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On the day we take our marriage vows it never occurs to us that another woman—with whom our husband promised “for better or worse… until death do us part”—may be the one who comes to our aide when he dies. Both of my late husband’s ex-wives were there for me the day they died. Perhaps this happens more often than I imagine, but what are the odds it’s happened to me twice?

I owe each of these women a debt of gratitude for being so kind to me.

When my first husband, Philip, died, we were in Washington, D.C. where he was getting experimental outpatient treatment at the National Cancer Institute. Coincidentally Philip’s ex-wife and her husband were living there, and Philip’s youngest daughter had arrived the day before he died to spend time with all of us. The next morning Philip threw a blood clot in our hotel room. At the time I didn’t know what had happened. I only knew he collapsed after getting out of bed and was having trouble breathing. 

I called 911, his doctor and his daughter. The doctor’s nurse, my husband’s ex-wife and their daughter were waiting for us when the ambulance arrived at the hospital. They waited with me in the emergency room and were there when the doctor came to tell me, “I’m sorry. We lost him.”

At some point Philip’s ex-wife suggested, “What if we get your things from the hotel and you come home and stay with us?” Philip and I were far from home, and I was grateful to have people there I knew. Family. I was especially grateful when we opened the door to our hotel room. It looked like a medical supply truck had exploded in our room.

The floor and both beds were littered with opened packets of alcohol wipes, rubber tourniquets, syringes, small glass vials, bandages, gauze, face masks, velcro straps, a roll of tape and several pairs of thin rubber gloves. 

The remains of a failed attempt to save Philip’s life.

Twenty-three years later my second husband, James, the man I’d waited for all my life, died on Christmas of an unexpected heart problem while walking on our ranch. I called his son, who was staying at his mom’s, and James’s brother. They all drove, separately, 45 minutes from their homes in the city to our Little House in the middle of nowhere. In a great act of kindness, James’s ex-wife told everyone she was spending the night with me. She and I sat up late, talking, and I remember both of us were very calm. I’m sure we were in shock, functioning on autopilot, but like my first husband’s ex, James’s ex-wife came to my aide in my darkest hour.

Divorce is never easy—even if we’re the one who wanted it—plus it can be difficult to see our ex move on with their life. Regardless of our age, it takes a lot of thought and grace and self-discipline to establish a relationship with our ex’s new wife, but I hope if we’re ever in that position we can reach out and form a friendly bond. Not only are we role models for our children, grandchildren and those watching from the sidelines, but we never know when we’ll need one another.

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  1. If I can’t be happy for wasband moving forward in joy something is wrong with me.

    What a horrid world to create if choosing to create/harbor negativity over someone else’s joy. Energy better spent on creating a personal life of joy, grace, peace.

    Twice for you Brenda, sincere condolences.

    Garden & Be Well, XoTara

    • Thank you, Tara. I agree but moving on is often accompanied by difficulties for everyone. My first husband, Philip, came home one day and said he’d heard the song, “One Less Bell to Answer,” by the Fifth Dimension on the radio, and it made him a little sad, thinking of his newly divorced ex. I thought that was compassionate of him. All these many years later, I still think about his words whenever I hear this song. xoxox, Brenda

    • Hi Donna, Thank you for reading and sharing and leaving me a comment. Compassion is universal and sometimes I think it’s one of the few true gifts we can give to one another. xoxox, Brenda

  2. Beautiful, Brenda! Why be hung-up on the past?
    The here and now, and the choice to be compassionate, is all we ever have.

  3. I believe the ex-wives were feeling sorrow, too, albeit in a different way. When my ex-husband died I reached out to his wife. I had sympathy for her and I was sad for him, our daughter and even myself. I’m so sorry you’ve had so much pain in your life.

  4. Thank you Brenda for your thoughts today. How wonderful for you to have had those two ladies come to your aide during crisis. I will be hoping for the exact same thing when the time comes. It’s taken many years to develop a friendship with the ex, but we have and I believe there is compassion and empathy in all of us.

  5. That’s so amazing and so sad you had to go through that twice. I’m sort of in a similar boat. My husband died but there was no ex. My BF has cancer and his wife, whom he never got around to divorcing (after 35 years of being separated – long story) and his daughter are both supportive.

    • Rebecca, Families are complicated, aren’t they? Regardless I’d like to hope we support one another. That we role reverse and imagine ourselves in their position and reach out for no reason except to be kind. xoxox, Brenda

  6. Not once, but twice. I’m so sorry this happened. But grateful for those who could forget themselves and reach out with love and COMPASSION. What an example to the rest of us. Thank you so much for sharing them with us today!

  7. Lovely writing today Brenda. A moving account of terrible days with moments of grace. Your story reminds me of why we need time and distance before writing about trauma. Did you ever think you would live to see this behavior acted out again? I’m sure not!

    • Thank you, Mithra. I appreciate that. I always thought James and I would enjoy our life on the ranch and grow old together. His death was the last thing I thought about. If anything, my having been diagnosed with breast cancer six years before he died made me think I was the likely one to die first. I”m reminded of something James once told me: “We’re not in control as much as we think we are.” xoxox, Brenda

  8. Such beautiful post, and beautiful expressions of grace. I also think they realized that you were someone their child loved and held in a position of honor like a second mom, or someone their dad loved. They were grateful for the love you’d shown to their child. I think they knew from your previous kindness and grace that you were a woman of honor and they wanted to be there for you. I’m so thankful God reached out to you through them to comfort you in His grace and mercy in those times when you so desperately needed it!

  9. That’s lovely. I am friends with my husband’s ex-wife, but not close. We’re FB friends and we can have a conversation. There are no ill feelings there. My ex’s wife…hell even he doesn’t like her, but him and my husband remained friends.

    • Rena, Isn’t it interesting how and why we form bonds with people who normally wouldn’t be on our radar. In the case of exes, I think there’s a great deal of curiosity… on both parts… about our ex’s new/old spouse. I only know you from your comments and your writing on your blog, but I think you would go out of your way to befriend lots of people. You’re a good woman, Rena. xoxox, Brenda

  10. Like others I feel so sad you had to go through that twice! For those two ex-wives be so supportive and kind to you during this difficult time in your life I believe says a lot about you. I found this post very powerful and very well written… usual.
    Have a great day!
    Take care

  11. Thank you for this post. I am on very good terms with my husband’s ex-wife. It makes being a step-mom so much easier. I think the children love ME because I am willing to show love to HER. And, she understands what I am going through when my husband’s not-so-great traits come to the surface. You never regret being kind.

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