Perils of Divorced Pauline

The Names Have Been Changed, But the Story Is True


April 05
World-class gnarly divorce survivor. Custody Battle blogger with a sense of humor. Mom. Wife. Cat-Lover. Visit me at or on Twitter @divorcedpauline.


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APRIL 20, 2011 11:21AM

My Father's Two Wives

Rate: 34 Flag

Last Sunday, I stood in a small church cemetery amid a circle of relatives. My vibrant octogenarian father, who had collapsed from a massive heart attack in January, was now reduced to a tube of ashes. When it was my turn to sprinkle his remains by my mother's headstone, I watched gray flecks slip between my fingers, swirl in the spring breeze, and slowly settle into the dirt at my feet.

My stepmother told us Dad had wanted some of his ashes to be spread by the grave of my mother, his first wife, with whom he shared 47 years. She asked us to save her a teaspoon's worth, which we did. Death, like divorce, has a way of surprising us with the best or the worst in people. Another widow might have refused to part with any portion of her husband's remains. But my stepmother, who was married to my father for the last thirteen years of his life, honored his wishes, and let us reunite him with my mother.

Over the course of my father's memorial weekend, friends and family gathered from both coasts to pay him tribute. At the mic near the pulpit, or over wine at the post-service party, people offered glimpses into my dad's impact on them. He was genteel, articulate, endearingly absent-minded, a decorated WWII veteran, formidable Badminton champion, die-hard Democrat and rooter for the underdog. He pulled quarters out of nephews' ears, officiated at wedding ceremonies for friends' children, roused others out of their sadness with an anecdote, or a dash of homespun optimism. He laughed freely and often. And he was a loving husband. Twice.

The last ten years of my parents' marriage was fueled mainly by devotion. My mother's triple bypass, from which she never fully recovered, was followed by a massive stroke several years later. Not a week went by that my father didn't have to triage a mini-stroke, seizure, staph infection, or acute digestive ailment. After four years of caring for Mom at home, my father put her in a nursing facility. The night she died, he sent my sister and me home, and held Mom's hand as her breathing stopped.

Just one year later, my then 72-year-old dad became engaged to my stepmother, whom he met at a neighbor's garden party. In many ways the opposite of my mother, Beverly was blonde, glamorous, and a successful businesswoman twelve years my father's junior. She loved to cook, entertain, and enjoy cocktail hour. She and my father became a sought-after golden-year's couple. They traveled the globe, hosted dinner parties in their well-appointed home, spent weeknights at the theater or symphony. Friends stopped by at twilight for drinks on their wraparound porch. People lapped up their stories, laughed at their jokes, envied their palpable sexual chemistry.

Although Dad had always been gregarious, with Beverly he became more confident, a full-on raconteur and patriarch. After almost 50 years slightly being eclipsed by my mother, and nearly flattened by a decade of care-taking her, Dad reveled in his second-act metamorphosis. Beverly liked to joke that when she married Dad, she stopped being known as Beverly and became "Phil's wife." Their action-packed, non-stop-fun thirteen-year marriage screeched to a halt one evening last January when Dad clutched his chest, his gin-and-tonic sloshing onto the floor. He died moments later in Beverly's arms, his last words, "Oh, shit."

With 3000 miles and my endless, all-consuming divorce between us, Dad and I had grown apart the past several years. And then there was this: I felt loyal to my Mom. Fun was a rare commodity for her and Dad. Rarely did they entertain, take weekend jaunts, eat out. They scrimped for college funds and retirement. When my mom, six years my dad's senior, retired at 67, she suddenly required a triple bypass and overnight seemed to turn into an old woman, with Dad as her caretaker.

Even before her health took a nose-dive, I never saw Mom captivate Dad the way Beverly did. My parents' relationship was marked by mutual respect, devotion, and fatigue, but not passion. At times, Mom and Dad seemed to lead parallel lives with separate interests, whereas Dad and Beverly could never bear to be apart. When he met Beverly, Dad's old life faded away and morphed into one I hadn't dreamed possible. I wondered: had he truly loved Mom? Had he forgotten her?

