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.