The next step …

Initially when I was thrust unexpectedly into the world of divorce I could not cope. In order to survive, I put aside major decisions and strategic steps that would eventually need to be taken. I carved off one aspect to navigate at a time. I would then push through with each step until I was able to cope with that before moving onto the next. Sometimes it was not possible to deal with only one thing at a time simply because there was so much to deal with. It was still overwhelming. However, I did put aside everything that could be left. That was how I coped, putting things aside.

Gradually I worked through many steps that at first I thought I would not be able to handle – grieving for my lost marriage and intact family unit, overcoming the emotional aspects of abandonment and betrayal, finding my inner strength, selling the business, pushing through with all the legal and financial processes of the marital property settlement, and closing down all the joint legal entities until …

I was physically, emotionally, legally and financially alone. Me.

However, before I can really say that I have left behind my marriage in its entirety, there is one major hurdle left to do. Selling my home. My home has been my sanctuary over the past 35 years. It has seen me through the birth of all my children and their growing up years. It has welcomed friends, family, colleagues and community groups through its doors. It has provided me with a sanctuary as I have navigated triumphs and tragedies. As the children grew up and moved on, it remained a strength for me, saving many memories of their song and laughter within its walls…

My home looks out to the east to this vista:

Across the valley

It is comforting to rise and watch the sunrise each morning, coming up over my valley.

Even when the sun doesn’t rise, the valley still provides me with peace and privacy.

BCR_2002_050When my husband left me, my home and valley remained behind as my constant, the one thing in my life I could rely on. That reliability, that the sun would rise each day, that the valley would remain, was reassuring for me. In my busy frenetic navigating divorce ‘I-am-overwhelmed’ days, the valley would tug me back to make sure I paid gratitude for the day and be at peace with myself. Now my days are not so frantic, and I love having the time to sit in the warmth of the morning sun, drink in that sunshine, look out to the peaceful valley, and reflect in the peace and quiet.

In those early raw days, I could not bear the thought of ever moving. My home was all I had left of who I had been and the life I had led. I didn’t want to leave me behind. However, I have come to realize my home is also a constant reminder of my past life, our marital life, a life that I now wish to leave behind me. Over the past six months, I have spent some time moving about between my mother’s place and spending time with my friends and family, and especially more time with my grand-daughters. Or I have stayed home. Each time I come home, I am no longer getting that feeling of protection or security from my home. Instead I am feeling constrained, even imprisoned. Imprisoned in the past, blocked from the future. There are little flashes of hurtful memories here and there keeping me back in the past. There are little pieces of present commitments to my home, stopping me moving on to my future.

I thought after the trauma of the drawn-out marital settlement finally being over, with the death of my mother coming about the same time, I would take a year to just sit back in the comfort of my home before I moved on. I thought that I would need that year, that I would want that year. I don’t.

I.want.to.move.on.now.

There is, of course, a fair bit to do in order to make that happen. That is my next project. To make it happen.

 

 

Joy within sadness

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After my husband left me, I could not bear to think about the past because thinking about it caused me so much grief. It was thinking about the previous happy times that filled me with so much sadness; those happy times of my children as babies and young children and their care-free days growing up in our forested river valley. My now-grown children could not understand why that was, why I looked back on happy times with sadness, why I would cry over something that was clearly dear to them. They would try and convince me that those happy memories should remain happy. I could not see them that way and I spent many many months in deep pain grieving my loss of happier times. One by one I grieved for them, then painstakingly put those memories aside, thinking of them as something that I had to put them behind me forever. I then went through a process of stashing away any reminder – photos and memorabilia – as I tried to get on with my life.

More recently, when I have been staying with and caring for my mother, I have had more contact with my siblings and we have shared reminiscing sessions together. Out have come all the family photos and, at those times, the stories would begin. We have sat for hours telling the stories of us as children and the happy times that we have shared. This was the same in my world of growing up. I have fond memories of such gatherings with aunts, uncles, cousins; the extended family getting together and sharing happy memories. In the sadness of my mother’s illness, we found this time of joy in the here and now, remembering the happy times of the past. In doing so we were creating joyful times in the present, interacting and being together remembering the happy childhoods that we had.

When I returned from one of my visits to my mother, I looked around when I entered my home. On the walls were pictures of places and momentos of various trips with my husband. Those experiential activities now meant nothing to me. In one of those rare moments of me acting on impulse, I took them all down. Then I spent the next day delving into my boxes of photographs, dashing into town to buy photo-frames, and putting up precious memories of my past all around my home.

I divided my walls in my entry, hallway, and living room into sections. In one section I put up photos of my children up to the ages of eighteen; and in another section them as adults. I made a section for myself and siblings growing up and of their families, my niece and nephews, and grand-nieces. My grand-children were given a special place of their own. Lastly, I made a place for my parents in their youth and their parents and grandparents.

