Category Archives: Health

The Power of the Picture

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels

Photographs reveal lot about family dynamics, our emotions and self-belief.

I remember my mum looking through early family photos of my ex-husband’s family. She noticed that my ex and his sister were always thrust to the front of the photos, with their mother’s arms around them, while the other brother was left to his own in the background.  It didn’t just happen in one photo, but in picture after picture. It tells you a lot about their family dynamics, and the fact my ex-brother-in-law – to this day – still feels like the odd-one-out in the family.

Almost ten years ago, we – my ex and I, our two kids and their spouses – had some family photos taken outside our house.  They’re lovely pictures.  We all have our arms around each other, either in couples or as a large group.  It’s a family, whole and complete, where everyone belongs.

Since the divorce, we have a big family/friend photo taken on the steps of my daughter’s deck every Canada Day.  My ex isn’t invited, but everyone who is there for the Backyard BBQ and celebration is included in the picture, and we all jostle up against each other to be in the frame.  I love those pictures.

And then this week, my daughter arranged for us to have family photos taken in our local park by a Flytographer.  They’re beautiful images – three generations enjoying being together.  Some are formal, most are casual and relaxed, with the photographer catching some gorgeous candid moments.

But one image in particular caught my eye – and not for the right reasons.  It’s the formal group picture – me in the middle with my son and daughter and their families on either side of me. Each group has its arms around each other while I am standing alone. (When I discussed this with my daughter, she saw it differently – I am the centre of the picture. They wouldn’t be there without me.)

When my daughter and her family were being pictured together, she asked me to join their photo, but I changed the subject and didn’t join in.  I didn’t realise at the time why… but I do now.

Comparing the photo from ten years ago to last week’s, I realise that over the past five years, I have internalised a belief that I’m no longer worthy of being loved and wanted – by anyone.  I know, rationally, that my ex rejecting me – especially in the way he did – says way more about him than it does about me, but the person it’s had the greatest impact on – despite the amazing support of friends and family –  is me.

How could I not believe that my daughter simply wanted me in that photo?  There was no hidden agenda in her request.  No feeling on her part that she’d better ask me in case I felt left out.  The simple truth is, she just wanted me in her picture for me… and I chose not to acknowledge her request because of the way I subconsciously feel about myself since my husband’s rejection.  If he didn’t want me… why would anyone else?

I was speaking to a friend last week who was recently widowed, and I almost feel jealous of her.  She is in the throes of grief, but her husband didn’t choose to leave her.  She was worthy of love.

Me?  I guess I have more work to do on myself than I realised.  Even after five years, I guess I am not as ‘over it’ as my rational mind tells me I am.  That even though I am loved… I still don’t quite believe I am worthy of it.

Five Years On…

In less than an hour, it will be exactly five years since that morning when my ex came downstairs, while I was making breakfast, and told me our almost 40 year marriage was over. So what would I tell my then 5-year-ago- self about how her life would be 5 years on?

I’d give her a warning that the first 2 years will be hell.  Year 1 she will be in such a daze, that 5 years on she’ll be able to remember very little about it.  Year 2, when everyone assumes the worst is over, she’ll still be in the middle of ugly legal proceedings, and the reality will set in that, yes, this is how it is going to be for the rest of her life, so she’d better get on with it.

I’d warn her that the man she devoted almost 40 years to will treat her worse than s–t – until he gets what he wants, and then, in e-mails,  will start referring to himself by the ‘pet’ name they used when they were still married as if nothing of any real consequence has happened.  (Until she tells him not to.)

I’d warn her that her family will never be the same.  Her relationship with her kids will change – some for the better, some for the worse – but the family unit she had nurtured and treasured all those years will be irrevocably changed.

I’d warn her that she is going to have some of the worst – and some of the best – days of her life.  That although she had lost someone very important in her life, the way would now be free for other wonderful people to show up, people she would never have had the chance to meet if she had still been married.  New friends – as well as the old – who will bring colour, and depth and joy, and experiences to her life.

She’ll visit places she has dreamed about for years – decades even – that she would never have got to visit if she’d still been married.  She’ll witness sunsets and sunrises, share a bottle of wine in a piazza in Italy with a friend, climb a sacred hill with another, sing along with an inspired musician under a starry November sky, stand atop Masada in Israel alone, climb to a magical Scottish lochan with her daughter and four-month-old grandson.

