After a loss there is a period of grief and then, as described by experts, “acceptance” of the loss and moving on. In regards to the ending of a long marriage, I do not think that it is that simple as I believe the supposed ‘grief’ period is just the first stage of several difficult stages on a journey to a completely different life. These are the stages I went through:
Caught up in the sudden and distressing way that it happened, for a long time I was caught in a single moment in time of “when my husband left me”. My whole life was defined by that moment in time. In my life before that moment I had security and trust, and I felt happy. In my life ahead I saw chaos and trauma, and I felt fear. It was too painful to think about my losses, about my life that I had lost, so I didn’t. I could not face my scary future, about my life alone, so I didn’t. My life became the suffering of that single moment in time. So horrific were the effects on me that day, that I had flashbacks to that moment, little triggers that took me back there. In those flashbacks, once again I would hear the horrific words, and I would feel the distress and the pain of abandonment, betrayal and lost love. I was the victim of that moment in time – the moment when my husband left me.
I moved on
I became the survivor of “the ending of my marriage”.
I coped. I tolerated the grief process and I mourned the loss of my marriage. I accepted that it had happened. I survived every hour of every day. I watched the sunrise. I went for daily walks. I paid gratitude for everything good in my life. I learned to live alone.
I was no longer caught in that moment in time.
I became the survivor of that event – the event of the ending of my marriage.
I moved on.
I discovered the truth. I discovered me. I realized this was “my new beginnings”.
I learned how to be grateful for me, myself, and I.
I looked back and saw that that day had been the beginning of a journey, a journey of discovery to the new me. I began to realize that the ending of my marriage gave me the opportunity to reform myself and to do the things in life that I had always wanted to do.
I began to make choices – my choices – of how I wanted to live.
I began to live by my truth, and I realized that my truth had begun the day my husband left me, when my marriage ended.
I moved on.
My life began to be what I made it on this day in the present, at this moment in time.
I found joy in the moments of today, with no sadness of the past, with no fear for the future.
I began to look forward to the times ahead. I began to dream again. I gave myself permission to envision my future as productive, meaningful and filled with joy.
I began to look back with happiness and pride in my achievements in my long marriage.
I stopped being trapped within that moment in time when my husband left me.
I stopped defining myself by the end of my marriage, or by my marital status.
I stopped thinking that I began anew that day as I began to realize that I had been me all of my life, and I had been discovering me all of my life. I resolved to continue to transform myself into who I want to become, this day, every day.
I look forward with eagerness to transforming myself into an admirable person and making my life a wonderful life.
After my husband left me, I could not bear to think about the past because thinking about it caused me so much grief. It was thinking about the previous happy times that filled me with so much sadness; those happy times of my children as babies and young children and their care-free days growing up in our forested river valley. My now-grown children could not understand why that was, why I looked back on happy times with sadness, why I would cry over something that was clearly dear to them. They would try and convince me that those happy memories should remain happy. I could not see them that way and I spent many many months in deep pain grieving my loss of happier times. One by one I grieved for them, then painstakingly put those memories aside, thinking of them as something that I had to put them behind me forever. I then went through a process of stashing away any reminder – photos and memorabilia – as I tried to get on with my life.
More recently, when I have been staying with and caring for my mother, I have had more contact with my siblings and we have shared reminiscing sessions together. Out have come all the family photos and, at those times, the stories would begin. We have sat for hours telling the stories of us as children and the happy times that we have shared. This was the same in my world of growing up. I have fond memories of such gatherings with aunts, uncles, cousins; the extended family getting together and sharing happy memories. In the sadness of my mother’s illness, we found this time of joy in the here and now, remembering the happy times of the past. In doing so we were creating joyful times in the present, interacting and being together remembering the happy childhoods that we had.
When I returned from one of my visits to my mother, I looked around when I entered my home. On the walls were pictures of places and momentos of various trips with my husband. Those experiential activities now meant nothing to me. In one of those rare moments of me acting on impulse, I took them all down. Then I spent the next day delving into my boxes of photographs, dashing into town to buy photo-frames, and putting up precious memories of my past all around my home.
I divided my walls in my entry, hallway, and living room into sections. In one section I put up photos of my children up to the ages of eighteen; and in another section them as adults. I made a section for myself and siblings growing up and of their families, my niece and nephews, and grand-nieces. My grand-children were given a special place of their own. Lastly, I made a place for my parents in their youth and their parents and grandparents.
When my two youngest children came to visit a few days later they made a joke of mother going just a little bit overboard with photos everywhere that the eye could see. Yet they smiled with joy at my change of heart as they looked intently at the now-allowed happy times on view. They began talking about memories that were triggered and spoke about how much fun they had growing up. We have two favourite photos. One is a photo of my third son, who as a three-year-old had a love of carrots. The photo has him at my brother-in-law’s place pulling a huge carrot from the ground beaming with joy at his carrot and his great discovery that carrots came from the ground. His joy had been captured forever. Another favourite is a photo of the back view of the four children – aged three to eleven at the time – walking hand-in-hand down the ramp at the supermarket.
We sat down that evening and spent the night reminiscing about happy times.
In amongst anxious days at a crucial stage of the marital settlement, and with my background concern at my mother’s failing health; I found joy in remembering previous happy times and shared that joy with my two youngest children.
