Bonus Family

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Bonus family was the term that Stephanie’s family had been referring to our family for an uncertain amount of time, at least since the engagement. As we all made plans to descend upon Southern Utah Easter weekend for a wedding, our two families were about to unite.

Bonus Family after widows remarry

Bonus Family. What does that mean exactly? Tradition is to call a re-marriage “step” something. With wicked stepmother, it’s definitely had a bit of a bad rap! To me, “bonus” felt very positive. To know that we had that knick-name dubbed about us, felt good, less daunting to meet Stephanie’s family. They had been longer veterans of grief than us. Their dad passed away over 3 years before, and he’d been sick with cancer for a few years before then. It seemed to me that they had been hoping for companionship for their mom for a little bit. They knew she had enough love to give someone else, and we were still in the beginning phase of that realization. At least some of us.  The only person from her family that I had corresponded with before the wedding weekend was Joanna, Stephanie’s oldest daughter. I reached out to her on Facebook, in secrecy because I wanted her to help me with a little project I had planned. {In case you missed the first two posts…you better catch up!  {Read Part 1: Losing your Spouse Read part 2: Widows Dating}

I was the assumed wedding photographer, and by default a bit of the wedding coordinator as well. I knew that the joint family picture was very important to Stephanie and I wanted it to be GREAT! All of both my dad’s and Stephanie’s posterity would be at the wedding except one person: Connor. {Brace yourself for a really cool story} Conner is Stephanie’s 2nd grandchild, and he is serving a mission in the Ghana Accra West mission. The very same mission my dad presided over for 2.5 years, and my dad was Connors’ mission president for his first 6 months of his mission. How cool is that?!? So my dad knows Connor well, and I’m sure it was the talk of the mission to share that his grandma would be marrying President Hill. Connor was there serving in the mission when my mom passed away, and was quite shaken, as were all of the other missionaries at the loss of their mission mom.

In the year and a half since my dad has been home, he’s been delighted to share with me that he continues to write a handful of missionaries, really all of them that write to him. He has hoped to keep a connection with them, be a mentor of sorts if they are interested. He has needed that connection, and has valued that communication.  Connor was one of those missionaries that willingly wrote my dad, even before dad and Stephanie had ever met. I’m sure the moment my dad and Stephanie made the connection that my dad knew Connor in that capacity, was a goose-bump moment. Though they only served together a few months before my dad left, they had several personalized experiences with each other that allowed them to more than just a name to each other. Knowing that Connor would be the only one missing from the big group photo, I schemed with Joanna, his mom, to make a cardboard cut-out to surprise our parents, so it would feel like he was there, and to be included in the pictures.

Bonus Family

When it was decided that dad and Stephanie would marry in her (recently re-located) town of St. George, Utah, I mentioned to my dad that my good friend Kathy from high school lived there and had a catering business, if they were interested in the contact.  I’d kept in pretty good touch with her, and had hiked with her 3 years before when our family visited St. George for my husbands’ brothers’ wedding.  Kathy and I met in our Drill Training dance class my freshman year of high school, and she was also in my early morning seminary class at church. Our sophomore year, we were on the drill team together and were nearly inseparable. We’ve remained friends through the years, and would see each other here and there at get togethers. Before the official engagement, I sent her a sleuth-like text just curious if she was available to cater an event April 15th. When she confirmed that she was, I told her the “lock and key” secret…it was for my dads wedding. She was thrilled, and happy to keep the secret, and be a part of it.

A week after the official engagement, Kathy met with Stephanie and called me right after. “She is a HOOT!” she exclaimed, “I love her.” To which I responded, “Yes, she is a ball of energy, isn’t she?” What I didn’t realize is that Kathy not only provided catering services, but was starting being a full-on event planner, so after that meeting, she was running this show, and I was her consultant from afar. Lots of discussion about WHERE we’d do the group photo, according to the light and time in the space we had, and how to do flowers around it, etc. Kathy and I would FaceTime from Stephanie’s backyard, where the reception would be held, and got it all planned out.  It was fun to be involved in that way.

I went out to Utah a few days early with my girls. One because…why not? And two…to see a few friends in the area and help with the preparations in the days before. The first meeting was with Tia and Fiona, and my girls and I hit it off with them right from the start. Tia was her youngest sons wife, who lived in St. George, and her daughter and my girls became fast friends as we all chatted over a pedicure at the cutest PINK salon.