I’d warn her she will make mistakes along the way.  When someone walks out on a marriage, especially when they have another person waiting in the wings, it’s not a spur of the moment decision.  Their exit is carefully planned, so they enter divorce proceedings at a huge advantage – clear headed and determined – while she will be reeling from her broken heart.  It’ll be like running the most important race of her life against an elite athlete while she is hampered by a broken leg.  But… friends, family, and (hopefully – finally ) a good lawyer will help her redress that balance and get her to that finish line one way or another.

I’d warn her that friends and family will finally come clean about what they really thought of her ex.  They’ll be saying these things in the hope it will make her feel better, but in actual fact it will have the opposite effect and she will feel stupid, blind and foolish.  It they could see those things so clearly, why didn’t she?  And the truth will be that, yes, she did see those things too, but she filed them at the back of her subconscious out of love.  Love for her ex and her kids.

And love is never something to be ashamed of.

And then, slowly, gradually, she will start learning to love herself.  She will amaze herself by the things she does, even in the midst of that pain and grief.  She will amaze herself with her courage, whether it’s travelling alone, fighting back in the divorce, going to work for the first time in 40 years, getting up and talking in front of groups of people, setting  up her own business, getting that story published… just putting one foot in front of the other day after day after day after day, until one day she will finally look back and see just how far she’s come.  It might not have been the path she’d hoped to travel, but it will still be a good solid path.  A journey to be proud of.

It has been said that you don’t ‘move on’ after great grief or trauma, you move forward.  And so it will be for her. She will carry it with her, but she will move forward.  At first the burden will be so heavy and painful that she will sink to her knees and sob into the carpet alone at 2 o’clock in the morning.  But then, one morning – 5 years later – she will wake up to a beautiful spring morning, with the birds chirping lustily outside her window, and embrace the knowledge that it’s good to be alive. She’ll have plans for the day – things and people to look forward to.

She will be okay.

You will be okay.

 

How’s it going?

This Saturday, April 25th, 2020, it will be exactly 5 years since that horrendous Saturday morning, April 25th 2015, when my husband came downstairs as I was making his breakfast and announced our marriage was over.

Five years.

Five years.

I thought I was over it.

And then, this weekend something happened which brought me (temporarily) back to my knees.

I had hoped a good night’s sleep would help me put things in perspective, but it didn’t.  So when I got up this morning, I wrote about it in my Morning Pages, hoping that would exorcise it…  but all I did was stain the pages with tears. Continue reading

Isolation

Photo by Dương Nhân from Pexels

Wow!  Hasn’t the world changed fast? Everything that was familiar about our lives has been turned upside down in a matter of days.  Around the world, fear of the unknown is at the highest it’s ever been for generations.

For those of you in the early stages of a divorce, worried about finances etc, probably living alone for the first time in years or even decades, the compulsory social isolation is a double whammy. The very time we most need a hug, none are available.  We are now physically cut off from friends, family and grandchildren. Continue reading

The Cruellest Month

T.S Eliot’s poem claims that ‘April is the cruellest month’, but when it comes to marital break-ups, that title belongs to January.  In fact, Family Lawyers refer to January as ‘Divorce Month’ as it’s the busiest month of the year for divorce filings.

Why?  Because many spouses hold off for Xmas to be over before they drop the bombshell.  And although my husband didn’t leave me until – ironically enough – April, I can now look back and say with certainty that December 27th, 2014 was the day he checked out of our marriage both mentally and emotionally.

With the divorce rate now being 40% in Canada, it’s possible you have found yourself in this situation over what is supposed to be the happiest season of the year.

They say only fools give or accept advice, so what I’m going to offer here is an observation from someone who is almost 5 years down the path in which you might have suddenly found yourself.

Bear with me.

I went out for a New Year’s walk along the river path this afternoon, and what I saw was a perfect metaphor for where you might have unwillingly found yourself.  Along with several other spectators, I stood on a bridge and watched as some chunks of ice  floated along the river, before smashing into an ice jam.  There they lay, stuck, for some time, until one or two broke free and slid under an ice bridge.

We watched.  Would they reappear… or would they be trapped under the ice until spring came along to release them?

But no… first one, then another emerged from the ice and continued on their journey.

It still wasn’t smooth sailing.  There were more ice jams, more ice bridges to navigate. Sometimes they got caught once more… but they finally broke free and continued down the river.

