My sister-in-law, Julie died a week ago. She was diagnosed with cancer on her 50th birthday, two months after her mother died. Like I said with my mother-in-law, you really can’t divorce the in-laws. Julie was my ex-husband’s sister. I attended the funeral as I was very close to Julie when I lived by her. I distanced myself some when I moved because that is what happens when you don’t live down the road from someone, and also because I knew she was my ex’s confidant and I didn’t want her to feel mixed allegiances. The eulogist (a different brother) did an abysmal job. By abysmal, I mean he spoke of Julie only by chance. He had no thoughtful insights to add about her life, only mentioned that she called him once when he was sick, made him the man he was that day (by being his secretary years ago) and that he and his wife were going to endow a scholarship in her honor. I sent my donation to the humane society.

Julie was born in 1964 to a large family. She was the youngest of the three daughters, and number seven of 11 children. She grew up on a farm/ranch along the Niobrara River Valley in Cherry  County, Nebraska. Since she was a girl, she didn’t get to help her father with the outside jobs, she helped her mother cook and clean and launder for 13 people.

I first met Julie shortly after I was married. We had lunch in Lincoln one time. The next time I met her was her wedding a few years later. The first wedding, the one to the jerk. Her parents, my ex and I, and a couple of Julie’s friends met her at the courthouse for the festivities. The next time we heard from her was when she called to see if she could move in with us. I had spent about one afternoon with the woman at this point. My ex and I discussed what that would mean for us and came to the conclusion that she obviously didn’t have anyone else to rely on and she needed help. I went to Kansas with a borrowed trailer (her brother had to help a friend build his house) to load her up.

Life with Julie wasn’t always easy. She was a practicing alcoholic although I didn’t know that at the time. I had never had a sister, so we spent long nights catching up with our lives, and we had lots in common. She liked to read so we shared books. She liked M*A*S*H so we watched late night TV. She liked plays on words and laughing, so we punned and laughed. She loved animals, so we had five housecats and she did the chicken chores, bringing them day-old popcorn from the bar where she worked. She was a grammar fiend so we shared our dismay at misplaced apostrophes and the misuse of words like “there” and “their.” [note: my mad grammar skills do not encompass commas and semicolons] We shared the shock of 9/11 together. We shared secrets too.

Julie had been sexually abused by four of her brothers throughout her childhood. It was ongoing from about age 4-16. This was not a secret by the time we came across each other, and she would talk about it in the hopes that it would prevent other people from the pain she went through. It was the oldest four brothers, not my husband. When she was in college she decided to confront them and her parents under the advice of a counselor. She got mixed reactions. Her parents were completely shocked that this had happened. (They had so many children they apparently had a hard time supervising them.) In the end two brothers admitted to and apologized for raping her, one said they never did anything other brothers and sisters didn’t do and one denied anything ever happened. I will let you speculate on which of these brothers offered the eulogy.

My ex and I didn’t have a great relationship, but Julie helped. She tried to moderate our disputes, and she gave me some context to the ex’s behavior based on his childhood experiences. We actually didn’t fight as much with a third party in the house. She did housework and other helpful things. And she was a friendly face to come home to. She made the best potato salad I ever ate.

Julie got a job and got on her feet and moved out after a few months. We shared holidays as she remained in our town. Eventually her life fell apart again and she moved back in with us. We had a baby and my step-daughter living with us that summer and things didn’t go as well. Julie was drinking a lot more by this time, and shortly before she moved out the second time she ended up in jail for DUI. It took some months, maybe a year but she went to dry out in Lincoln and came back the person my ex remembered from his childhood. From then on we were good friends. After she was sober I would call her in tears and sob, “Your brother is mean to me.” She would agree and tell me she would understand when I left. After I left, she listened to him and tried to get him to stop drinking and see that his Pabst’s Blue Ribbon habit had ruined two marriages.

Julie was a person with an appreciation of beauty, a huge compassion for people and a heart built for forgiveness. She was an artist from the get-go, painting store windows as a teen, she even won an award for the window she painted for the state fair on my ex’s business window. She got a degree in counseling and worked with foster families, kids in jail and all kinds of families in crisis through multiple jobs.

I remember when she first told me about Brian. She said a cute guy had moved in next door and she had been texting him. They shared a duplex. They could have sat on the porch to chat…or talked through the heating vents. The cute guy became a standard feature at our family birthday gatherings. At my yard party I handed Brian the camera and asked him to get some candid photos of the attendees. Turned out he got some great candids, and a lot of photos of Julie. They were like two giddy teenagers.

Now, when I go to weddings I have a little prayer I say. I probably said it at my wedding… “Dear God, please let this work out.” Julie’s second wedding was outdoors in August, a month after my party. It was at a beautiful venue and the weather was great. When Brian and Julie got married I didn’t say my prayer. I didn’t need to. I could tell they were just meant to be. Sadly, it was only for three and a half years, but they were the best years of Julie’s life. Brian showed Julie the unconditional love her parents should have all those years ago. He made her laugh, he was stable. He was her safe place to go. I thank God they found each other.