I didn’t realize that Stephanie’s two older kids/daughters were also in town early with their kids, so I got to meet them the Wednesday before the wedding as well. I’d chatted with Joanna a few times on the phone (from near the Logan Utah area), and it was fun to meet her in person. Caroline (#2) was down from Montana with her kids for the week. I was wishing my boys where there because she has 2 boys the same age. I enjoyed chatting with them (have I mentioned teenagers are my favorite?) and I learned their “early morning” seminary starts at 7am, and he called our 5:45am seminary “the devil’s seminary” haha! Yep, kinda seems like that sometimes. {It all just depends on what time high school starts in different regions}

On Wednesday and Thursday, the girls swam, and we went for an exploratory hike, and enjoyed casually getting to know each other which was really nice before the big wave of people came in on Friday and Saturday was hectic with wedding festivities. We even watched Stephanie’s oldest grand daughter (18) compete and take first in a track meet.

Here is a snippet of some of the activities from the week:

On Friday, Joanna had put together a ladies brunch. I was bummed that 2 of my SIL’s were not there, but grateful one could accompany me. It was a mother/daughter thing, and we loved to see the younger girls getting along. While we enjoyed conversation in the shade of the backyard, the girls were inside creating a play to present to us.

Joanna presented all of us with the most thoughtful gift. She asked my dad well in advance which was my moms favorite scripture, and gave each of us a charm for the girls and keychain for the boys with her initials on it and her favorite scripture engraved on it. She did the same for her siblings/grandchildren with their dads favorite on theirs. {Below, my mom’s favorite scripture}

We emotionally discussed how we still want the lives of our lost loved ones to be woven into the fabric of our children, and how we are grateful that our children now have a “bonus” grandparent to love them.

Bonus grandma.

Bonus siblings.

Bonus Cousins.

More love to spread around.

Bonus Family

{All the grandchildren}

The rest of the day Friday was a bit of a blur as more and more people descended upon the house. We ate, kids swam, lots of conversation. All of us Hill family were staying at Stephanie’s home, and her children were staying at a nearby hotel. That was nice of them to host us there. My boys weren’t getting in until midnight, as they were attending a youth conference back home in Texas. I was bummed they weren’t there earlier, but what can I do at that point?

Because of their late arrival, I had arranged for Waffle Love to cater a breakfast for everyone on Saturday morning, since the wedding was in the afternoon. I have a MILD obsessions with liege waffles. Ok, it’s a full-on obsession, and I was thrilled they were available to meet us and make waffles for us. {I WISH there was a Waffle LOVE in TEXAS!!} Oh my…now I’m craving one right now.

So we feasted on delicious waffles (with nutella or cookie butter) and all the kids ran around chasing caterpillars at a nearby park. It was great to have people go up to my boys and get to know them, making efforts since they don’t often initiate. Dad and Stephanie went to the St. George Temple in the morning and met us at the tail end of waffle goodness. (see more on the video below)

We parted ways at 11am with plans to meet for the 1pm wedding in Stephanie’s home back yard.

Now, I’ll take a moment to explain to those not of my {Mormon/LDS} faith, a little about how we do marriage ceremonies. To the devout, they often take place in our temples. We believe that when we are sealed (bound) in the temple that it is for time AND eternity, not just til death do us part. We understand that our spouse is our eternal companion, whom we will enjoy life with in the eternities as couples. With both my dad and Stephanie, they were sealed/married in the temple originally to their 1st spouse, who has passed away. So when they were marrying again, they inquired about being sealed in the temple just for TIME (here and now) while still keeping in tact their sealing for eternity with their 1st spouse. They both wanted it that way. They both want to keep that sealing to their first spouse, and recognize this second (bonus) marriage as companionship in the here and now. They both have a very healthy/optimistic outlook on it, which is a great example to me. There are so many “what if’s” that we are all putting our faith in God and how we understand His plan for us, and move forward. We won’t have it all figured out or the answers for how it will be “up there” but I believe that once my mom and Stephanie meet some day, they will be friends, and my mom will be grateful Stephanie took care of my dad.

Upon speaking to many people about whether or not to marry in the temple for time, or having a civil marriage ceremony in the backyard, they decided they were the same thing/same understanding. So they chose to marry in a place where the children could come and be a part of it (no children under 18 can go in the temple where marriage ceremonies are performed) with a few others not of our faith. {I did tease them that they likely tied the knot in the temple that morning while we ate waffles}.