And that’s what the journey through divorce feels like.  Especially in the early stages.  You get battered from place to place until there are times when you feel like you are drowning.  But then you re-emerge and continue down your path.  It’s still not going to be plain sailing, and there’ll be another ice jam.  Once again you may get stuck… but once again you WILL break free.

As I headed towards the second bridge which would bring me back across the river, I found it closed off to the public. Structural problems, apparently! So I had to make a detour to a smaller bridge about 100 yards away.  This one was decorated in roses, the flowers of summer.  And as I made my way across it, I spied 2 pieces of ice floating quite happily down the river.  But what they didn’t know, was they were approaching some small rapids.  They were in for a bumpy time.

And that made me think about this post-divorce  journey. In the beginning, it’s rough, so rough that you feel like you’re drowning in the pain and anger and loss and grief.  But, over time, it starts to ease. You go through a smooth patch… and then it gets rocky again.  Smooth for longer this time… then you hit some rapids… but then it eases and you float along.

And so it goes.

If you’re on this painful journey, trust me, you’ve got it, girl.  You can do it.

This year, you will discover that you are stronger than you ever believed possible.

Take Your Time… But Persevere

I was at the beach recently.  A storm was coming in.  The clouds were dark, the waves wild, the wind blowing.

Hard.

It was exhilarating.

I found a sheltered spot, wrapped my coat tightly around me, my hair blowing wildly in all directions, the taste of salt sharp on my lips, and watched.

I watched the water, and the clouds, but mostly the seagulls.

They were an inspiration.

One tried to take off. He flew low to the beach, then was beaten by the wind and landed again, quite ungainly.  He waited a few minutes more, then tried to take off again, flying low… low… mere inches from the beach…until he got the wind beneath his wings and soared.

Another hung almost static in the air, beating her wings but also getting nowhere. She dipped down, searching for another wind, but finding none, landed on the water’s edge.  As she did so, a wave came in and knocked her off balance.  She staggered a little, then straightened herself and plodded onto the beach.  She waited a while, then like the other gull, took off again, staying low to the beach until she too caught the wind beneath her wings and rose into the air.

They weren’t the only two struggling.  All the gulls were fighting the wind… but they kept on going.

And it seemed to me the perfect metaphor for what it’s like going through those first weeks…months… years after a divorce.

Get forced down to earth again?  Take a breather.  Rest.  Don’t force yourself back up immediately.  Find your balance,  then take off.  Stay low at first.  Don’t push it.  Take your time till you feel more confident, then spread those wings.  Catch the wind.  Yes it might shove you around, but land again – even in an ungainly fashion – if you have to and start over again.

But keep going.

The storm will pass.

The Ghosts of Christmases Past

There are times when I find it hard to believe this will be my fifth Christmas since my husband left me.

Christmas is a special time for every family. As an immigrant family, far from home, parents, siblings and cousins, we created our own traditions over more than thirty years  – everything from the number of trees we put up, to their decorations, to food and presents.

It’s a common belief that the ‘first’ of anything after a divorce (or death) is the hardest, but I’m not sure that’s true.  That first year I remained in total shock as the ‘firsts’ rolled around.  My daughter gave birth to her first child – a wee boy –  two days before that ‘first’ Christmas, so mixed in with all that grief, there was a huge amount of joy.

For me the ‘seconds’ were the hardest, because that’s when it became real.  This was what it was going to be like for the rest of my life.  Also, by two years in, my friends and family felt I should be ‘over’ it so it wasn’t something anyone except friends who had been through similar experiences really understood..

Navigating these past few years, as Christmas has taken on a whole new shape, has been tricky.  While life generally bumps along, it’s at times like this, when society suggests that families should be at their happiest and closest, when those family fractures feel deeper than ever.

But while many of those Christmases over my 37 years of married life have blurred into one, I’ve had a couple of experiences over the past few years that have made these Christmases amongst the most special of my life.

The first came about in November 2015, about 8 months after my husband left me.  I’d gone back to Scotland and was visiting an old friend.  She’s known me (and my ex) forever, and tears were streaming down my face as I told her what had happened. A little while later, she handed me a small parcel.  When I opened it, I discovered it was a handmade cross stitch Merry Christmas Banner. “I want you to have something new, something special this Christmas,” she said.  “Something that has nothing to do with him or your past.”  She’d started making it for me not long after she found out the news of my separation. The work- and thought – that went into each stitch, made me feel so loved and protected.

