My husband’s job took him away from home, so I spent a lot of time as a single-parent. Particularly when our kids were really young, he was often gone for weeks, months, and one time for over a year, with only two short visits home.
I loved my husband. I love my kids and grandkids. As immigrants, with extended family living thousands of miles away, I cherished our tiny family unit. When our kids got married and the first grandchild came along, it was wonderful seeing that family expand.
I loved it when my husband and I spent time with our little granddaughter, babysitting her for a few hours, or having her for a sleepover. We took her to our local park, out for dinner or breakfast, and once – unsuccessfully – to the movies. Spending time with her, it was like we were getting a chance to make up for all the time we’d spent apart and unable to enjoy our own kids together when they were little.
So when my husband walked out on me, he didn’t just destroy our marriage. Our family – us, our kids and grandkids – was shattered.
Three years later, I’m starting to find a new normal. But what our first granddaughter got to experience with her grandparents as a unit, no longer exists. And after years of being, at times, a single parent, I now find myself a single grandparent.
That was brought home to me the other day. My daughter and I were walking her son home from day home. He was a bit fractious, so we played the One, two, three… wheeeeh, game with him. I’m sure you know it. The one where you each take one of the child’s hands, count to three, then swing him up for a big jump. His mood quickly changed and within seconds he was giggling instead of grumpy. I remember my ex and I doing that with our eldest granddaughter and her loving it, but we’ve never had that chance with our second granddaughter, grandson, or the grandchild on its way. And they’ve never had that chance with us.
And that makes me sad.
But mostly for them.
Our eldest granddaughter still remembers those days, and our separation both confuses and saddens her.
Needless to say, they do much better for presents nowadays than when my husband and I were together.
But does ‘stuff’ really make up for what they’ve lost?
What we’ve lost?
Sometimes, when it’s hard to look at your life straight on, it helps to consider moments in it as a story – or metaphor.
The week before my husband left me, we’d booked tickets for a ten-day music festival in Scotland. Six months later I went to that festival with a friend.
It was a wonderful, yet difficult, experience. My ex and I had seen Dougie MacLean – the main performer – just a year earlier, and although I loved the company of my friend, I couldn’t help thinking about my ex, and how he should be here with me. The fact that the festival happened during our first wedding anniversary apart made it all just a little more painful. But it was a great ten days – the music toe-tapping or soulful, but always inspiring.
The final concert was to be held in a large tent in the grounds of an upmarket hotel. As it was only a mile away, we decided to walk.
On the way it started to rain. And rain. And rain. And rain. Too late to turn back, we just kept plodding on, getting wetter and wetter. Loads of cars passed us, but none offered us a lift, and by the time we got to the hotel, we had to try and dry ourselves out under the hand dryers in the Ladies.
Not a good start.
But the concert, with all the musicians who had participated in the festival that week, was amazing. And in keeping with true Scots hospitality, tea and biscuits (or a ‘wee sensation’) was served at the interval.
When the concert ended, Dougie MacLean asked us not to head home, but to gather outside on the lawn. He wanted to record his song ‘Wild and Windy Night’ with the audience singing the chorus.
Fortunately the wind and rain had stopped by then. The sky was littered with stars, the trees around the hotel lit up with fairy lights.
And then we sang.
Will you hear me if I’m calling on this wild and windy night? Will you catch me if I’m falling on this wild and windy night?
With all those voices around us – some on-key, some off – it was pure magic. (And my friend and I can now say – legitimately – that we have sung with Dougie Maclean!)
But there was more magic to come. We met up with some friends and decided to walk home together in the dark. Plenty of people now stopped to offer us a lift, but now that the storm was over, the sky was so clear, the stars so bright, the constellations shimmering… none of us had ever seen anything like it, and we didn’t want to miss a moment by getting inside a car.
What about the story/metaphor? Only six months since my husband had left me, I truly was in the middle of my own personal Wild and Windy night. But, just for a moment, the skies cleared, the stars came out, my friends gathered around me to hear and catch me when I was calling and falling. It was a night of peace and hope in the middle of what was, for me, a very dark emotional landscape.
