What we grieve for is not the loss of a grand vision, but rather the loss of common things, events, and gestures. Ordinariness is the most precious thing we struggle for.
— Irena Kelpfisz
My ex-husband, who has lived with his mother for the last six months, has finally rented a house. He moves in next week. Yesterday, he was FaceTiming our two-year-olds and showing them all of the rooms. Our kids could not care any less about daddy’s parquet floors and the fact that they’ll have a new bedroom, so I knew my ex was actually doing that for me to see. I barely paid attention, but I could hear all the details even as I was trying to tune them out.
The rest of the day, I felt weirdly sad. Later when I sat down to journal, I realized it was because it reminded me again that I may never raise a child or children with the person I had them with. I am in a new relationship. We will get married. We may even have another child (though that’s very much in the air), but grief over my divorce still smacks me in the stomach.
It doesn’t matter that I should have never married that man. It doesn’t matter that he was a liar and a thief. It doesn’t matter that it was the best decision in my whole fucking life to leave that man.
None of that matters because when I said “I do” to that man, I thought I said it for a lifetime. Divorce taught me that was all temporary. Divorce was like someone had lofted a grenade into the middle of my chest and then, bloody and bedraggled, I had to scout through the debris for my sense of self and dignity and glue their ragged, uneven edges together.
It was a grenade set off in the middle of my dreams and expectations for my future, and I still sometimes grieve those lost dreams, of being “one and done,” of picking one person to be with forever, raise children with, die with. Even as I was sitting in the backseat with my children while my love — my forever love — drove us back from church.
There is no part of me that wants to be with my ex-husband again. I don’t understand how I was with him as long as I was because we were so poorly suited for each other.
When I look at my current partner, I see the man I should have married, and while I could wish that all I want, it’s not my story. I married. I divorced. I am lucky that I have found love again with someone I will marry.
Grief has a life of its own. Some people say it takes one year for every four years of marriage to get over your divorce. Some say at least three to five years. Some argue it depends on how much work you’re willing to put into yourself after the divorce or how “done” you were in your marriage.
Grief is cyclical. It can flare up, even after it’s radically decreased, especially around anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, or other major dates. I rented the little house I live in today this time last year. This is the anniversary time of my leaving, and that explains this most recent flare-up.
This time last year, it felt like I was having a limb removed without any anesthesia or pain relievers. I felt everything viscerally: the moving out, the splitting of items, the decrees and interrogatories and parenting plans and custody worksheets. Everything struck me like it was drilling straight through my flesh and nerves and into my bone.
Sometimes I woke up in a bed I had never shared with my husband and wondered where he was and howl. Many days I curled up in one of my children’s beds, sucked in my breath, and thought that my grief would surely ravage me until there was nothing left. A searing numbness came over me for a time when I saw other married couples out with their children, and I would look for my once-husband, my phantom limb.
I sobbed sometimes while shopping at the grocery store for three instead of four, while packing my twins’ lunches, while wrangling them into their car seats to take them to the zoo, while they napped, while they colored with crayons.
The fact that grief hits me for only a couple of hours for the first time in many months is grace. It is such, such progress.
Today my ex-husband is going on with his life, and I am going on with mine. He is finally making a home for our children, while I have already made a home for them. We were once each other’s futures, but today we are only each other’s pasts.
I never know when my grief will hit me, but I am always helpless to stop it, so I continue to make space for it. When it comes, I can only let it take me and know that one day, it will be totally gone.
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