My second son was recently married. People have asked me whether there were any ‘awkward moments’ due to the divorce. I would be lying if I said, ‘No’. However, I am pleased to say that most of the awkward moments were in my head. I did not let thoughts in my head control my actions. I paused and thought through anything before responding or, more importantly, not responding. I also noticed a difference to what I actually did think and experience compared to what I had been anticipating that I may experience.
When a mutual friend’s daughter married two years ago, I was raw inside. The vows spoken at the church made me cry and cry. As they spoke their vows, I thought about my own wedding and what I felt as the breaking of those vows. This wedding of my son was different. Those same thoughts did not enter my head when my son and his soon-to-be-wife spoke their vows. That same sadness did not surface. When they said their vows, I thought only of them. I thought only of their love for each other and the wonderful life they were to have together.
The ‘awkward’ moments came at different times, prior to the wedding ceremony itself; and afterwards at the reception.
As described in an earlier post, the wedding was six days at a resort on the Cook Islands, so there was six days of togetherness with family and friends, six days of happy times with others. Yet, in those happy times, there was that edge for me of being alone within myself, of not having that soul-mate to look out for me and, although I am beginning to revel in my independence and am quite capable of looking out for myself, seeing the togetherness of other couples looking out for each other stung me a little. My children having to spend separate times with each of us, stung me a little. The speech given by the father of my new daughter-in-law, speaking with pride of his wife and soul-mate of 40 years and their life of sharing and living out their promises to each other, stung me a little.
I had anticipated awkward moments with my ex-husband, even though he had decided to come ‘alone’ which made it easier for all of us.
Due to my mother’s health crisis in the weeks before the wedding, I had not had time to have “the conversation” with him, that of: ‘Please do not come up to me and insist that we should be friends. Please do not hug me in front of other people, as if nothing has happened between us. Please do not ask me to dance with you after the bridal waltz’.
So the conversation had not happened and the awkward moments did happen and, surprisingly, I did not care. I was able to act with grace and dignity, smile, shrug those moments off, quickly move aside to other people, and put it all behind me.
However, those moments were defining moments for me. They were the first one-on-one, face-to-face contact I had had with him on a personal level in over a year. What I came to understand in those moments was that I have reached a place of emotional detachment from the man who left me. When he came up to me at the wedding, I no longer saw him as the man I had married 40 years ago. For three years I have felt pain whenever I thought of being abandoned by the man I had been married to. In those moments at the wedding, I realized that person no longer exists. He is not the same person as the man who left me. In those moments, I felt no pain regarding being left by the man who my husband had become. I felt no emotion for that man, I felt nothing for him, for the man who left me.
It has been a roller-coaster of emotions for me these past eight weeks. On many days I have coped by blocking my emotions out. I have either acted by automatic pilot, and / or kept myself very busy, doing anything except taking the time to stop and simply feel my emotions. At other times, my emotions have poured out of me like a torrent of water from a broken tap that would not stop, and I felt things deeply.
My writing stopped for several weeks.
Then when I started writing my journal again, I wrote in a staccato, factual fashion, with no depth of feeling. That was because I was finding it very difficult to process five or six different emotions all at once. It became easier to describe what was happening, rather than how I was feeling. How could I describe all that I have been feeling? All the time my mind has been blank, yet racing at a thousand miles a second. How could I describe that?
Earlier this year I had been working through my transformation to the new me; beginning with my foundations of comfort, then moving on to my foundations of freedom, and the freedom to discover myself. As part of that process I had reached a point where I began to feel my own feelings. Like a light coming on, I realized that I had a right to those feelings, and a right to express those feelings. To some people, that may seem like a strange discovery. Not for me. To me, this was a revolution happening. It was a huge change.
For many years I had been suppressing how I really felt, I had been suppressing the true me inside myself. I was the product of growing up as the introverted sister with two extroverted siblings. I became the product of the introverted wife married to the ultra-extroverted husband. I learned to play the part of second fiddle. I learned to fix and support but never shine. I learned to think that I did not matter, that my feelings did not count, that my opinions were not that important, that what I did was not significant.
Earlier this year I found my own significance and my own feelings began to surface. When I began to feel my feelings and recognize them as my own feelings, I wrote down as the first part of my life purpose “to find my voice and speak my truth“. In other words, I had resolved, to not only act true to myself, but to also begin to speak out about being true to myself. I resolved to begin telling my whole story, to voice out loud how I really felt inside my heart and to express what I really thought, rather than what I thought other people would expect of me.
Then life got in the way.
Before I had a chance to write my story (the story that had been), more of life began happening. Life unfolded in an expected and sudden way and I was swept along by a stream of emotions: joy and sadness, hope and desperation, elation and disappointment, aloneness and togetherness, comfort and distress, brokenness and harmony, confusion and clarity, quandary and resolution, closed and open, indecisiveness and decisiveness, anger and calmness.
At first I could not process them, to feel them. Then I did. I began to feel them. Some of them hurt, yet I allowed myself to feel their intensity. The numbness that had been blocking out my emotions lifted. It had been so foreign to me to allow myself to feel any emotions. It was even more foreign to express those emotions.
Yet, to feel them is to live more fully, to express them is to become true to myself.
To write about them is now, for me, a necessity.