Bonus family

For some reason unbeknownst to the photographer, they were set on a 1pm backyard wedding. Which translates into: Bright, hot, and squinty eyes. It was a very brief ceremony, just enough to get the job done.  They asked each of us kids (her 4 and my dads 4) to share stories about our parent, and that was fun to be involved like that, and to hear/share details that were funny and we admired about them. Interesting insight to hear from the children with nothing off limits! It was supposed to be 1 “fun” and 1 “sentimental” share each child.

I shared about how my dad kept things fun growing up, always singing random songs like The Barefoot boy with Shoes On or The mighty-might Hills song (recorded there). I also shared that he wrote letters to me as a young girl/young adult, telling me he loved me, he believed in me, and how I now recognize that as building my confidence to a place that I could do anything. I felt dumb in school, but he fought for me, he pushed me, and I’m grateful for the seeds he planted and for what I’ve accomplished in family life and in business!bonus family

After that…we ate…took lots of pictures…mingled…and some of the boys went to The Dollar Store to get stuff to decorate the car. (see video below)

Another interesting spot to be placed in…adult children…teasing your parents about the wedding night. They chose, as we understand in our faith is ideal, to remain abstinent until marriage.

We sent them on their way with lots of hugs and well wishes, and after an hour or so, everyone else parted way. Two of Stephanie’s kids were leaving town right away, the other two stayed at a nearby hotel and left early the next morning.

It was an exhausting day, and I was secretly glad to have just a little time with just my siblings. We put the kids to bed, and the 8 of us stayed up late into the night discussing hot topics–my favorite!

All in all, it was a great time getting to know our bonus family, feeling accepted, and I’m curious to see what the future holds. As my dad and Stephanie are galavanting across Europe right now on their honeymoon, we’ve had an all adult text exchange dubbed, what else, Bonus Family. They are sending us selfie’s from exotic locations and the boys are replying with snide comments and the girls with emoji’s and it’s been fun to keep in touch in that small way.

The End.

*****************************

Read Part 1: Losing your Spouse

Read part 2: Widows Dating

I put together a fun video documentary-style, to watch all of this in live action set to music!

*******************Now, just a bunch of pictures*******************

First we’ve got the 8 original children…

Then each of us with our own little families…

My siblings/families

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Comments

  1. I hope you really enjoy the bonus family experience.
    It’s hard to imagine two different types of marriages and to share a life with someone who shares the wish to be accompanied by someone else in eternity. I wonder how they feel about this in some years.
    As you mentioned, many ‘what ifs’. One thing I am sure of, God wants us to be happy, to love.
    I was curious on the abstinency 😁
    Some people around me in a similar situation choose not to blend families, specially for Christmas holidays. Each family has to walk its own path.
    I enjoyed your families positiveness and I can see how this bonus sisters and brothers can be a blessing.
    You already dos a great job with your SILs, it shows many times in the blog.
    You are one person to really spread JOY, you should feel proud of yourself, you work hard to make JOY happen.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thank you, Leire, I love reading your thoughts. I think those outside of our faith are always curious about the abstinence, but it’s what we’ve always believed and feel strongly about.

      Christmas is a bit of a non-issue for me especially because I prefer not to do extended family Christmas get together. Too crazy. I like summer get togethers, not around holidays.

      I do work hard to make Joy happen, I’m glad you recognize that…I’m not 100% though, don’t let that fool you, haha!

  2. I’ve been blog stalking you for awhile now so I thought I should finally comment! I’ve enjoyed reading this experience of your Dad remarrying. I’m happy it has been a good experience for you and your family. I remember when I read about you losing your Mom. My Mom had passed away in a very similar way a few years before yours. My heart just hurt for you because I knew how hard it is to lose someone so unexpectedly. It has been 4 years since my Mom passed away and my Dad also recently remarried. I wish my Dad had been as considerate of our feelings as yours was. He chose to go about it in a way that was very hard for all of his kids. I also wish I could say we were as happy about the remarriage as you. It is a difficult situation and I’m trying to find some good in it, but I haven’t been too successful yet. Thanks again for sharing your joy and your Dad’s newfound happiness.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thanks for taking the time to write, Jen. I’m so happy you finally came out of the shadows…haha! I’m so sorry to hear the remarriage transition wasn’t so smooth. It can be hard to find good in some situations. All you can do is show kindness from here on out, and hopefully in time that effort will help mend. Hugs to you!

  3. Renita Fisher says:

    Kristen, I loved reading your blog and loved watching the video and the pictures from your Dad’s wedding. We are so happy for them and for your family. We love your family! Love from Texas friends.

