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.
Way back at the beginning, after my husband left me, one of the things that helped me get through that first awful year was keeping a gratitude journal. No matter how bad things got – his bullying, my grief, arguments with lawyers, concerns over money, sense of worthlessness, dealing with the bank; finding somewhere to live; going into social situations on my own for the first time – I decided that if I could find 3-5 positive things each day, then I had to class it as having been a good day.
They didn’t have to be big things: a nice cup of coffee; only crying 3 times in a day instead of 5; hanging out with a friend or friends; walking a dog; finding a nice e-mail in my inbox; my granddaughter hugging me; the sun shining; my favourite song playing on the radio; the first snowfall; leaves crunching beneath my feet: hitting 10,000 steps on my Fitbit; a hot shower, a good movie or programme on TV; chocolate.
Such a simple thing, but believe it or not, it helped.
Isobel and I are now entering our 6th and 3rd years alone. On the whole, life is better than we could have imagined it in those early days. There are still some rough times – the Christmas season brought heightened emotions and a few tears – but on the whole, we’re both in a better place.
So we’ve decided to conduct an experiment this year. We’ve both chosen two empty jars. We’ll label one jar, ‘good day’ and the other, ‘bad day’. At the end of each day, we’ll decide what kind of day it has been and drop 10 cents into the relevant jar. Visually, it will be interesting to see what they look like, and if nothing else we’ll have $36.50 to spend on a meal out, new book or whatever.
Please join us in this experiment. We’d love to know how you fare.
We would caution, however, that if you are still in that first horrible year, perhaps the gratitude journal idea might be a better idea for you. And if your ‘bad’ day jar fills more rapidly than your ‘good’ day, please think about seeking out professional help.
May 2018 ease your pain and bring you hope for a healthy, positive future.
Our very best wishes – Isobel and Vhairi.
P.S. I’m adding this paragraph on January 7th. I hope your year is going well so far, but if you’ve had to add a penny to the ‘bad’ jar, perhaps add a little note with it, saying what happened and why. Then, at the end of the year, you can look back on those days, examine why they were bad, and judge how well you are moving on.