After such lovely Mother’s Day greetings from my now faraway stepsons, this piece needed a replay!

On Christmas Eve, 2002, the same year that my father died and my mother hovered on the brink of a coma, my husband of 22 years looked across the living room at me and unceremoniously announced that he had he lost every single penny of our savings, retirement and investment funds on a harebrained business venture…and that he was leaving me and our daughter…to move across the country…to live with a former stripper…and her five children. Boom, Merry Christmas!

With the slamming of the door behind him, the comfortable world I’d known shattered into a zillion pieces, and I was thrust into an unfamiliar one where my identity was suddenly redefined: ex-wife, divorcee, single mother. Not to mention, penniless and homeless, thanks to my ex’s financial flimflamming. Even more devastating than losing my house and my life savings (and possibly a kidney if it sold on eBay), was the loss of my family. My nuclear family was a small one, but it had been, I thought, a good one. When my ex deserted, he took not only that family from me, but also the larger extended one from his side that I’d come to regard as my own. There were in-laws of all sorts that I had grown very attached to and oodles of cousins that kept my daughter—an only—from feeling lonely. How would I ever rebuild a family for my daughter and me? Even if I remarried sometime, I was past the point of having more children and blending families of stepchildren was often a difficult undertaking. The grief I felt over this loss was almost unbearable.

But, I’m not here to sing the blues about how a man done me wrong. I say this only as prologue to another unexpected turn my life took four years later. Seemingly against the odds, I learned to trust again and fell in love with an especially wonderful—and handsome—Colombian man. When we married I was once again thrust into new roles I had never imagined for myself, such as second wife and stepmother—and stepmother to two sons. Talk about unfamiliar worlds. I knew practically nothing about boys. As the youngest in a family of three daughters, I’d begun swimming in a sea of estrogen at birth and the water hadn’t changed much in the years since. In three generations of reproducing, only one Y chromosome had successfully made it upstream in my family. Sisters, daughters, nieces—those were my areas of expertise. The notion of adding a double dose of testosterone to the mix was both wildly appealing to me and intimidating at the same time. What if I weren’t any good with boys? I mean, did boys shop?

Enter two exceptional young men who immediately put my fears to rest. Handsome, smart and talented beyond measure, my stepsons are also kind and loving and possess the kind of quick wit I value almost more than solid food. They are, as all who meet them note, the essence of something so rarely seen nowadays—they are gentlemen, their impeccable manners a tribute to their father and mother’s influence. Yes, these two had me at “Hola.” They immediately embraced my daughter and me as the rest of their family, as the pieces that had not been missing, yet somehow strangely completed the picture. My daughter, still reeling from her father’s abandonment when she first met the boys, soaked up the attention of two big brothers like a thirsty sponge. The boys in turn got a kick out of having a little sister to variously tease and/or fawn over. The first time we all took a family vacation together, my husband and I marveled that the three kids bonded as if they’d been hatched together. The very real brother-and-sister relationship that blossomed almost magically among them brought healing to my once splintered heart in ways even my loving husband couldn’t have.

If your world has shattered, for whatever reason, and your heart is in tatters, don’t despair. I know it may seem impossible to believe right now, and it may take some time and struggle, but healing and restoration can come to you in the most unexpected ways and in the most unlikely forms. I recently saw a photo from our last family trip that my daughter had posted to Facebook. She captioned it simply, “Best Family Vacation Ever.” Indeed it was and, by the way, boys do like to shop!

A version of this post first appeared on The Good Men Project

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