At the Memorial, I heard stories about the early years of Mom and Dad's marriage, when they were two young adventurers from the South who headed to New York to make a life.  During summer, they would drive down to our extended family's mountain retreat in their convertible, dazzling cousins, nephews and nieces with their exuberance and tales of life in Manhattan.

Born fourteen years into their marriage, I had never experienced my parents as glamorous or exuberant. Or had I? Had decades of child-rearing and budgeting tamped out a passion they might have shared? Had my memories of Mom's strokes, seizures and paralysis and Dad's fear and fatigue eclipsed any recollection of zest between them?

When I stood with my relatives, spreading Dad's ashes by Mom's headstone the way he had wanted, a different picture emerged. Whatever his first marriage and been or became, this much was clear: in life and beyond, Dad honored my mom. It was a different love than the one he had for Beverly, but it was no less real or meaningful. Most people struggle to keep one marriage together, but Dad had been a devoted husband twice. His wives changed, but his dedication never wavered.

This is how I will remember him.

My Dad: 1924 - 2011 


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Your narrative is extremely touching. Your father sounds like a wonderful husband to both of his wives and a very engaging man. I'm so sorry for your loss. (r)
What a lovely, lovely story. Both of his marriages, how he was able to live joyfully in his second and the way he went out. I suspect my father will also throw his gin and tonic as he crashes to the floor and he will also say: oh shit. But whatta way to go, he will have already told me.
Enjoyed reading this.

Thanks for the suggestion, Neil -- I'll check out that documentary.
This was a great way to honor both of them.
Slow day at OS or what???
well, you acknowledge your loyalty to your mother and respect the relationship your father had with his second wife. you show great maturity in your analysis of your feelings.... your parents would be very proud of you and I am thankful you shared it with us.
Well done. Touching. Awesome story. Loved it.
Lovely story. I have no doubt that your father honoured and cherished and loved your mother with his whole being.
Very well told and poignant story of love and respect. A gracious tribute.

Beautifully shared.
You've written a sensitive, insightful and generous analysis of several lives--your father's, your mother's, your stepmother's. And, maybe best, your own character shines through in the telling. :) Rated
What a beautiful story of love. Your family sounds really wonderful. Thank you for sharing this reminder that people can love each other well!
What can one say? That was a totally wonderful post.
Beautifully told story of your father and your mother and stepmom. I'm sorry for your loss.
I am sorry for the loss of your father, and happy that he knew love, family, a whole life...and now you have recorded it here for the rest of us to share in...thank you...xox
Wonderful post and am happy for your family
Pauline, what a gorgeous tribute to your father, to your mother, your stepmother...and to their daughter Pauline.
I would guess your dad was able to be such a good husband to Beverly in part because of your mother and it sounds like "Phil's wife" recognized this. And as a kid, your perception of your parents' marriage was most likely very different than if you'd observed it as an adult. This was a beautiful love story; how wonderful that your father was able to make two women so happy.
Pauline, Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. I certainly believe that we have enough ability to love well more than once. It sounds like your father had a lot of love to share, and that is a wonderful blessing.
This was wonderful and a great tribute to a very scrupulous man. Yes, these were two very different loves, but deep loves, nonetheless. I think even though he loved your Mom so much, he was probably constantly worried concerning her health, I know my hubby would be. But how very lovely that he got to show his other side and have joy and love for the last portion of his life. Congrads on EP..this is certainly deservant.
Great, soul filled writing. There is nothing wrong with the bond between a daughter and her mom. Maybe you just didn't feel it with you step mom and don't beat yourself up over it. Life happens, people change but your love for your mom never will. It is engraved in your heart forever. Just Jali Smiling and rating of course.
I am fascinated by this story--how a final chapter can be so different from those preceding it, how our perceptions of our parents are shaped... your father sounds like an extraordinary man, I am sorry for your loss.