When my two youngest children came to visit a few days later they made a joke of mother going just a little bit overboard with photos everywhere that the eye could see. Yet they smiled with joy at my change of heart as they looked intently at the now-allowed happy times on view. They began talking about memories that were triggered and spoke about how much fun they had growing up. We have two favourite photos. One is a photo of my third son, who as a three-year-old had a love of carrots. The photo has him at my brother-in-law’s place pulling a huge carrot from the ground beaming with joy at his carrot and his great discovery that carrots came from the ground. His joy had been captured forever. Another favourite is a photo of the back view of the four children – aged three to eleven at the time – walking hand-in-hand down the ramp at the supermarket.

We sat down that evening and spent the night reminiscing about happy times.

In amongst anxious days at a crucial stage of the marital settlement, and with my background concern at my mother’s failing health; I found joy in remembering previous happy times and shared that joy with my two youngest children.

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Image:Courtesy[BoinsChoJooYoung]FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Love under a rainbow

 

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My second son was married two weeks ago. It was a glorious affair over six days on the Cook Islands.  It was the coming together of our family and my new daughter-in-law’s family and all of the couple’s friends. It was the coming together of my family and my ex-husband’s family for the first time since our separation. It was the first major milestone that we had faced since that separation.

It was not without an undercurrent of fear (on my part) in meeting up with my ex-husband in these circumstances and wondering how to react with him. However, it was time to put all that aside and make it a happy occasion for my son and his wife to be.

Prior to the wedding, we had managed to arrange a family get together with the happy couple in Sydney for my mother and my two nephews and families who could not make it to the wedding. We were able to bring together for the first time my mother’s six little great-grand-daughters, including my two grand-daughters, all under five. They looked so cute together. It was a happy day. Due to some wonderful friends, we were also able to arrange care for my mother for a few days so that my sister could also attend the wedding, albeit she would only attend for two nights.

Once on the island, I was able to relax and I had a wonderful time. I shared a villa with two of my children, my sister (on the two nights she came), my brother-in-law, and my niece. My brother and his family were in the villa next to us. We were able to have some close family gatherings and chats long into the night. It was a wonderful time of togetherness.

I even did some kayaking and had a pedicure 🙂

The wedding ceremony itself on the fifth day was beautiful and many tears of joy and happiness were shed, along with some nostalgic tears, and some sad tears that my son would now reside in Canada – so far away.

Then it came to the reception and speeches.

When I turned sixty earlier this year, I gave a little speech about my life being like a tree. I described the roots of the tree as my ancestral and extended family; the trunk of the tree as representing my friends, acquaintances, education, talents and experiences; and the branches of the trees my children and grand-children. I had described how my tree was spreading the seeds of the values inherited from my family, and those I had formed myself.

When it came to my turn for giving a speech, I had thought I would use the same imagery of the tree. However, I could not see where my son and new daughter-in-law would fit. Would she become part of my tree? Would my son become part of her tree? Would they start growing their own tree?

Then, instead of a tree, I thought of the imagery of a rainbow.

A rainbow represents harmony. To me, having the wedding in such a setting with all of us coming together to help celebrate, was like a rainbow. It was the promise of new beginnings, after the storm. The arches of the rainbow represented the joining together of my son’s family and my new daughter-in-law’s family. Each colour of each arch of the rainbow represented each parent and grandparent and their families, and we were joined together in harmony by the union of my son and his new wife. This was the promise to them of the rainbow and its message of hope. Within that rainbow, there were the gifts that had been given to them by all the generations that went before them.

Red for passion and excitement.
Orange for vitality and good health.
Yellow for the promise of new beginnings.
Green for compassion and kindness, and for this great earth.
Blue for the courage to speak up for their beliefs.
Indigo for love and companionship.
Violet for peace, temperance and wisdom..
The full rainbow for embracing love in harmony.

That was my message to them for their wedding.

And this (by sheer coincidence) was their wedding song.

 

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Image courtesy[Tao55]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Where am I? (or the remarkable discoveries I made looking through my photo albums)

ID-10066725With my husband now settled into a relatively permanent fixed abode, the photographs need dividing into his and mine (albeit we have agreed to scan digital copies to share). With the albums in my possession, and with a lump in my throat, l started to sift through the albums and choose how they should be split.

Since our separation, looking at our photographs has been painfully sad, especially looking at any of us as a happy smiling couple united as one. Initially I was not able to look at them at all. In time, after a heavy down-on-the-floor weekend playing the Beatles Let-It-Be over and over, I was able to go through them and pick out some happy memories (all of the children) that I then displayed proudly. The ‘couple’ photos remained untouched and locked away…. until now.

This time it was different. As I looked at the photographs I made some remarkable discoveries.

1.There were lots of photos of the children, their achievements and us as a family. This was no surprise. Family meant everything.

