My stepson’s mother, my husband’s ex-wife, died in June. She was 60.

She was diagnosed with uterine wall cancer last fall, and a mere seven months later she was in a hospice unit in an Albany hospital, less than an hour’s drive from the home my husband and I have made with my stepson and our two other children for the last 25 years. My husband and son drove there every day the week before she died to join her second husband, her sister, her brothers, her mother, her coworkers, and her friends in the hospice room too small for all it had to contain. I offered gestures, inadequate and sincere, kissing them goodbye in the mornings, making sure dinner was ready when they got back, dim with grief. Between, I tried to keep life as usual going for our two other children, and I thought about the strange intimacy of birth mothers and stepmothers, first and second wives. What did I owe? What could I offer?

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