As my friend said of that evening… we were truly blessed.
I am truly blessed.
On Friday January 19th, 2018, it will be 1,000 days since April 25th, 2015, when my husband ended our marriage. A marriage that lasted 13,688 days – or thirty-seven years, five months and twenty-three days. (Not including how long we knew each other before then.)
1,000 days seems a good time to stop and take stock. Where am I at this point in my life? What have I come through? Where am I going?
I’ll be honest, the first four hundred days were sheer hell. About 150 days in, I can remember sitting in my rental apartment, wondering how much longer I could survive the emotional pain. I wasn’t sleeping, had no appetite, and the weight was dropping off me. How long until I started feeling normal again? I asked friends who’d been through something similar. They couldn’t – or wouldn’t – give me a time frame, but assured me I would get through it. My grief was so overwhelming I wasn’t sure I could cope with such uncertainty. But I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and chose a place in the river if the pain became intolerable.
And yet… and yet… some amazing things happened to me in those 150 days. I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had. I found myself a lawyer and apartment, and my friends and family rallied around me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It was spring, so I was able to walk in the fresh air every day and watch nature turn into summer. (The dramatic weight loss might not have been healthy, but it looked good!)
I reckon I had a nervous breakdown about 300 days in. My brother and sister opened their homes to me, fed me, talked to me, walked with me and let me cry. That was probably my lowest point. I’d experienced my 60th birthday, 38th wedding anniversary, Christmas and New Year without him. This was real. There was no going back. The ugly truth of my husband’s lies and deceit had been revealed. The settlement was dragging on and I was lost in a fog of despair.
And yet… during those 300 days, I concentrated hard on eating well and walking at least 10,000 steps every day, so I was physically healthier than I had been in decades. I’d given a workshop at a conference that was so well received, someone tweeted that my workshop alone was worth the whole conference fee. I’d started travelling, and attended a wonderful music festival where I stood under a night sky blazing with stars while a friend commented how blessed we were to experience such beauty. She was right.
Most importantly, my daughter had a gorgeous baby boy.
Days 400-700 were a little easier, but still held challenges. I was fortunate enough to be able to take another couple of holidays with a good friend. I decided to say ‘yes’ to every invitation I got, as long as it was safe and I could afford it. That attitude resulted in me having some great experiences and making new friends. I bought an apartment, and after almost 40 years of not making any major financial decisions, discovered the process wasn’t so intimidating. Not when you’ve got great people helping you.
Day 468, we signed the settlement papers.
Day 681, the divorced was finalized.
Days 700 -1,000 – I started to find my new normal. I was sleeping. The weight was creeping back on – sigh. I was still travelling. Although I continue to have fears about my financial future – who doesn’t – if I’m careful, I reckon I should be okay. My concentration isn’t fully back, so I can’t indulge my previous passion for reading, but I’ve been to the theatre more in the past 3 years than for a long time. My friends and family have stuck with me, and they are amazing.
On the days I pass my ‘spot’ on the river, I feel a huge relief that it never came to that, but also anger that the man I loved could hurt me so badly I would even consider taking my life. Three years on, I now know he would not have been worth it.
Moving forward, I need to concentrate on my health, my family and friends, more travelling and get my career going again.
I need to accept that I may never totally get over the sense of loss… and that’s okay. It means I cared. My marriage was important to me. I loved my husband deeply, and though I may have been somewhat naive, love is nothing to feel ashamed about.
I believe I am through the worst of it. Way back at the beginning of all this, I never thought I would have a good day again, but my current reality is…I have way more good days than bad ones. So my friends were right. It takes time. No-one can give you a schedule to heal to… but you’ll get there.
Starting on Day 1,015, I have an adventure planned that I have dreamed about since I was 15 years old. It’s something I never could have done in my ‘old’ married life. I’m excited about it, terrified too – as I’ll be doing it on my own – but trying to focus on being excited.
If I pull it off, I’ll let you know!