Week 33 – The rings

Week 33

There was a very significant event in my life this week and how fitting that it should take place in the ski village of Whistler with the imposing Olympic rings set against the back-drop of the magnificent mountains of British Columbia.

During my time visiting my son in Canada I went to visit a friend of a friend who by some sheer coincidence was staying in Whistler. Her circumstances were similar to mine in that her husband had left her; albeit that it has been two years before and officially divorced so she was a little further on emotionally than me. Swapping stories I felt proud in some ways that I had managed to hold up remarkably well and especially that I had been able to make the step of spring cleaning and getting rid of “stuff” so early, something she had only been able to do in more recent times. Yes, I thought, had been able to rid myself of ‘him’ and his ‘stuff’ very early.

She looked at me surprised and said ‘what about the rings?’ There they were still on my left hand where they had been for 37 years.

It was not that I had purposely left them there. I just did not know what to do with them and with the thoughts that went through my head. And they were different than other ‘stuff’ in that the emotional side went with them, the symbolism of the partnership. In this instance I felt that divorce was SO much worse than becoming a widow. When you become widowed the ‘rings’ are something that become part of the family heirlooms that are passed down generation after generation. They mean so much and they become so treasured. What then for the rings of divorce? Had not I had a successful 37 year marriage? Do I have to abandon everything of those 37 years?

My own rings had a story to them in that when we were the sweet young things and were contemplating marriage we went into a ring shop and put a $1 deposit down on an engagement ring. Sadly within the next few weeks my father suddenly died of a stroke and so we put our engagement off. Six months later when we decided to get actually get engaged we never thought that the shop would have held the ring with only a $1 deposit. We searched and searched but could not find a ring we liked as much as the original one. So went back to the same shop and lo-and-behold the ring was still in their safe. We thought that was a very clear message that our love was meant to be, that the ring was meant to be, and the ring had been treasured by me in all my years of marriage.

What now?

So this friend of a friend decided to take the situation into her own hands and strongly voiced the opinion that as the rings symbolized an eternity of ‘for better or worse’ that no longer held meaning and that it was time that they should go. She grabbed my hands and started taking them off. This – I might add –  ended up to be quite a feat as the rings had almost become embedded into my fingers. Eventually with some soap and some ice and much twisting and turning they came off my hands. I put them in my purse. The next morning she apologized for being so brutal and said that I should make my own decision on whether the rings should stay or go.

With everything in this process that I cannot decide on, I shelved the decision until a later date…… .but I did not put the rings back on.

Two days later when I was enjoying my time by myself at the Capilano bridge I noticed some beautiful American Opal rings set in silver. I bought one for myself. I put it on the the finger of my left hand where my old rings had been. Yes, I know – wrong hand – but conventions no longer mean anything to me so there it stays.

When I returned home to Australia I put my old rings in my ‘sad box’. to deal with at some later date.

So why was this event so significant in my life?

Firstly, one of the emotional links with the marriage – the rings – was finally discarded.
Secondly, I strode ahead as the new ‘me’ by taking myself on a mini-adventure and found that I could enjoy myself – all by myself – and symbolized this with buying my own ring as a symbol of a new relationship with myself for myself. This became my step 7 in my journey to ‘me’, and a vow to be true to myself.
Lastly and most importantly, when I got back home, as I threw my old rings in my supposed ‘sad-box’ and briefly glanced at the other items I had put in there, I thought to myself ……… life is not so sad after-all.

Week 28 – The second wave of pain

Six months into this divorce process and I was hit with the reality of our lost retirement plans. The financial security we would have had together that now had to be divided into less than half as costs and more costs and even more costs were added in ….or rather taken off. There was this unknown factor of starting over all by myself and whether that could be done at all. I was 58 and there were few years left for me to make it all work out.

Then the pain came again.

