Breakups often involve divvying up friends, but what about family?

When my ex and I broke up after eight years, one of my first concerns was, “who’s going to tell Papa?”

Papa is Derek’s grandfather, but from the moment I met him, Papa embraced me as the granddaughter he never had. Derek is an only grandchild. Having lost my own grandfather four years prior, I was happy to welcome a new grandparent into my life.

Papa lived in Fort Worth, Texas and we lived in Seattle, but we maintained a long-distance familial relationship. Derek and I visited him a couple times and Papa came to Seattle. We called occasionally, but emailed frequently. Papa’s hearing and my soft voice made phone conversations difficult, but we could understand every word when typed out.

I wasn’t as close to either of Derek’s parents or step-brothers, but I adored Papa. And Papa never treated me as anything less than his own. He made me cookies when I visited — baked soft, just the way I like them. When I wanted to go back to school, Papa paid for my Nutrition 101 class.

But when we broke up, I knew it would fall to Derek to tell Papa. “He’s going to be mad at you,” I unhelpfully told Derek one day.

It was true. Papa always ended phone calls instructing Derek not to hurt me. And he instructed me to tell him if Derek was ever out of line. After telling Papa, Derek emailed me confirming that he wanted me to maintain my relationship with Papa. “I know you’re really important to each other,” he said.

Papa emailed me quickly after. It was one the sweetest emails I’d ever received. “Derek told me you two decided to spend some time apart, but you’re still tops with me.”

Now when Derek and I communicate, it’s often driven by Papa – sometimes by our cat, who now lives with Derek in Seattle. Derek called me shortly after I moved to New York to tell me there was a fire at Papa’s house, the computer was destroyed and Papa might not be able to email me.

Soon after, Papa had surgery on his knees and couldn’t be at his home.

My concern led to a trip to Fort Worth, Texas. It would be the first time I’d visited Papa without Derek. After flight delays, I arrived at the care facility Friday evening. I found Papa’s room and gave him a big hug. He showed me around the place and asked me about “attorney school.” A couple of the nurses knew his “New York lawyer granddaughter” was coming to visit. I started to tell them that I’m not a lawyer, but decided to play the role that weekend instead. It was nice to hear that Papa was talking me up.

After my trip, Papa and I returned to our emailing ways. I smile whenever I see one of his one-liners in my inbox. As the weather gets colder, he likes to remind me I should have moved to Texas instead of New York. When Hurricane Sandy was beating down on New York, Papa was emailing me, “This is the time you should have been in TEXAS!” A few days later, when New York was getting snowed on, he emailed again, “I told you you should be in TEXAS! Miss you. Come when you can.”

I’m so very lucky to have kept my family despite a breakup.

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