  4. Erika Bailey says:

    You’re just precious, and your outlook on life is priceless! You remind me so much of your mother in your attention to detail and your love for life and others. I hope you continue to share the joy you create! Xoxo

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, it means a lot. I try to look at the positive, even when things aren’t going so smoothly. My mom was always a good example of that.

  5. thanks for sharing all of these details! what a big change for your family. you are definitely handling it with grace! i was thinking the whole time i was reading your report what it would be like if my mom died and my dad remarried … that would be very difficult for me! not just emotionally, but logistically: what happens to the house? the money? the furniture from my childhood?? i think the fact that they had a civil ceremony helped make it seem less like they were replacing their deceased spouses. congrats to the happy new couple!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Yes, so many logistics…I am surprised I didn’t feel more attached to the house, I did love that house, but my dad was just ready to move on from all the chaos, it was a lot of STUFF. I didn’t mention the money thing but that has been a topic of conversation. With individual security, most estates are separate with trusts for posterity. We’ve seen some messy situations from some friends, and it was a huge blessing to be able to do that (for my dad). We shall see how it all pans out long term, they are aware that they will need funding for long term care later in life, and have plans for that in place.

  6. Kristen,
    I’m happy that your dad has found happiness with someone. She really seems like an amazing woman (she has to be if your dad chose her!) I’m glad your outlook on this is so positive.
    ~Bonnie
    p.s. I think you need a bonus blog post with their European honeymoon photos 😉

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thank you, it’s been a fairly smooth transition for me. They did some fun stuff in Europe, that’s for sure!

  7. Enjoyed seeing the photos and hearing about your father’s remarriage. I wondered how remarriage worked for Mormons when you believe in this “sealing for eternity”. (Just so you know, It is not just Mormons who save sex until marriage.)

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Hi Carol! Nice to see you again. I am aware that other faiths believe in chastity before marriage, it’s just from my experience not many tend to practice that. I didn’t say it was isolated to Mormons. Hope my writing gave a better understanding of the remarriage after a sealing. Glad you enjoyed the stories and photos!

  8. It looks like it was a beautiful wedding. I feel like even if someone is getting married for the first time, that you run into similar issues with introducing families and blending together. I really enjoyed that you shared this story. I think it’s something that should be talked about more openly, and I am glad your dad and bonus mom were willing to share their experience. (Loved the gift of the scripture on the keychain and charm!)

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Hi Nicole! It’s True, always tricky blending families even from the beginning, but I’ve found my side of the family only saw my husbands side every once in a while, merging adult children is a tricky lot. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the read, and I agree, the keychains are very thoughtful.

  9. Beautiful !!!!!!

  10. Thanks so much for posting your dad’s story! We got to be good friends in Lagos and, as we are now living in Utah County, I’m looking forward to meeting Stephanie and hopefully getting together as couples on occasion. Going through your blog posts gave me the background so I won’t have to pester them for all the details when we get together. I loved your mom and we had a fun time together on her visits to Lagos. She loved you so much and was so proud of you and she told me about your blog and admired what your were doing with it. It looks like your family has reacted so positively to your dad’s remarriage and I love the concept of having a “bonus family.” Best wishes to you all in the years ahead as you bond together!

  11. I LOVE this! Thank you so much for being so open and sharing this journey with us! I saw your post on Instagram and commented there but hadn’t had a chance to read your blog until today! I am so glad that I did. I married a widower almost 2 yrs ago. There are some things that you have described in your father’s journey that I wish maybe we had done, but I am still thankful for my experiences and my story. I love seeing the positive side of being the “second” wife, as I’ve commonly heard it called, and especially the thoughts and feelings of you as a child through all of this. My “bonus kids” ( I love that too by the way) are younger, but I’m sure they have or are feeling some of the same things!

    I am thrilled for your dad and his new bride and your family as a whole! What a wonderful experience! Thank you, thank you again!! I hope there will be more updates along the way of your adventure!!!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      thank you for sharing! I’m glad you enjoyed the read, and yes, we’ve talked about needing to keep updated. Did you see the LIVE interview I did with them? You might enjoy that! Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0L6BxjL0zo I’m glad you like the BONUS, much love to you and your bonus family.

      • That was awesome! I love to hear their perspective on things! And I love that they try to look at things so positively, eventhough there are some tough things they have had to overcome in their relationship & in blending their families! Lots of good things to take away from this! Again….thanks so much to all of you for sharing !! And you are right about Stephanie….she is hard not to like! 🙂