Those repressed memories surfaced a while back in a therapy session as I got in touch with the little Ardis who was hurting from the trauma of this event. I’ve processed this before, but this time I remembered something new. I remembered that I told my father I hated him. It became one of those pivotal moments in my life when I decided I had to be a BIG girl and stuff my emotions.
I surfaced from those woods, calm and collected. I WAS a big girl. But try as I might, that anger at what was going on between my parents was still there. Both of my parents soon remarried. I lived with my mother and stepfather thousands of miles away from my father, who had retained our family home as part of the divorce settlement. The only time I got to see him was on summer vacation periods. His remarriage was so short-lived that I never met his new wife and never even considered her a stepmother.
When I was 13 years old, another woman came into my father’s life, and he remarried again. Inside I’m sure I was devastated, although I never talked to my father about it. I was desperately searching and longing for his love and approval. After they wed, my summer visits were spent at her home. My days were long, lounging around the house watching soap operas, and taking care of her dog—not much fun for a teenage girl. Yet I continued to worship the ground my father walked on.
My stepmother treated me fairly. I don’t remember being mean or unruly with her. I never called her ‘mom’, only by her first name. But to hear her tell of this time in my life, I get a very different story. It’s a story about an angry, lazy teen that didn’t do much of anything, and made her wishes and demands known to all within earshot.
The healing of that turbulent angry young teen took many years of deep spiritual growth and recovery work. And when my father passed away two years ago at the age of 94, I had already forgiven him and learned to accept that he could not give me the kind of love I had longed for.
But it was the love of his wife, my stepmother, which really helped to fill that hole in my heart.
Over recent years, we have spent countless hours on the phone, talking about adult women issues, and sharing our hearts. She has been a big supporter of my writing and always wants to hear about what is going on in my life.
Interestingly enough, what brought us together was the empathy and compassion we both received from an understanding of what it was like to live with my father. They were married 38 years.
As I got healing for my father wounds, I was able to come alongside her more as well. She endured long suffering as she cared for my father the last several years of his life. She sacrificed. She toiled. And when he passed, she asked me to write his eulogy, and gave me and my siblings carte blanche on how to run his memorial service. It was a huge gift to me.
My stepmother celebrated her 80th birthday recently, with a huge party of friends and family. While I barely knew any of them, my family and I traveled the 150 miles to celebrate with her. She’s been a pillar of strength for me to lean on these past several years. I owe her that much in return. After all, while I didn’t recognize it much over the years, she has been to some degree the mother I never had.
We had a rocky start, but this journey to stepmother love has been worth the wait. Happy Mother’s Day, MOM!
~ Ardis A. Nelson