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Remember The First Wives Club with Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler about three divorcees who seek revenge on husbands who’ve left them for younger women? While the film was hysterical, for sure, women of a certain age loved it because the story offered more than a grain of truth. I have another cautionary tale, “The Second Wives Club,” (not the TV show that featured younger women), but a Shakespearean horror story few people are willing to talk about except for me and my friend.

Let’s call her Saint Cecilia.

I first met Saint Cecilia in the late ’80’s, when she was living with her now deceased, second husband—let’s call him Bill—in a swanky Victorian house in Pacific Heights: the chic, unaffordable, elite neighborhood in San Francisco. Bill and my first husband had been pals since they took girls to the drive-in to “polish their moves” in the backseat of a yellow, ’32, chopped and channeled Ford. 

Bill was brilliant, a bit of a romantic and an adventurer in his younger days, but in the end, he turned out to be a wuss. I’m trying hard not to substitute the word “rat.” Instead of acknowledging Saint Cecelia—this splendid woman he eventually married—and their 35 years together by including her in his Will, or even telling her… upfront… he would never put her in his Will… He did neither. As time went on and his health—physically and then mentally—began to fail, Bill would put on his charming Pollyanna mask, choosing to believe (a) the end would never be in sight or (b) his children would do right by Saint Cecelia. And his children? 

Let’s just say I’ve met his children and your children and the people down the street’s children… And I’m sad to say this but when it comes to money, we can’t always count on his children—or ours—to do the right thing. 

Whether it’s millions or a dollar fifty, too many adult children, who may be multimillionaires in their own right, feel they should inherit everything that was their father’s.

Before Bill died many friends urged him to rewrite his Will to include his wife. He went so far as to practice, with a cue card, what he would tell his children about rewriting his Will, but in the end… He didn’t have the backbone to do right by her. And Bill’s daughter? She never came to visit her father. Instead she asked Saint Cecelia to let her know when he died, and she took what crumbs were left with nary a kind word to the woman—truly a saint of a woman—who stayed by his side; put up with his intermittent alcohol-induced hysteria, bad investments, a lifestyle that had scaled down to a one bedroom apartment… not on the swanky side of town… changed his diapers and nursed him day and night at home.

I know another member of The Second Wives Club, my mother, whose married, adult stepchildren were wealthy beyond belief.

Before my mother married her second husband—a darling man and dear friends with Fred Astaire and Greer Garson—his two grown sons got him to sign over everything he owned to them. Between the “boys,” as my stepfather called them, they owned not ONE, but TWO Gutenberg Bibles, an uber famous “luxury goods” company and an old, historical plantation that, at its peak, covered over 20,000 acres and enslaved 700 people at a time who farmed it and kept it running. Mother didn’t discover her husband couldn’t access his own money, without the boys’ permission, until years down the road… AFTER she lost her own health, lovingly caring for their father. When she discovered there wasn’t any money for her to hire someone to help her bathe and lift him in and out of bed—he should have been in a nursing home—she asked his sons if they would help. They said, “no.”

I sometimes think families look at second wives like we’re basically prostitutes or the hired help. When their father or brother dies, and some of us have no money or the family abandons us, the message they send is that we—the members of The Second Wives Club—can just sit on the curb by ourselves. Yes… I know what that feels like.

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20 thoughts on “THE SECOND WIVES CLUB”

  1. Unfortunately, money seems to bring out the worst in people, usually during the saddest of times. It doesn’t have to be related to the second wife, it can be between siblings, grandchildren, or children etc. Personally speaking greed showed it’s ugly self between my brothers and my sister and myself, ultimately ending with the girls against the boys. As executor of my mother’s estate, every thing was divided equally as she wished but because I had “more” than the boy’s they felt I should get nothing, and I was the one who looked after her for years every day. Now we are dealing with my husband’s 93 year old uncle and his 90 year old sister!! She wants his money, thankfully, my husband is his power of attorney so his care will remain top notch until such time he no longer needs it. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths greedy people will go to in order to get what they want. But, I do believe in karma, what you put out in the world comes back to you and I feel at peace when I look in the mirror.

    • Karma!! I’ve seen it in action, Deborah, and the times I haven’t, in some cases, I can only hope it kicks in.. soon. Death is usually intermingled with jealousy, fear, regret, lies, stupidity and lack of reasoning ability. Compassion, role reversal, shame and love get thrown overboard, tout suite, and relationships are irreversibly ruined. We should all be so blessed to have someone, like your husband, to watch over our affairs when we no longer can and to make sure our money lasts as long as we do. Greed… It’s one of the seven deadly sins and surely one of many roads to misery. xoxox, Brenda

  2. Too often the reading of a will is a shock. And despite the fact that it’s the twenty-first century, and not the nineteenth, women sometimes feel as if they’re characters in a Jane Austen novel.

    • Sue, What a clever, yet nice, way of putting it. It’s shocking to see young women, like Saint Cecelia’s grown stepdaughter, a smart business woman who should respect the rights and place of ALL women… respond like caring for her father until his last breath was “her place.” I’m not surprised when men react with such uncaring disrespect, but another woman? Grrrr…. xoxox, Brenda

  3. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard similar stories. I have a friend who’s currently taking care of her ex-husband (that’s right – her ex) who has dementia. She’s been taking care of him for almost 10 years now and will continue to care for him until she’s no longer able to. Because, like your friend, she’s a saint. And because his own daughter is “too busy” to have anything to do with her own father. I suspect that, when he dies, the daughter will suddenly no longer be “too busy”.

