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.