We have just returned from my step-daughter’s wedding. It was held at sunset on a beach in Mexico. My step-daughter, Jessica, was raised in Mexico by her mom and step-dad with a half-brother and half-sister. The venue for the wedding was stunning; the bride was gorgeous; the ceremony was heart-felt; and the celebration was beautiful. But the wedding day and all of the days surrounding it have been a roller coaster ride of emotions for all of us.
My step-daughter did everything in her power to make her dad, our two children (who are also her half-brother and half-sister) and me feel welcome. She provided us with a beautiful place to stay; she included us in the ceremony; she made my daughter a bridesmaid; and she visited us every day. But during the three days of celebrations, we felt like outsiders in Rebecca’s life.
When we spend time with Jessica in our home, she feels like part of our family. She fits in seamlessly. She shares stories, and listens and laughs and cries with us. But, when we were down in Mexico, we saw her with her mother and the sister and brother with whom she was raised. We could all see how much more intimate those relationships are. My daughter came away feeling like an imposter; crushed by the closeness she sensed between Jessica and her other sister. My son came home feeling like a distant relative to his sister.
For my husband and I, the really difficult part was seeing Jessica with her husband’s family. She has married into a very big, close-knit family with aunts and uncles and cousins who have little interest in people outside of their family or ethnic group. We were overwhelmed by this family in numbers, in wealth and in energy. The groom’s parents treated us like “guests” at their son’s wedding; not the family of the bride.
Jessica and her husband live close to this big extended family. She works with her father-in-law. She and her husband are currently living with her in-laws while they renovate their home. The wedding was held in the in-law’s vacation home. My husband and I could not help but feel that we have lost Rebecca all over again; this time to the family of the groom.
The reality is that we lost her many years ago when her mother took her to Mexico; the first time when she was two; the second time when she was five; the third time when she was 11. It is a reality we fought at the time; a reality that we have fought over and over again. We know we are important to Jesssica. We know that she wants to be close to us. But the reality is that she did not get to grow up with us or with our children. We wanted her to; we fought for that; but we lost.
Today Jessica lives in Los Angelas, on the other side of the continent from us, and five minutes from her husband’s big tight-knit family. While someone might have been to blame for tearing her out of our lives many years ago, today there is no one to blame. She has done nothing wrong; she has found love and happiness for which we are incredibly grateful. We have done nothing wrong but moved on with our lives as we needed to. No one is at fault. It just is. We love her. We miss her. And her life is somewhere else. There are other people; other parents, others siblings who are closer to her; physically and emotionally. It is heart-breaking. But there it is. Today we feel grief for the child that we lost many years ago; for the young woman who never got to be part of our family; for the future grand-children who will grow up on the other side of the continent.