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.
Special dates hold power. Sometimes they’re one offs – graduation, moving into your first house, getting your first job, walking your child to school for the first time.
Sometimes they roll around every year – birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day.
Following a major life event – like divorce – dates that once brought joy, now bring… what?
I was married on November 2nd, 1977. Today would have been my 40th wedding anniversary, so it’s been looming large in my consciousness the past few weeks. How will I feel? How will I deal with it? Is it going to be as big a deal as I’m worried it might be.
Three years ago my husband and I were in the kitchen of our house. I even remember what he was wearing – jeans, a blue and white striped shirt – and the scent of his aftershave – Old Spice. We shared a kiss and discussed the fact that in three years time it would be our fortieth anniversary. We’d been through a lot during our marriage – separations due to his work, his infidelities and chronic health issues – and survived, so we talked about doing something special for our fortieth.
Less than six months after that discussion he’d left me for another woman.
Two months ago, they married.
To complicate things, November 2nd has always been a bittersweet date for me. My dad died on our second anniversary, so while I celebrated the fact it was the day my husband and I were married, there’s always been a lingering sadness about the date because of my dad.
But that’s another story.
What do I feel?
Honestly…? Better than I thought I would.
This is our third wedding anniversary since he left me.
The first one – our 38th – was very hard.
‘Firsts’ are hard, but in my experience, it was the second of everything – birthdays, Christmas, New Year, Wedding Anniversary – that was the worst. The ‘first’ felt almost unreal. The ‘second’ is when it really hit me – this was forever – but in the eyes of family and friends, you’re supposed to have ‘got over it’ by then – or at least, be well on the way to healing. I know I was guilty of that kind of thinking before it happened to me, but for me, it’s this third year where things are really becoming easier.
Despite everything, I wish my husband and I had made it.
I wish we were going out for dinner tonight with our kids, our family intact.
But we’re not.
And it’s not.
And on this third anniversary of our non-anniversary, that’s… okay. It’s getting better.
I promise you… whatever you are feeling now… it does – and will – get easier.
Hang in there.
I’ve always loved travelling; from my first sight of the sea when I was a wee girl, to that first train trip down to London, to my first sight of Venice when backpacking around Europe as a teenager, to that first transatlantic flight.
I know my way around airports and train stations, and am pretty comfortable hiring cars and booking hotels. But – apart from a few flights – I’ve never actually travelled on my own. It’s always been with people, or on my way to see friends and family.
Now that the divorce process is over, I have this fancy that one day I’ll spend time in countries I’ve always wanted to visit – which means I may have to do it on my own. So… I took some baby steps towards that recently. Forget about two weeks or one month travelling on my own. Could I do it for one day?
To be honest, I was really nervous when I picked up my car rental. I had decided to spend one day and one night on my own visiting a historical attraction I’ve always wanted to see, then stay overnight in a private hotel in a small village, rather than the airport hotels I’m more used to. How would it go?
Well… it didn’t start well. The weather was appalling – bucketing rain and gale force winds. To top if off, I dropped a bottle of cordial on my way to pick up the car, which meant that everything I was carrying – and wearing – got splattered in sticky. Sigh! Was it a ‘sign’ I wondered, that I shouldn’t be doing this? (I’m a great one for signs.)
But the rental went smoothly, as did the drive. I got lost only once – despite my sat nav. The historical attraction was great, I joined a tour, and when it was over, a woman kindly offered to drive me back up the very steep hill to where I’d parked my car.
All that was left was the drive to the hotel – across 10 miles of deserted countryside. I only passed two cars en route and my imagination ran riot. What if I broke down out here? What if I ran off the road and no-one found me for a day… or a week… or… ever???? What if…?! What if…?!!
And then I saw the view in front of me. On one side of the road was an ugly clear-cut, with only a few remaining dead trees scarring the hill. On the other? A serene landscape highlighted by a tiny burst of sunshine on a very grey day. I stopped the car and took a picture, imagining the clear-cut represented the death of my marriage and ugliness of the divorce process. The other side of the road? Hopefully the promise of a golden-ish future.
And you know what? When I arrived the hotel, the owner and his wife were wonderful. They helped me with my bags, and provided me with books on the area when they heard I had old family connections in the neighbourhood. I sat in front of a wood fire in the cosy lounge writing e-mails for an hour, and then had the most delicious dinner.
Next morning, after a fabulous breakfast and leisurely walk around the village, I headed home. I’d managed one day travelling completely on my own.
We’ll get there.