Joy within sadness


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.




Wedding wobbles after divorce


ID-100125771.StuartMilesMy 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.





Divorce and weddings and families



ID-10067121.Stuartmiles My second son is to be married. This will be the first major milestone since the break-up. This will be the first time as a family where we will all be together, yet apart; where we will have to face not being a united family; and where my and my ex-husband’s siblings will see each other. I remember my eldest son’s wedding six years ago when we had that coming together of the two families and what a joyous occasion it was. How I so wish for this wedding to also be filled with joy and togetherness.

My son spoke to me by phone about some logistical arrangements for the wedding and I was dying inside as he spoke as I had been blocking those things out. I did not let on how anxious I felt. It was going to be his big day and I needed to put my angst aside. After the call ended I broke down. Everything hit me hard and I felt all mixed-up inside. I felt joy and sadness, fear and wonder, all mixed up together. I felt so alone that I could not share those feelings with my children, those whom I held dearest to my heart. The cruelty of divorce hit me as hard as it had ever hit me before, knowing that we were no longer the strong united happy family that we should have been.

About half an hour later my son rang me back. He had sensed there was something wrong with me. By then, I was in the middle of a puddle of tears. There was nothing to do but tell him how I felt. Out came three years of frustrated loneliness of never being able to talk to him and the other children about how I really felt. I felt that I had to protect them all from the pain of the broken family unit. I told him I felt I was supposed to put on an appearance of a happy united family for his wedding and yet we were broken. I felt that I was supposed to put on an appearance of his father and I being ‘friends’ when I did not feel that way. I felt that if I had to pretend we were that united unit, when we were not; and that his father and I were friends, when we were not; then I would be acting untrue to myself. I explained I wanted his day to be special but I did not want to live a lie. I wanted to stop pretending and hoping for the united family. We were two families now; my family and his father’s family. I could not act like the united family unit when we were not. From now on in my life I wanted to speak my truth. I wanted to act by my true self.

I had never spoken to my son about the break-up in that fashion before. My son assured me that I could always speak the truth with him. I no longer had to pretend. I felt a surge of bonding with my son that was stronger than I had ever felt before. I no longer felt lonely and that I could not share how I felt, with those whom I love. I no longer had to put on a mask. I had found my voice. I had spoken my truth. I was acting by my true self. I felt a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders because I did not have to pretend anymore. I felt free.

*             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *

Now that the suffering weight has lifted, I have six weeks to become strong and work out my self-strategies to ensure my son’s wedding is the joyous occasion it is meant to be.





New family order

I am now back home having thoroughly enjoyed my time with all four of my children together again. It was the first time we had all been together for two years. We had five days together at home, a few days together at a wilderness lodge, and then some time in and around where my eldest son and daughter both live. It has been fantastic having them all around me and we had a great time. We enjoyed laughing with each other by remembering their activities and pastimes of their childhood. We enjoyed doing some favorite walks. We enjoyed preparing and sharing meals together and just generally being together. These have become my new happy memories.

It was a little sad saying good-bye at the airport to both my son and his girlfriend on their way back to Canada; and to my daughter who is off on an adventurous six months in Europe. On her return she will be taking a position interstate and stationed further away from me. So it was also good-bye to a way of life together we had both enjoyed.

Let me rephrase the first sentence in that last paragraph.

It was emotionally overwhelmingly difficult for me saying good-bye to two of my four children and – despite my resolve to hold it together – I completely lost it at the air-port and sobbed and sobbed in their arms. I was crying with happiness for the times we had just shared together. I was crying with happiness for their childhood that was now gone. I was crying with happiness that they were such wonderful children and I could not ask for any better. I was crying for their happiness, that they have made in it in the world and are now on their way to live exciting lives and I had always wanted that for them. I was crying for me because I miss them so much when they are not with me and we would now live apart from one another. I was crying for the unspoken words regarding the separation that we had all determined would not intrude on our time together and yet just the same was still a monster lurking in the background. I was crying for the change in family dynamics, not for what had become, but rather for the unknown of what we would become as the family continued to scatter in all directions.

