‘Christmas came just 3 months after my ex’s death. That’s when they showed up. My in-laws. They rallied together to help our broken family make new, magical memories.’: In-laws rally to provide kids a Christmas after woman’s ex-husband’s suicide

“I’m always impressed when families can handle divorce like… adults. Five years ago, my husband and I began our tumultuous journey to divorce. Our kids were 3 and 5 at the time and, as expected, it was an extremely painful time for our family. What happened over the following year was even more devastating than any of us could have prepared for. Not only did our once picture-perfect family move into separate homes and shift to shared parenting time, my husband (the former megachurch pastor) spiraled out on drugs and alcohol. Fast.

It took less than a year before he was pronounced dead. Suicide. Our newly divided family was now irreparably broken. It was an ‘all hands-on deck’ type of tragedy. My family stepped up and filled in while I tried to get my bearings. His family swooped in to shower my kids with love, support, and all the other things that were suddenly (urgently) needed. Life was never going to be the same, and we all jumped in the boat together to figure out how to paddle my kids through this storm.

The thing about tragedy is that it beckons humans to be human. It asks us to soften, let go, and expand. It’s an awful thing, really, but now that I’m on the other side of this suicide, I see things a little more clearly.

My kids will always grieve the loss of their dad, whether it’s actual memories of him or simply the void he left in their lives, they’ll never stop feeling the loss. His family will never be able to fill the hole in their life story now that he’s gone. He should still be here. I will never stop mourning the death of my first love either. He left an undeniable, gaping hole in the world when he took his own life, and I continue to feel that void every day. Those are the facts. This is all a normal part of grieving, and we are all learning how to live with it.

Here’s what’s not so normal about the way it all turned out for my family. Christmas came just three months after his death and to say I had no Christmas spirit was an understatement. I had spent the last 10 years building meticulous, all-encompassing holiday traditions with my late (ex) husband… the thought of hearing a Christmas song made my throat tighten and my skin perspire, never mind digging out all of our seasonal decorations (that HE packed away every year). No, thank you! But what about my kids? They were so young and there was no room for a Grinch Mom. That’s when they showed up. My in-laws. They rallied together and helped our broken, missing-piece-family make new, magical memories.

His parents began flying us out to Florida to visit them over Christmas week. (I mean, I couldn’t handle Christmas trees or wrapping presents, but I could manage to show up for a visit to the beach.) They made cookies, went shopping, planned holiday adventures (that included Disney World), and even took over playing Santa on Christmas Eve. They showed up for my kids when I couldn’t muster the will power and they let me off the hook. My only job was to get on the plane with the kids. They handled every last detail of my kids’ Christmas experience from there.

Courtesy Mary Beth Koenes

This will be the third year we head to the coast for Christmas, and finally I see the kind of gift I’ve been given. See, my husband and I had a difficult, if not hostile, divorce. He was angry. I was broken. We were consumed with our loss. The way his parents showed up for my kids after his death was unexpected. I now understand how difficult that could have been for them– having to go through me to maintain a relationship with their grandkids (again, I love it when adults see what really matters is beyond all the discord… the kids). But the way they showed up for me was even more extravagant. There was absolutely no obligation to include, care, and love on the ‘ex-wife’. They could have easily blamed me for their son’s downward spiral into suicide. They could have chosen to hate, curse, and isolate me from their family. But they didn’t.

Not only did they send a lifeline to talk, process, and grieve together, they showered me with unconditional love. They covered costs for anything the kids needed. When we visited, they bought me gifts just like they always had when I was married into the family. They hugged me, asked me how I was doing and how they could help. They let me sleep while they took the kids. They didn’t ask a single thing of me. Ever. I mean, they single-handedly made Christmas happen for my kids for crying out loud!

Courtesy Mary Beth Koenes

Divorce can bring out the absolute worst in people, and most of the time it does. I happen to be the benefactor of some of the richest love walking this planet, though. My story played out differently than most. I lost my ex-husband. I’m raising grieving children. My life is forever changed by his death. And I have witnessed some of the greatest acts of humanity I could imagine by some of the most unexpected people–kindness, inclusion, authentic love, loyalty, grace.

The craziest thing is this, all of these things are free. 

Christmas means something completely different to me nowadays. My experience with my in-laws after the death of their son has caused me to live with more love and generosity than I would have otherwise. They expanded my ideas of what giving really means. It has changed me forever.

I am learning how to show up for others the way they did for me. I have a lot to learn and practice. That kind of generosity doesn’t always come naturally, but I believe it’s how we were all made live. Soft. Open. Kind…. Human.”

Courtesy Mary Beth Koenes

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by MaryBeth Koenes, 36, of Fort Worth Texas. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from MaryBeth here: 

‘Only 6 months after our divorce was final, my ex-husband ended his lifelong battle with mental illness.’: Woman’s journey to discover her ‘self-worth’ after ex’s suicide

‘When my boyfriend broke up with me, I had the strangest reaction. I was relieved. I literally thanked him.’: Woman ‘gave up’ on distracting herself with relationships, ‘I am living whole and free for the first time’

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