The second…? Last year my daughter invited me to stay over at her place on Christmas Eve so that I could be there on Christmas morning to see my grandson’s reaction to his presents under the tree.  It was an experience I will never forget and one I would never have had if I’d still been married.  Forget the pile of presents,  his eyes went as wide as saucers when he saw that Santa had ‘drinked the drink’ he had left out for him the night before.

Drinked the drink.

A beautiful innocent phrase born out of pain and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Welcome to Life!

A friend sent me this photo off the internet.  I don’t know where she found it, so I am unable to give it a correct attribution, and I also hope I’m not breaching anyone’s copyright, but it illustrates everything I have learned about life since my husband left me.

Times will be hard – often achingly so – but this picture reminds me of a lesson Fred Rogers learned as a child. “When I was a boy,” he said, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.'”

He might have been speaking about major disasters, but divorce is a major disaster in your life. And he is still right. Friends, family, people who support you through this time are your personal helpers. And they will be there.  Treasure them. They will lift you up.

Be. Not. Afraid.

I’m a cultural Christian rather than a practising one, but last Easter Sunday, I attended a short service, held at dawn on Easter Sunday morning, on a beach on an island off the West Coast of Scotland, with my – very happily – married friend.

It was beautiful. About thirty of us gathered in a circle. A man in shorts and t-shirt led the service, while a woman played guitar.  Various others offered prayers, readings and hymns.

And then the minister, a woman around her fifties, with more than a passing resemblance to Dawn French’s Vicar of Dibley, gave a short talk.

Someone had asked her the most common phrase in the Bible.  After some research, she discovered it was Be Not Afraid.

Fear paralyses, she warned.  So…Be Not Afraid.

Later that day, my friend and I took the ferry off the island and drove north to Inverary. En route, we drove through Kilmartin Glen and passed the ancient hill fort of Dunadd. My ex and I had driven past the site many times.  I’d always wanted to stop, climb to the top and place my foot in the ancient stone footprint… but, for various reasons, we never did.

This time…  well this time was different.  Continue reading

Meet The Day

A video came through on my Facebook feed today –  an old interview with the actor Pierce Brosnan where he talked about the grief he experienced when his first wife died.  How did he cope?  His response – With young children to care for, he just had to get up and Meet the Day.

I remember my mum asking one of her friends, whose husband died when their children were young, how she had coped. Her friend replied that she just had to get on with it.  She had young children to feed, clothe, house and bring up.  And, she admitted, in some ways it was perhaps easier than if he she had been left alone later in life. She had no choice. She just had to get on with it – for the children’s sake. Despite everything, she had a purpose. A vitally important purpose.

One of the challenges of senior divorce is that we are usually left with only having one person to look after.  Ourselves.  And as wives and mothers, we’ve always put ourselves at the bottom of the pecking order behind husbands and children.  With our children probably grown with families of their own by now, it can be hard to suddenly switch focus from being a wife and mother to being… ourselves.

And there are times when it’s all too easy to wonder if the fight is worth it.

But it is.  Truly it is.  If you are at the beginning of this journey, please trust me. When it first happened to me, others who had been down the same path assured me it would get better/easier – and they were right. It will take time, and there may be a few missteps along the way, but it won’t always hurt this much and YOU are worth it.

Pierce’s advice is good advice  Get up and Meet The Day.

Set your alarm. Get out of bed when it rings, and make your bed before you can be tempted to climb back under the covers and sleep away the day.  Have a shower.  Put your clothes on – nice ones, not your ratty t-shirt and jeans. Meet that day face on.

If the day looms empty before you – weekends can be the worst –  make a plan of attack the night before.
For example:
– Arrange to meet a friend for coffee.
– If you need to go back to work, work on your resume and contact the library to see if they offer any free workshops to help you update your skills.
– Get outside if you can and go for a walk.  Or a bike ride. Go swimming. Volunteer at your local dog rescue centre to become a dog walker.
– Do something creative – write, draw, paint, sew, play the piano, redecorate your room, bake a cake.
– Keep a gratitude journal – find 5 things to be grateful for that day.
– If you have to meet with your lawyer and find it overwhelming, ask a friend to go with you.
– If you find Morning Pages useful/helpful, start your day by writing in your journal

It’s hard.  Painfully hard – especially those first weeks, months, year – but you can do it.

You are stronger than you think.

Meet.  The.  Day.