No-one told me about this second wave of pain. I have never read about this second wave of pain. There was firstly the emotional side; the human side; the airy-fairy living in la-la-land side. And then there was reality. I had put off thinking about reality. It was like a second grief process and it was hitting me right in the eyes. This second wave of grief began washing over me and in my scrambled brain I realized it was all the same emotions – the same stages to go through. The shock at the harsh reality of the figures – the anger at being put in this position by the one I had loved most – the yearning for a secure retirement that we would have had but now did not – the depression of wondering how I would survive, how I would manage – and the pain, the excruciating pain…….it was back again. And I am swimming now, swimming, swimming, and swimming. I am in this raging current again and unable to reach the shore. Once again, I yearn for the past. Once again, I fear the future. Once again I cannot cope in yesterday or tomorrow. Once again I survive by blocking them out. Once again I survive by living in the moment, in today.

Once again, I am sitting watching the sunrise. It does not let me down. Once again, it is magnificent.

Week 26 – Almost Spring begins!

Week 26 – March 18, 2012 – The day I started my ‘Almost Spring’ blog

“ I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself, more times than I can remember, bit I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man in not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” from ‘My Long Walk To Freedom’  by Nelson Mandela

I had been surviving the pain of my marriage’s collapse by living in the moments of a glorious summer and pouring myself into my journal. Now the days were becoming shorter and the weather cooler, I wondered how I would survive the approaching winter and its bleakness. My spirit began to drop.

Nevertheless on that particular day the optimistic side of me was winning and as I was sitting writing at my desk looking across to the valley and later down to the river, it inspired me…… .the river was always inspiring. I took some time out to take some photos of it. I could not think of a better place to be in order to be inspired, to write, and to reflect. Some days I become so overwhelmed at what is in front of me. Then I look across to the valley or down to the river and they are always there greeting me. I thought to myself ….. “self, look at what you have”.

Earlier that day I had done some internet surfing and had come across blogging sites about people reinventing themselves at about age 60 and moving on, making a new life. I felt positively uplifted by them and I thought that I could do that too. Yes, I could make a new life for myself. Yes, I could write about it. Yes, I could do it.

So on that day, my blogging site was born. It would be a journey of my transformation from ‘we’ to ‘me’. As ‘we’ had been together forty years – 37 married and 3 years prior; I decided to give myself forty steps to take to become my own self – one step for each year of our time together. I decided to be kind to myself and not put any pressure on myself as to how long those steps would take or what those steps would be. I then spent the day learning to navigate the ins and outs of WordPress. At the end of the day I triumphantly loaded my home photo – the view to my river valley. That would become my signature …. the peace and tranquility of a flowing river through a forested valley.

I now confess that I thought at the time (week 26) I had been through the worst of it (I had not). I intended and wanted the blog to be completely positive, showing only my optimistic self to the world, and for it to be completely uplifting for others. Moreover, I intended to skip over the first few months in one or two posts and get quickly to the positive journey I intended to take going forward. When my spirit continued southwards I held off releasing any posts until about week 35. Then, over the next few weeks, as I sank lower into despair, as I looked back through my journal, as I began re-living my own feelings by my own writing, as I felt again the excruciating pain of the first few months; I decided to write it all.

Since then my feelings have turned into words on paper.

I am inherently an optimist and I still strive to think positively about each day and about the future. On that particular day, when my thoughts turned to the approaching winter, I thought to myself ….. what is the problem with winter? In winter, it is almost spring. In spring comes sunny days, the bloom of new flowers, and new hope. I told myself not to focus on the winter but instead to focus on the approaching spring. Then I decided that would be my main message and that would be the name of my blog ……. Almost Spring….

I am fundamentally an optimist… part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward” Nelson Mandela

Week 25 – Less soul searching – More panic

Week 25 – 16 March 2012

I have felt busy and rushed again, back to the days of too much to do and not enough time to do it, juggling too many balls in the air and almost dropping half of them; with regular business things, setting-up things, domestic chores, shopping, forgetting to shop and running out of things, financial figures, working figures out for the split, drive four hours to see the children, looking after grand-daughter, drive back home again, being by myself, not being by myself.

