The day Tom died, I lost more than a husband. I lost a family. From the moment I turned on CNN, the family I loved, enjoyed and belonged to began to fracture, as if the second the plane crashed, it became more than tortured steel and shredded rubber.
Tom was from a large, German, Catholic family, where he was the baby of seven. There was quite an age difference between the oldest and the youngest. I’ve always believed Tom was the favorite, the golden child, because he was most like his father and was the last child his mother could ever have.
He loved his family, but they exasperated him. He was closest to his father and endured his mother. He once told me he loved his mother, but he didn’t like her. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when they turned on me. There were signs over the years that I didn’t measure up. When we got engaged at graduation, she was planning a celebratory family dinner. I wasn’t invited, until she found out we were engaged, and then she felt obligated.
Tom’s first job took us to Fargo, ND. There was never any question I wasn’t going, although the wedding was 10 months away. The night before the moving van came, we moved my boxes to his house. As my boxes sat in their living room, his mother told Tom if I intended to live together, and then have a large “white” wedding not to bother sending invitations to the family, because none of them would come. Tom stood up against her and she finally backed down. She never apologized to me.
Years later, his family was incredibly supportive when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. They flew in for my surgery and sat by my bed. Seven months later when I ran the NYC marathon, they were wearing sweatshirts with words of encouragement.
But, when we announced we were adopting, his mother wasn’t happy. The rest of the family was ecstatic. Weeks before Tom’s death, one of his brothers call to try and convince him not to adopt, but hire a surrogate instead. I was the problem after all, and with a surrogate, the family genes would be passed on. Tom hung up the phone in anger. It was the last time he ever spoke to his brother.
If these memories of the past didn’t raise a red flag, how they treated me during the funeral should have woke me up. Tom’s memorial service was held in the church we were married. His family wanted to memorialize the child Tom was. I wanted to celebrate the man he became. They wanted to have the Stations of the Cross; I wanted to toast him with Scotch and cigars.
It didn’t stop there. His brother insinuated himself into the investigation of the crash, claiming I was overcome with grief and he was acting on behalf of the entire family. He was notified of official information before me, such as the recovery of Tom’s remains. When he knew about the recovery of Tom’s wedding ring before me, the shit hit the fan. My attorneys took on the Nova Scotia government and I tackled the US State Department. But, as soon as all of his remains were identified, I closed the door on his meddling family. They wanted Tom’s remain repatriated and buried in their small town cemetery, I intended to have him cremated and his ashes scattered over the crash site. They tried to manipulate me by playing the church card, but I stood firm.
The day I scattered his ashes, his family was absent. They didn’t know. They would have turned it into a three-ring circus, but I made it about Tom. I informed his father in a very difficultly written, heartfelt letter. His family never forgave me for that, but if I had to do it all over again, I would change nothing.
An uncertain truce was called after I adopted Elliott. Although they attended her christening and showered her with gifts, they were sharpening their knives. I sued the airline after Tom’s death. I was the only person who had the legal right, but they effectively counter sued me. They seemed to have forgotten at the moment we said, “I do” all rights shifted to me. They claimed our marriage wasn’t solid, Tom wasn’t Elliott’s father, and they disclaimed Elliott as family, and claimed breast cancer wasn’t an excuse not to have children.
By the end, his mother said Tom married beneath him, it was my fault we didn’t live near home, and if I read between the lines, she wished it were me on the plane rather than Tom. One of the very low points during this difficult time came when a brother told me “they” had decided it was harder to lose a son than a husband.
My attorneys tried to protect me from the worst, but the damage was done. I became so paranoid I feared they would have me followed by a private investigator. By this time I had met Colby and I wanted to move on with my life. The amount of fear and anger this family was causing me was overwhelming. The hardest part of it all was I thought they loved me, I thought they cared, but to discover how they felt about me rocked me to the core.
Four years after Tom’s death, we were summoned to federal court in Philadelphia. The judge clearly took my side, but he went through the meditative process. In the end, an agreement was reached. The lawsuit was settled and I could move on. I exchanged “pleasantries” with his parents on leaving the courtroom. His mother was not warm and welcoming, his father was in pain. He hugged me a long time and I could feel how much he missed his son. He asked after Elliott and I gave him a picture. It was the last time I ever saw them.
I remember getting in a cab bound for the airport when I turned to my parents with tears streaming down my faces and said, “I can finally marry Colby.”
I lost more than a husband the night Tom died. I lost a family I loved, a family I enjoyed, and family I felt I belonged to.
How naïve I was…