    • Hi Squeak!! Oh, don’t you know! Not too busy to swoop in and claim what’s left. The name for that is “buzzard.” Just the fact that we’ve all heard similar stories… What a sad comment on human nature. I hope all is well with you! xoxox, Brenda

  4. This is awful! Too late for a prenuptial.
    The father of a friend remarried very shortly after his long-disabled wife died. The friend was thrilled because Wife 2 took care of the father quite well (another saint), but his sisters thought the father was dishonoring their mother.
    In France, Napoleonic laws forbid disinheriting children, but a spouse can be disinherited, and even if not, a spouse always gets a minor share of the estate so that the majority goes to the next generation. It’s also forbidden to favor one child or disfavor another. So a child from a first marriage who went to private schools and college must get the same thing as the much younger child from the second marriage, who is still a minor and who, by losing a parent, will never be able to afford private schools or college. But that is considered fair, as long as the estate is split 50-50 between the two kids. (Well, actually, the spouse would get 15-25%, and the two kids would equally split the remainder.)

    • TOF, Prenuptial… There’s a topic I should cover. I’ve always thought it would be awkward to ask “the love of your life” to sign a prenup, and how insecure would that make you feel? Actually it’s probably a great topic since many of us will remarry either after death or divorce. “Napoleonic Law… ” Something about that word makes me think of guillotines and starvation. Certainly by reading this reference to inheritance, fair isn’t always 50/50, but then if everyone could argue for why their circumstances were different and why they should get more, the attorneys would be the only ones to benefit. Very informative! xoxo, Brenda

  5. I think too many of us know these horror stories, even if they don’t involve multi millionaires or people who knew famous people. On a smaller scale, I suspect this happens all the time and it’s just horrifying. Eye opening. Information that should be dispersed widely.

  6. Alana, This gross disregard for the role a woman plays in a family happens all the time. It happened to me and if the people involved were no longer alive I would have featured my story here. It was beyond hurtful. In some regards it was as devastating as losing my husband. I can’t imagine people like that can live with what they’ve done. Thank you for your comment, Brenda

  7. The women’s lib movement did not do the one thing that was desperately needed to do: Get respect from society for care-giving. Women, mothers, caregivers used to have respect when the male spouses, family members were somewhat nearby (on the farm or in the front of the home working in the clock shop, etc.) and saw the sacrifice and love and hard work that it took to care for family, children, homes (someone has to clean the toilets!) and as an extension: the neighborhood and community. But the women’s lib push was “WE WANT TO BE OUT OF THE HOME AND WORK LIKE MEN”. Too bad that they actually de-legitimized care-giving.

    • I wouldn’t have thought of this, Kat, but you’re right, and you’ve stated it so well. Women have always been caregivers, the heart and soul of a family, but now, with fractionalized families where both parents work or one is absent, kids, families, neighborhoods, even whole countries suffer. We’ve lost much of our empathy and compassion when it comes to how we treat other people, and I think to a great extent that’s due to the absence of women in the home. Add to that our obsession with social media–parents and kids–and our children have become more vulnerable than ever to the voices and beliefs of teachers and friends, and they’re short on critical thinking skills that could help them make up their own mind about an issue, not to mention we’re becoming focused on “me, me me.” Women in the caregiving role was once a sacred position, but it’s been made to feel “less than.” When I had my breast cancer website,–it’s still up, but I don’t add new posts–my focus was “surviving breast cancer” and “helping caregivers and families.” I even wrote a book for men to teach them how to be caregivers. Thank you for adding this valuable component to our discussion. Brenda

    • Yvonne, And greed has been with us since our first man and woman, even animals are guilty of greed. I think it’s something we have to teach our children… that it’s not alright to be greedy and selfish and stroke our own egos. Those two things go hand in hand with lack of respect and the absence of compassion. Awesome comment, Yvonne! Thank you! Brenda

  8. How awful.It is all too easy for people to say nasty things about the first and second wives. I seldom hear the marriage just didn’t work out, no someone has to be the crazy one! I am hearing a new trend in leaving the family home to the children.I hear the kids just love this house and real-estate is so expensive. And the kids are fostering this fantasy. Sure if you have oodles of cash and don’t need the money from your home, but it is short term thinking!! If there is more than one child I guarantee the family home will become a mine field and Mom or Dad may not get the care they need!

    • Woah, Haralee! A mine field, indeed. I haven’t heard about this trend, but there are so many things wrong with it. In addition to sibling squabbles, what if Mom and Dad have some awful reversal of their finances, and both parents signed off on it in their Wills or put it in a Trust, and now one of them has dementia, etc., and is no longer competent to change the documents? I’m not sure if there are legal provisions for that, but greedy siblings already have their own ideas about what they want to happen to the house. Scary thought, Haralee! Thanks for the warning, Brenda

  9. This stories make it hard to believe in humanity. Even on a deathbed, when you can’t take it with you, why would you not honor your
    wife who has taken care of ALL your needs? Sadder than sad.

    • Beth, You’re right! Why, oh why? In Bill’s case, his children were adopted… one has mental challenges… and when he divorced his first wife, he didn’t see much of the kids. In some weird way I think he believed his Estate would erase all those years he wasn’t in their lives and make them think well of him. It was bribery money! He also couldn’t bear telling them he no longer had much money. It was his pride. He’d rather hope that his kids would honor the second wife than to have to fess up that he’d “messed up” with his finances. Any way you look at it, it’s the justification of a coward. He was my friend before I met Saint Cecilia, and I’m beyond disappointed. Brenda

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