I felt overwhelmed. I felt that it is all too much. What did I do to deserve all this stress? I was in a constant state of flux and uncertainty – on top of what I had already had to go through – and with my husband seemingly just walking away from it all to an easier life; leaving me with all the mess to clean up.

So, from a state of positiveness and place of contentment I had reached a few weeks before, I now fell back down into glumness. I suppose for me it was ‘more of the same’ (life’s difficulties – all by myself) rather than ‘great, let’s do something new and different and love it’. I had been inspired to write earlier in the year but that had gone a bit flat and the business seemed like a huge mountain to climb again. And even though I knew that I would not get anywhere with “attitude = glum”, I was transfixed and incapable of moving. I missed three appointments in the previous week because of my mind being total mush and my ‘baby-boomer’ brain not quite deciding whether to have a paper diary or electronic diary and relying for the beep on my phone to remind me of appointments I had written in a paper diary that I never open. How dumb is that?

And last week-end I had a very red and swollen foot and so for something I would not normally even look at, let alone panic about; but with no-one else to confirm that and say ‘that looks Ok to me’, I took myself off to the ER only to completely lose it when they asked me ‘who is your next of kin?’. I suddenly thought, well who IS my next of kin? As a married person all those warm fuzzy things of just belonging automatically to each other and the thought constantly in the background of always having someone to take care of you, and now that is gone. That thought. That person. That one and only.

Now what will I do? Who will look after me? Why am I left to clean up all the mess? What will I do? Is there someone out there who can help me? Where can I draw some positiveness from?

In the midst of all the glumness and panic of life on my own and feeling overwhelmed again, I decided to make myself some ‘chicken soup for the soul’. It is invigorating to the soul making a ‘slow-food’ meal for me, just for me, for my good health and taste, and to know that even though I am alone I can still participate in the joys of life. I sat down and enjoyed my soup as I have never enjoyed a bowl of soup before ever in my entire life. To think that I could ever get such pleasure out of such a simple thing as a bowl of soup.

Then I went and bought some flowers for myself. And each day for a week as I came home after work they greeted me with a ‘hello, how are you today’ and filled my spirit with joy and aliveness.

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 22 – Reality check

Week 22- February 17 2012

I had been in a contended place for a few weeks now, rising early, watching the sunrise, turning my new-found aloneness into creative solitude for writing; and enjoying the glorious down-under summer days as a peaceful place for living in today.

So uplifting were some of these days, that I thought I had progressed through my grief. Now I wonder whether I have or not. Am I really still stuck back in stage one of shock and denial? Have I really been subconsciously dealing with my pain by not facing reality?

I knew that my soul was rocked every time I had thoughts of the past, so I did not go there. I became sad about the past because I did not know what to do with the memories of my years as a mother and wife. I did not know whether I would ever be able to look back on those years with happiness. So rather than being ripped in two by those thoughts, I pushed them aside. I stopped myself thinking about my past at all. I put photo albums and memorabilia safely in boxes and cupboards until a later date when I had healed. I had consciously done that. It was a definite decision I had made. I told myself that I would think about my past sometime in the future. My living would be for today.

In the first few weeks when I thought about the future, I thought about the lost happy-ever-after dreams. That saddened me so I and brushed those thoughts aside along with the past.

Now my thoughts drifted to the future again. The thoughts that came to me now about the future were different. Now I thought about my working life, about my retirement, about my financial situation. Those thoughts of the future filled me with anxiety. Through all this la-la land of living the glorious summer days for the awe and wonder of their splendour, have I simply been in denial? Have I been using self-preservation strategies of avoiding the pain of reality – that harsh reality of being 58 years old with what will now be a hugely depleted asset base and no chance of an early secure retirement.

What bothers me most is that my future will eventually become my present. So even though right now I am contended in today, happily living one day, one week at a time; thinking about the future and determining my own future – which will eventually become my present – is a place I will soon have to go. And mostly it makes me anxious.

So I am not there yet. I am not over all of this. I still have a lot to think through a lot in order to be relaxed about my future and therefore truly happy in my present.

