When it comes to the breakup of a marriage, one of the hardest decisions involved is not one that either of the divorcing spouses has to make. No, it is one that the family and friends of the divorcing couple have to consider, or what I call, “The choosing of sides.” The husband’s or the wife’s.
For some, it can be a painful decision to make, for others, maybe not. All the same, losing the family you’ve come to think of as your own, can be one of the saddest outcomes of a marriage gone wrong. It’s a problem that can break your heart all over again. Which is why I love my Aunt Elaine so much (who’s technically not my aunt but technicalities don’t matter much to me).
Luckily for me, I have been able to stay close to a few of the family on my ex’s side. After all, just because the marriage is over doesn’t mean it has to be the end of a relationship with all of the relations. I am still in touch with my ex’s sister–we sometimes catch up on the phone. But I’m closest to Aunt Elaine. She’s my ex’s aunt, really, and the youngest sister of my ex-father-in-law. She’s also been through divorce herself–years ago, when divorce was still frowned upon. Which makes her part of a group I call the “50 Percenters.” It also makes her rather empathetic to a divorced woman like myself.
Aunt Elaine is now 78. She always remembers my birthday, as well as the kids’. Phones whenever she can, often leaving messages on my answering machine with her very distinctive, very heavy New York accent. Or Nu Yawk. I should say. “MAHnica-Love, how ahh you?”
If you ask me, it’s almost as if Aunt Elaine never got the notice about my divorce. Or maybe, she just prefers to ignore divorce protocol—the one that says each family must show loyalty to their side at the expense of the opponent’s. Which is just one of the reasons why I adore Aunt Elaine. Here are some other reasons:
She is generous of heart: Aunt Elaine is happiest when giving to others. She volunteers at a local hospital, and would like to do more. “I don’t drive anymore,” she admits, “But if I did, I’d deliver food to the elderly, too.”
She has many interests: She’s a big Yankees fan and counts Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto among her favorites. Never misses a game. She also loves Frank Sinatra and has an extensive collection of his albums.
She’s the Pickle Queen. Having worked years and years for a pickle company, she’d bring jars of sour pickles, kosher pickles and sweet pickles to family gatherings, adding her special zest to every meal.
She doesn’t judge: She’s going soon to Las Vegas to visit a friend, explaining, “I’ve known him since he was seven. He happens to be gay but that doesn’t mean anything. I don’t judge. I respect people. He calls me regularly. To him, I’m Mama Laine and he’s invited me to his partners’ 50th.”
She’s a newshound: Aunt Elaine, a self-admitted liberal, watches the evening news and all the cable news networks (even Fox News, she says), switching between them to see how they’re covering the stories of the day. She’s a big fan of Rachel Maddow (“That Rachel is a smart cookie!”) and also of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (calling him “Cole-bert,” not “Col-bear,” as is his preference.) Some of what she sees in the news gets her fuming, and when that happens, she writes to her senator, to the media and to the National Republican and Democratic parties, depending, of course, on what’s got her peeved.
She has great respect for the president: “I admire President Barack Obama for where he came from and how he got here. Even today, what he’s up against, and I’m not saying he does the right things all the time, but he’s a very intelligent man.”
She calls herself a Dinosaur: When Aunt Elaine looks at kids today, with their mania for the latest technologies, she feels there is a general lack of respect that has been lost along the way. “Kids today, they don’t appreciate. Their values have reached a very low point. I do what I can to try to encourage people to better themselves.”
She loves me: Whenever Aunt Elaine calls she says, “You should come to New Yawk and you should stay with us. You know you’re always welcome, right?” And then, she signs off by saying, “Monica-love, I love you!”
Besides Aunt Elaine, I’m close to Beth, her daughter. Cousin Beth and I also have daughters of our own, both coincidentally named Sarah, who love spending time together whenever they can. For them, it’s all about family—and for them, I am family! So, divorce, shi-morse! We’re through with choosing sides!