He remarried a young lady from Mexico. Tearfully, he told me how she didn’t want to talk about his past. She took down all the family pictures the week she moved in and removed all his first wife’s belongings to the garage in storage. It hurt him terribly. He wanted to know how I dealt with the situation. I was glad I had not been so unkind to Reg and his family, but I understood the feelings of the young Mexican girl too. She didn’t want to share her world with another woman, even if she was a memory. Tragically, their marriage ended in divorce. I didn’t want my marriage to end. I love Reg and his children. I knew I would have to change my attitude and mature a lot. I started with the premise, “How do I want Reg and his children to feel about me when I’m gone?”
Do I want them to bury my photos in the darkest corner of the storeroom and pack away my paraphernalia in unlabeled boxes? Certainly not. I want to be remembered with love, reverence and gratitude. I want them to think of me on Memorial Day and visit my resting place with a warm feeling and pleasant memories. I realized if I wanted that, I would have to teach them how to remember me by example.
I went on a crusade, and I gathered up things the children were unable to appreciate at the time and put them away for when they were older. I left their mother’s pictures on the wall and encouraged them to talk about her. My youngest son, who never knew his real mother, was inculcated to the fact that he had a mommy in heaven who loved him. One day, he was feeling bad because the children in first grade were teasing him about his freckles. I said, “Chad, you just tell them those are angel kisses, and they are just jealous.” A few days later, he reported on his accomplishments. He said, “I told them that those were Mommy M’s kisses” – that’s what the children call her. I was puzzled and asked, “What do you mean?” Chad replied, “Mommy M kissed me. She’s an angel, isn’t she?”
Reg told me before Mary passed away, she had two requests. She wanted all her children to play the piano and her boys to become Eagle Scouts. I took the challenge to fulfill her wishes. It wasn’t an easy task. The road to becoming an Eagle Scout is a rocky one. There were times when I would have allowed my son to give up, but I wanted him to feel the joy of knowing he had pleased his mother. I doggedly kept him on the trail. Finally, the day came for him to receive his Eagle Scout award. It was an exciting time for me. They gave me an Eagle pin and a bouquet of beautiful red roses. The recognition was glorious. My son was an Eagle Scout. After the festivities, when we were alone, I said, “Son, let’s go by the cemetery. I think these flowers belong to Mommy M.” He nodded in solemn agreement. He took the flowers and, in the darkness of the cemetery, gave the gift of being an Eagle Scout to his mother.
As my adopted sons and grandsons grew, I became more involved in scouting. I created a merit badge clinic to help other boys become Eagle Scouts. On the 100th anniversary of scouting, we were able to give that award to 80 young men. I was glad I had not tucked away Mary’s wishes to gratify my own pride.
One Sunday, my daughters performed a musical number with a young women’s choir. Toni played the accompaniment, and Marsha sang a solo. As I sat there basking in the beauty of the song, an overwhelming feeling of love came over me. “Mary would be proud. They are just what she would have wanted them to be.” Suddenly, I wasn’t lonely anymore. Mary wasn’t a stranger or the other woman. She was my friend. Those were our daughters. She gave them life and talent. I gave them courage and the desire to accomplish her dream.
Marsha has grown children now. Recently, we attended her church where her family sang a hymn for the congregation. They sang in Spanish because they attend a church where most of the people speak Spanish. I was thrilled. I remember when Marsha was too shy to sing. I wrote a play where I gave her a solo part, and from that time to this music is her lifeline. Her family carries on the tradition of visiting the widows and shut-ins. They sing as a family. This tradition was started by Mommy M. I am so glad I allowed memories to be freely shared. Music has filled the lives of Marsha’s family with joy.
Toni has followed her military husband all over the U.S. and Germany. Everywhere she goes, she becomes the chorister or organist for the church. Her children play instruments and sing. Their lives are constantly blessed by music.
As I view the portrait of Mary in the living room, I smile – Reg and the kids remember her. On the opposite wall hangs a portrait of me. It’s my best bride picture. I have a smile that would charm the angels. I may not have always smiled or done things right in raising these children, but they will remember me because I taught them to remember her.
Valentine’s is a day for giving love. This Valentine’s Day, when Reg brings me his gift of love, I share his gifts with another valentine, but that’s OK. Love isn’t love unless it’s freely given away.
Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.