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I watched through blurred2 vision as my husband, Chuck, walked away with his ex-wife. The heaviness in all our hearts was almost unbearable3. Turning back to my stepson"s casket I somehow helped my children pluck a rose from the brother spray to press in their Bibles. With tears streaming down my face, I rested my hand on the son spray. I no longer knew my place. God, I silently screamed, how did I fit in Conan"s life? From the moment I"d met my stepson, I was in awe4 of this angelic little boy whose bright, blond hair seemed to glow with a heavenly radiance. At only a year-and-a-half, he was built like a three-year-old. Solid and stocky, sleeping curled in my lap, his tiny heart beat against mine, and a maternal5 bonding began stirring inside me. Within a year I became a stepmother to Conan and his older sister, Lori. Soon after that, a visit to the doctor revealed some disheartening news. "You have an infertility6 disease," the doctor had said. "You might not ever have children of your own." At twenty-two, that news was shattering. I had always wanted to be a mother. Suddenly, I realized being a stepmother might be as close as I would get, and I became even more involved in their lives. But thankfully, four years later we joyfully7 discovered I was pregnant. Chase was born, then two years later we were blessed with our daughter, Chelsea. I loved being both a mom and a stepmother, but as in any blended family, it had its ups and downs. Chuck"s ex-wife had custody8 of his kids and gave them more freedom than we gave our children. Needing to be consistent with our rules, I"m certain we appeared overly strict to his kids. On their weekend visitations, I usually felt like an old nag9. As a second wife, I was jealous of my stepchildren"s mother. I complained about her and her husband within earshot of my stepkids, and even grumbled10 about buying my stepchildren extras on top of paying child support. Somehow I overlooked the important fact that my stepchildren were the innocent ones thrust into a blended family. Then one day at a gathering11 of my own family, I watched as my mother went up to my stepmother and gave her a hug. I turned and saw my father and stepfather laughing together. Having always appreciated the cooperative relationship my parents and stepparents had, it occurred to me that Chuck"s children longed for the same. So Chuck and I decided12 to work hard at bridging gaps instead of creating them. It wasn"t easy, and changes didn"t come overnight, but they did come. By the time Conan was fifteen, a peace had settled between parents and stepparents. Instead of griping about child-support payments, we voluntarily increased them. And finally Conan"s mom gave us copies of his report cards and football schedules. I was proud of my kids and stepkids. After graduation, my stepdaughter married, and she and her husband built a house together. At seventeen, Conan had become a sensible, intelligent young man. With rugged13 good looks and a deep, baritone voice, I wondered what fortunate girl would snatch him up. But then came that phone call, changing our lives forever - Conan was killed instantly by a drunk driver. Over the years we"d been married, Chuck had reassured14 me that I was a parent to his children, too. He sought my opinion in matters concerning them and relied on me to make their Christmases and birthdays special. I enjoyed doing those things and looked upon myself as their second mother. But in his grief immediately upon Conan"s death, Chuck suddenly stopped seeking my opinion and began turning to his ex-wife. I knew they had to make many final decisions together, and I realized later that he was trying to spare me from the gruesome details, but for the first time, I began to feel like an outsider instead of a parent. I also knew the driver responsible for the accident had to be prosecuted15, which meant Chuck and his ex-wife would have to stay in contact. Those ugly jealousies16 from the past began to resurface when, night after night, he talked to her, seldom discussing their conversations with me. And it stung when friends inquired only about Chuck"s coping, or sent sympathy cards addressed just to him, forgetting about me and even our two children. Some belittled17 my grieving because I was "just" a stepparent. Did anyone realize my loss and pain? I"d had strong maternal feelings for Conan; he considered me his second mother - or did he? As the weeks turned into months, that question haunted me, dominating my thoughts. I became driven to understand just what my role had been.