It is natural for me to cling onto the old ‘order’ of the family unit of the parents as a central reliable unit and with the children gravitating back to that unit. I am still clinging onto the concept that our new family ‘order’ should become myself at the centre of this family unit and my children gravitating back home to me. For so long this has been the very essence of my being – me as the mother hen at the centre of my flock of chickens. Gradually I am coming to realise that in reality the new ‘order’ is a family in transition, with my twenties-something children spreading their wings and my thirties-something children setting down their own roots elsewhere. Gradually I am realising that the new family order will be me texting, phoning, emailing, and driving or hopping on a plane to visit my chicks wherever they may be.

And whilst this will lead on to new adventures for me in the visiting of each of them, I am as determined as ever that it will include me taking within me the traditional family values I treasure and imparting those values of love, support, encouragement and togetherness to them wherever they may be.



Last Friday was a proud day for me seeing my daughter – my baby – being admitted as a lawyer.

In the days before, I thought of the changed family unit that was to witness her admission. With my two eldest sons away and my husband awol, the previously strong proud family unit of six was now down to three. It would be up to me and my third son to be the support for her and share with her in this joyous moment. There was a huge lump in my throat thinking of how it was to be compared to how it could have been.

Then the day before the ceremony a lawyer friend, the son of a family friend, with a change to his business commitments was able to accept her request for him to be in attendance and present her admission to the judge. It made her day to have him there and make her day so special. Afterwards we all crowded around my daughter and embraced each other and shared this special moment together – my two children, myself and our friend.

Later that night my son said to me. ‘Mum, don’t be sad for what could have been, look at what there is. Look at what we have. It is happy new memories we are making right here, right now, together.’

Too often we dwell on the stereotypical happy-ever-after image of the intact family unit of mother, father and children. Whatever the age of the participants, the image is the same.
Too often we dwell on the portrayed image of ‘love’ being the passion between a man and a woman; of two lovers; of romantic affairs.
Too often we forget all the other relationships in our lives that make us who we are.

Sister – sister
Work colleagues
Sporting partners
Friends from the past
Friends in the present
Supermarket attendee
Cousins and second cousins
Neighbors and acquaintances
Cafe owner who makes you coffee
Person who comes and paints your house
Friend who babysat your children when they were little
Parents of your children’s friends who are still there for you
Music teacher who mentored your daughter in her passion for the piano
Son of a friend who made a special effort to attend your daughter’s law admission


Week 31 – Milestones

Week 31 – Milestones 20 April 2012

This separation is difficult for us all as a family at times like this – the milestones of life – weddings or a child’s graduation. Events that were previoulsy shared – and now have to be shared separately albeit together. It is especially tough for the children wanting to recapture those happy family times and at the same time doing the right thing by each of us and our feelings at the moment – where there is still hurt and pain.

In December it had been my daughter’s graduation – my last child flying the coupe. It was a happy occasion and yet tinged with the sadness of the separation and seeing other people there – her friends she had been with her whole life – and they with their “happy families” still intact. But it was her day and I was so happy and so proud of her.  

This week it was the wedding of our god-daughter. She is the daughter of my husbands best friend from school and our families had remained close all our married days. My daughter was her bridesmaid. It was on the whole a happy day. I nearly lost it in the church with now all the words of the ceremony taking on such a differnt meaning (for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health). However, as they were spoken I thought them through and thought to myself, that I did not break those vows and of that I should be proud. I still held onto my own values, I was still the captain of my soul, I am still able to hold my head up high.

After the wedding ceremony, the children rallied round me and we had lots of hugs and some photos together. Then I was determined to enjoy myself and have a great time for myself, for my children, for my god-daughter and for her parents. 

And so I relaxed for the evening wedding reception and then later danced and danced into the night.