Week 16 – Embracing singledom

Week 16 – 06 January 2012
A relaxing Christmas came and went. I so enjoyed having the family home and being kept busy while they were with me that I did not stop and dwell on the changed family dynamics. In fact it felt really great that the children and I were all together again sharing happy family times. Instead of a sadness that I was expecting, there was happiness, laughter, joy, peace and contentment.

After the family left, I was alone again but I now accepted my aloneness. I not only accepted it, I began revelling in the time to myself. I kept myself busy setting up my new life as a single person. I rearranged things the way that I wanted. I organised myself. I focussed on me and got into a good routine of waking early, writing at my desk watching the sunrise over the valley, eating a healthy breakfast, going for a brisk morning walk, then domestics, shopping, cooking and other normal things. It felt good. Only when you have been through a tough period, when those ‘normal’ activities do not come easily, when you are literally dragging your feet every inch you take, only then can you appreciate how great it is when you become light footed again and you can once more go about your normal daily pastimes with a spring in your step.

One day I even noted in my journal that I enjoyed hanging the washing out neatly in a row and I was singing! I thought then that perhaps I was going just a little bit crazy admitting that I was actually enjoying putting the washing out. However, I think it was the absence of the oppressive feeling weighing down on me that was lifting me up and triggering my tuneful song, rather than the fact that I was revelling in my domestic chores. 

I repeat to you all that I was getting up at dawn to spend a few hours at my desk – and I was writing, Yes writing. I had found a new passion. I was really enjoying it, It was not just the fact that I was writing, it was the fact that I was revelling in the writing and revelling in the fact that I could take the time to write whenever I wanted for as long as I liked on whatever topic I wanted to write about. And I was revelling in getting up at dawn and I was revelling in watching the sun rise above the valley.

I was free, free to do what I wanted.

Week 3 – Spring clean

By week 3 of life on my own (02 October 2011) I was starting to feel just a little bit angry. I thought of the years stripped away. How could I ever think of them with fondness and happiness again. My childhood sweetheart where the love was supposed to continue forever; the future we planned together of travel and time with the grand-children; our home together; our four beautiful children; the support on projects we gave each other over the years; the trials; the triumphs; the holidays; the camping; the support for him; always, always, always being there for him …… yet he dumps me like a limp cabbage. HOW could he do this to me …………Yes, the anger definitely started stirring inside of me.

Message to self.”Self, channel this anger energy into something positive”

And I did. ……… I started to clean.

I cleaned out the cupboards of the house. I took everything out, washed everything, cleaned down the shelves, and put back only exactly what I needed for myself. I packed away everything else or threw things away. “If in doubt, throw it out” was the motto I followed. I tidied, I washed, I vacuumed, I packed away boxes of “stuff”.

I decided to keep only a quarter of what was there before. Half for him then I got rid of half of my half.  I worked right through the night and the following day and the following week. I continued until I had finished. There was now space on all the shelves for me to start again. I put all the “reject” stuff into boxes to be taken away. This was good therapy. It felt good. In fact, it felt strangely fantastic.

Later one of my sons came home and helped me halve the videos and DVDs. We cleared out my husbands music collection, his CDs and his books. It was symbolic for me. I was ridding him from my life literally, metaphorically and emotionally.

This was still only week three and I was still in pain and utterly raw inside the whole time. Many things made me sad and I could not face them. So I made a “sad” box. If I came across something that made me too sad to leave out yet too precious to throw away, I put it in my “sad box” to look at later when I felt I could deal with it. That time has not yet come. This included some photos, gifts and jewellery that only yesterday held a special place in my heart reminding me of our time together and now I did not know what they would mean to me.

If there was anything that I found uplifting in those painful early weeks, it was the action of spring-cleaning the house; of ridding myself of the painful reminders of the happily-ever-after that now would never be; of re-claiming all the space as mine; of starting new beginnings. This was the beginning of me for moving on as me.

So ended the third week of life on my own.