2. There were photos of the two of us. Having spent the best part of two years reflecting on my life as it was and within that reflection detaching emotionally from him, as I now looked at the photos of us, I no longer saw an entwined couple but rather two people as separate individuals. This was a weird feeling and something I had not expected to see.

3. There were the photos of my (now-ex) husband running, bush-walking, skiing, winning soccer awards, dancing, entertaining, laughing, singing, joking, talking, and as a leader in the community and work. This also was no surprise. He led a full life.

4. I could not find any photos of me. There were photos of me beside him cheering him on as his wife. There were photos of me with babes in arms or embracing my children or standing proud celebrating their achievements. There were photos of me in the kitchen (that is where I was when he was entertaining). However, there were no photos of me as ‘me’, separate from my roles as wife and mother. I looked in all the albums and in all the boxes of loose photos. Eventually from nearly one hundred albums and four boxes, I found one photo of me receiving my post-graduate degree in 1991. Other than that, I had to go back to my childhood, my school days and my graduation in 1975, to find some of me.

What does this mean?

The issue here is not about divorce or my own strength or weakness. It is a reflection of what marriage was about to me and I believe to women of my generation, compared to my husband and the men in our generation. Men tend to have clear images of self and wind their wives, family and work around that image as additions to self. Women, on the other hand (or at least I did), live by the image of their role. My role was that of wife and mother. I became the supportive wife and mother. Somehow the self bit of me became lost.

This concept is nothing new and much has been written on it. The dark side of that is, that if you live by your role in life, and you lose that role, you lose everything.

Before, seeing only my role as wife and mother gone forever by the loss of my marriage, I deeply mourned for that role. What was remarkable this time when I was looking through the photos, was that I was looking for myself. I was looking for the me that was separate from those roles. The remarkable thing I discovered was, that my thought processes had changed. I now knew that me as self existed beyond my life roles. While I could not find many photos, I realised that did not mean that the person who was me did not exist. I now knew I had been there all along – that is why I was hunting for photos of me – and it was then I realised there were few photos, because you cannot take photos of what is inside.

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Image courtesy[Twobee]/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Holding on …….

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Feelings surrounding the ending of a marriage are similar to a grief process that one goes through when someone or something dies. However, any comparison with a death always breaks down for me whenever I got to the part where I am supposed to ‘integrate’ my loss by ‘holding on’ to happy memories and pride in the former relationship. That is because my memories have become confusing for me as to whether they happy, sad, or painful. Was everything that I previously held dear, a facade?

Recently I read a book on bereavement that described the situation where the one left behind had loved the dead person and yet had been treated poorly by them. In situations such as this, often the surviving ‘victim’ continually sees history through the other person’s eyes. In the book, the author suggests to ‘rewrite history’; and for the victim to go back over their life and to see everything through their own eyes.

The action of my husband suddenly leaving me, combined with the fact he then went on a tirade of running me down, markedly weakened my self-esteem. Whilst I have never believed I am worthless, it has been inevitable that some of the mud has stuck. In particular there are voices inside me that keep saying ‘you are not good enough’, ‘you could have done better’, ‘who you are and what you do is of no value’, ‘you do not deserve respect’ and all that is because ‘you do not matter’.

After reading the book, I realised some of that ‘mud’ was seeing things through his eyes, hearing his voice and not believing I mattered enough to put my own viewpoint across. I decided to go through the exercise suggested in the book of looking back over my life, of writing down my life through my eyes, and to leave behind his thoughts and opinions.

I relied on my memory for my early life and went through actual journals for events over the past 10 years. It was a time-consuming task. I spent the best part of a day reading and writing down events and aspects of my life. As I did, I made three remarkable discoveries.

1. I discovered that I am good enough. I always did the best I could do which was in fact in some situations a dozen times better than others could do in similar situations. What I did do and what I still do is of great value. I have made worthwhile contributions to my family, to my own self-achievements and to society. What I do, matters. As a person, I matter.

2. I realised not only was I not worthless but indeed the attitudes I had shown throughout my entire life could, given the right application, lead to great achievement. These attributes include a passion to learn; having a clear focus; hard work; a desire to be of service to others; the ability to push through self-doubt, set-backs and fatigue; and persistence.

3. My life, my marriage and my contributions to society have been successful. I am proud of what I have already achieved. I have not failed. I am proud of myself, my marriage and my family. I have happy and proud memories of what we did together as a family. Those memories are real. I will hold on to that and take that with me forever.

I will hold onto these discoveries as part of my inner core to provide me with strength.

You may ask what is so remarkable about these discoveries? What is the difference now compared to my previously written posts that spoke of my own inner strength to carve my own positive future? The difference now is I believe it. I believe it because when I looked back through my life (prior to my marriage ending), those negative voices of self-doubt did not exist. They are not my voice.

My own inner voice is one of optimism, resilience and of marching confidently forward to my own destiny.

That is the real me.

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Image courtesy:[vlado]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net