Week 24 – Back to my roots

Week 24 – 03 March 2011

At week 24 after separation my younger two children and I spent the weekend in Sydney for a family reunion of about 100 people representing the five living generations of the seven generations of descendants of my great-grandparents and grandmother who came out to Australia from England 100 years before. The weekend was an all day Saturday gathering then a bus trip to all the old family haunts on the Sunday. It was a fantastic experience for my children who were still feeling the pain of our broken nuclear family of Mum, Dad and the kids. They were uplifted by connecting with their own immediate cousins, aunts and uncles whom they knew well; and then they began feeling part of the wider circle of second and third cousins, and great uncles and aunts. There was an intoxicating sense of belonging, having a place in the world, connecting with our roots.
My uncle, my mother’s brother, gave a speech regarding choices and how the choice at a time of crisis and adversity for what may seem an overwhelming situation; can lead to a different way in life that – if you can become strong and face it – actually becomes the right way of living and ultimately a better way. He was referring to my great-grandparents decision to move to Australia from England a century before at a time of financial crisis for them as a family. He spoke of the struggles they had in their early years in a totally different landscape and way of living for them in Australia away from family, friends and all the connections to their previous life. Despite that they persevered and carved a new way of life for themselves, their children and ultimately for all their descendants. He also spoke of other triumphs and tragedies the family had been through over the years and the strength he felt we had all inherited from his mother, my grandmother. I thought of this character trait that I remembered in her. My daughter told us later that she felt I had this same strong determination and she now understood where it came from.
I thought of my cousin nearest to me in age missing that day as we had lost him through a car accident 37 years ago. He had always been daring and adventurous and I had always been cautious and shy. As a teenager he had always dared me to do things that I would not have otherwise done. Even today there is a voice inside of me that says ‘come on, you can do it’ that I feel is him urging me onwards.
I looked at my own mother who organised the event, who was widowed suddenly at aged 47, her two eldest children married within the next year, and faced with the sudden financial pressure of having to return to work for the first time in 26 years to support my two younger siblings. What a huge sudden changed blueprint for her that I failed to appreciate at the time. Yet now at aged 85 she is still going strong, writing history books, and the matriarch of this our large extended family and her siblings’ families of over 100 people. She is an inspiration to us all and especially now to me, as I hope to one day be for my children in this my new blueprint I am yet to create for myself and my family.
So as the weekend ended I thought to myself – how can I ever feel alone? With my own fantastic children, with the extended family of mine who are always accepting of every family member whatever and wherever their life situation may lead them, and with their strength inside of me – I belong, I am never alone.

Week 23 – My Divorce Code

Week 23: February 26 2012
Last week I was hit with the reality of those two things I had been avoiding – getting back to work to earn a living – and negotiating our financial property settlement.

In order to calm myself down, this week I wrote myself a divorce code. A blueprint to follow. While most points were regarding emotional aspects I had been pondering for several months now, the last three were cementing on paper what I felt would drive me through the practical financial realities of this divorce. These were aspects I had to work on. Somehow I was going to have to shake off this mourning, soul-searching side of me; and find once more the logic, mathematical-thinking, you-can-do-it-I-know-you-can, part of my brain that did exist up until 5 months ago when mush decided to take its place.

Here is my code.

1. My marriage was not a failure. I am not a failure
2. I am responsible for my own choices and in charge of my own thoughts
3. I am in charge of my own life and I do not need someone to fix me
4. I am grateful for my life and look forward to what being single has to bring.
5. I am not responsible for other people’s choices, actions or behaviour.
6. I hold as one of my core beliefs to be respectful and mindful of others. I am determined that divorce will not change that.
7. I love my children more than life itself and I will do my utmost to ensure that this divorce will not see them suffer. I have a hope that the children will find peace  within themselves and, if not, that they know that they may turn to me for I am here for them always.
8. I would like to be given enough respect, space and time to heal. If it is not given to me, I will ask for it.
9. I will continue to behave in a cordial fashion with my husband throughout the divorce process.
10. I would like to feel satisfied that our divorce settlement is fair and reasonable for both of us.
11. I will aim with my husband for an amicable negotiated financial settlement out of the courts.
12. I will seek accounting, legal and financial planning advice and ensure that I have a clear ‘head-space’ before agreeing to the final settlement.

Week 20 – Disentanglement

Week 20

As I continued to live in the moment of each day at the height of a glorious down-under summer and enjoying my walks in the early mornings, and the views to the valley; my soul continued to wrestle with itself in a search for an answer to my identity. It is difficult to explain how entangled a person becomes in a partnership spanning some 40 years. You become half of a whole, acting in unison.You feel responsible for the happiness of your other half which you believe will therefore also bring about the happiness of the whole.

When this does not happen, when the happiness does not come to the other half, when that half falls over, then the whole deck of cards falls down with it. Their happiness, your happiness. As you are actually half of that whole, you too fall over. All the time you grapple with the conflict of being pulled down by your other half, of not surviving as half of a whole, yet at the same time still feeling responsible for the survival of the whole.

When such an entangled partnership ends suddenly through no choice of your own, there is still care there even for the person who inflicted so much pain by the action of leaving. To develop an emotional detachment from that person or an indifference is the exact opposite to the way you have behaved for forty years. Yet such a detachment is vital for one’s own happiness and sense of self.

I previously posted when I reached that point and made the decision to emotionally detach. However, before I was able to do that, it was necessary for me to go through a process of accepting certain things and disentangling myself from each of those things. This did not happen all at once but over a period of time. Firstly, I had to accept that I was not responsible for my husband’s happiness, not now or ever, even when we were together. Secondly, I accepted that I was not responsible for his actions or behaviour. Thus, as long as I remained considerate and behaved calmly and with care and compassion, it was not my responsibility for his reaction to anything I may say or do.  Thirdly, I accepted that the person I wanted my partner to be was in conflict with the way he actually behaved by the actions that he took …. and that hurt. Fourthly, I accepted I had a right to my own needs, to my own opinion and to be treated fairly. I had a right to voice that. Fifthly, I accepted that I can survive and thrive without this relationship. I do not need it. I will make it on my own.

There was one last step. I had to let go of the hook; that emotional, psychological stake of the guilt – “Can’t we be friends for the sake of the children – tearing at my heartstrings, knowing that I love my children more than life itself and not wanting to cause them any more grief.

Yet for my own self-preservation, I had to do let go of that too. I had to disentangle myself from the union as a whole and see myself as me, myself, and I.

Week 19 – Broken family

Week 19 – 27 January 2012

My heart is bleeding for my children.

I have gradually been getting through all the trauma for me; the hurt, the betrayal, the anger, the pain. I have been OK in myself of late albeit fighting a continued flatness and the yearning for what could have been. I fight the flatness by living in today, enjoying today. This is me. I will survive. I will make it.

But my heart is bleeding for my children.

I have heard it said that divorcing when the children are grown will save them the pain of what could have been a difficult childhood – had the divorce occurred in their younger years. Whoever said that is wrong. Divorce is shattering for children of any age. Adult children are not spared the pain. Divorce is not about two people splitting up. It is the disintegration of the family unit as it was before. All that togetherness; the parental bond as a solid rock, as a ‘deity’ status; that stable home as somewhere to go to whenever they need to; the happy childhood memories ….all gone in an instant. Not a holiday goes by, a birthday, a family milestone, a special event normally previously shared together as a family that is now splintered; that they now do not crave for the time that we were still together. They see the still intact families and put them on a pedestal and yearn to be part of such a happy family unit that only months before they were part of themselves. They crave the family holidays, the camping, the Bar-B-Ques. They are broken, shattered, mourning for what was and could have – should have – been. The hollowness of our fractured family torments them. They are suffering ….. in silence.

This is because, unlike younger children who have at least one parent protecting them, at least one parent at home helping them rebuild their lives, at least one parent being strong for them and putting them first; adult children of divorce have the reverse role. Their parents are now leaning on them for support, needing them, expecting them to be the rock for their grief – when only fractions of moments before in their lives the parents were the rock for them. Suddenly in an instant they see their future before them of needing to care for aging parents of becoming their social network of being their confidants. And all at a time in their lives when they were just starting to forge ahead into the adult world with their own lives, needing the parental support behind them. Such a course for them now becomes more difficult and bumpy. They question their own relationships, they question their own dreams, and their plans for the future. If my own parents could not make it, how can I?

It all happens in an instant without any choice or say in it and they suffer in the silence of nothing being as it seemed; the memories of their childhood; the happiness they thought they had; their stable life now floating about as an illusion. Where has it gone? And they are constantly torn between their love and loyalty for each parent as individuals – separated – instead of as the strong bonded unit that was previously there.

This is my challenge – to show my children that underneath it all, the values to strive for in life, that each person’s own soul, is each person’s own choice, and that for them – just as for me – that choice has not been lost, has not been shattered. That positiveness, that determination, that survival instinct, is inside each person’s own self. That is still intact. Each of us can grow that core of self until it becomes strong again. And if one one those values in life is ‘family’ then we can – and we must – still join together as a family, move forward as a family. If we can help each other through this, we will all be stronger together on the other side.

And I will constantly tell them that I love them and hug them and be here for them always.