Joy within sadness

ID-100179599.MOtherKids.BoinsChoJooYoung

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

 

Wedding wobbles after divorce

 

ID-100125771.StuartMilesMy second son was recently married. People have asked me whether there were any ‘awkward moments’ due to the divorce. I would be lying if I said, ‘No’. However, I am pleased to say that most of the awkward moments were in my head. I did not let thoughts in my head control my actions. I paused and thought through anything before responding or, more importantly, not responding. I also noticed a difference to what I actually did think and experience compared to what I had been anticipating that I may experience.

When a mutual friend’s daughter married two years ago, I was raw inside. The vows spoken at the church made me cry and cry. As they spoke their vows, I thought about my own wedding and what I felt as the breaking of those vows. This wedding of my son was different. Those same thoughts did not enter my head when my son and his soon-to-be-wife spoke their vows. That same sadness did not surface. When they said their vows, I thought only of them. I thought only of their love for each other and the wonderful life they were to have together.

The ‘awkward’ moments came at different times, prior to the wedding ceremony itself; and afterwards at the reception.

As described in an earlier post, the wedding was six days at a resort on the Cook Islands, so there was six days of togetherness with family and friends, six days of happy times with others. Yet, in those happy times, there was that edge for me of being alone within myself, of not having that soul-mate to look out for me and, although I am beginning to revel in my independence and am quite capable of looking out for myself, seeing the togetherness of other couples looking out for each other stung me a little. My children having to spend separate times with each of us, stung me a little. The speech given by the father of my new daughter-in-law, speaking with pride of his wife and soul-mate of 40 years and their life of sharing and living out their promises to each other, stung me a little.

I had anticipated awkward moments with my ex-husband, even though he had decided to come ‘alone’ which made it easier for all of us.

Due to my mother’s health crisis in the weeks before the wedding, I had not had time to have “the conversation” with him, that of: ‘Please do not come up to me and insist that we should be friends. Please do not hug me in front of other people, as if nothing has happened between us. Please do not ask me to dance with you after the bridal waltz’. 

So the conversation had not happened and the awkward moments did happen and, surprisingly, I did not care. I was able to act with grace and dignity, smile, shrug those moments off, quickly move aside to other people, and put it all behind me.

However, those moments were defining moments for me. They were the first one-on-one, face-to-face contact I had had with him on a personal level in over a year. What I came to understand in those moments was that I have reached a place of emotional detachment from the man who left me. When he came up to me at the wedding, I no longer saw him as the man I had married 40 years ago. For three years I have felt pain whenever I thought of being abandoned by the man I had been married to. In those moments at the wedding, I realized that person no longer exists. He is not the same person as the man who left me. In those moments, I felt no pain regarding being left by the man who my husband had become. I felt no emotion for that man, I felt nothing for him, for the man who left me.

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Image:Courtesy[StuartMiles]FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Divorce and weddings and families

 

 

ID-10067121.Stuartmiles My second son is to be married. This will be the first major milestone since the break-up. This will be the first time as a family where we will all be together, yet apart; where we will have to face not being a united family; and where my and my ex-husband’s siblings will see each other. I remember my eldest son’s wedding six years ago when we had that coming together of the two families and what a joyous occasion it was. How I so wish for this wedding to also be filled with joy and togetherness.

My son spoke to me by phone about some logistical arrangements for the wedding and I was dying inside as he spoke as I had been blocking those things out. I did not let on how anxious I felt. It was going to be his big day and I needed to put my angst aside. After the call ended I broke down. Everything hit me hard and I felt all mixed-up inside. I felt joy and sadness, fear and wonder, all mixed up together. I felt so alone that I could not share those feelings with my children, those whom I held dearest to my heart. The cruelty of divorce hit me as hard as it had ever hit me before, knowing that we were no longer the strong united happy family that we should have been.

About half an hour later my son rang me back. He had sensed there was something wrong with me. By then, I was in the middle of a puddle of tears. There was nothing to do but tell him how I felt. Out came three years of frustrated loneliness of never being able to talk to him and the other children about how I really felt. I felt that I had to protect them all from the pain of the broken family unit. I told him I felt I was supposed to put on an appearance of a happy united family for his wedding and yet we were broken. I felt that I was supposed to put on an appearance of his father and I being ‘friends’ when I did not feel that way. I felt that if I had to pretend we were that united unit, when we were not; and that his father and I were friends, when we were not; then I would be acting untrue to myself. I explained I wanted his day to be special but I did not want to live a lie. I wanted to stop pretending and hoping for the united family. We were two families now; my family and his father’s family. I could not act like the united family unit when we were not. From now on in my life I wanted to speak my truth. I wanted to act by my true self.

I had never spoken to my son about the break-up in that fashion before. My son assured me that I could always speak the truth with him. I no longer had to pretend. I felt a surge of bonding with my son that was stronger than I had ever felt before. I no longer felt lonely and that I could not share how I felt, with those whom I love. I no longer had to put on a mask. I had found my voice. I had spoken my truth. I was acting by my true self. I felt a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders because I did not have to pretend anymore. I felt free.

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Now that the suffering weight has lifted, I have six weeks to become strong and work out my self-strategies to ensure my son’s wedding is the joyous occasion it is meant to be.

 

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ImageCourtesy[StuartMiles]:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

New family order

I am now back home having thoroughly enjoyed my time with all four of my children together again. It was the first time we had all been together for two years. We had five days together at home, a few days together at a wilderness lodge, and then some time in and around where my eldest son and daughter both live. It has been fantastic having them all around me and we had a great time. We enjoyed laughing with each other by remembering their activities and pastimes of their childhood. We enjoyed doing some favorite walks. We enjoyed preparing and sharing meals together and just generally being together. These have become my new happy memories.

It was a little sad saying good-bye at the airport to both my son and his girlfriend on their way back to Canada; and to my daughter who is off on an adventurous six months in Europe. On her return she will be taking a position interstate and stationed further away from me. So it was also good-bye to a way of life together we had both enjoyed.

Let me rephrase the first sentence in that last paragraph.

It was emotionally overwhelmingly difficult for me saying good-bye to two of my four children and – despite my resolve to hold it together – I completely lost it at the air-port and sobbed and sobbed in their arms. I was crying with happiness for the times we had just shared together. I was crying with happiness for their childhood that was now gone. I was crying with happiness that they were such wonderful children and I could not ask for any better. I was crying for their happiness, that they have made in it in the world and are now on their way to live exciting lives and I had always wanted that for them. I was crying for me because I miss them so much when they are not with me and we would now live apart from one another. I was crying for the unspoken words regarding the separation that we had all determined would not intrude on our time together and yet just the same was still a monster lurking in the background. I was crying for the change in family dynamics, not for what had become, but rather for the unknown of what we would become as the family continued to scatter in all directions.

It is natural for me to cling onto the old ‘order’ of the family unit of the parents as a central reliable unit and with the children gravitating back to that unit. I am still clinging onto the concept that our new family ‘order’ should become myself at the centre of this family unit and my children gravitating back home to me. For so long this has been the very essence of my being – me as the mother hen at the centre of my flock of chickens. Gradually I am coming to realise that in reality the new ‘order’ is a family in transition, with my twenties-something children spreading their wings and my thirties-something children setting down their own roots elsewhere. Gradually I am realising that the new family order will be me texting, phoning, emailing, and driving or hopping on a plane to visit my chicks wherever they may be.

And whilst this will lead on to new adventures for me in the visiting of each of them, I am as determined as ever that it will include me taking within me the traditional family values I treasure and imparting those values of love, support, encouragement and togetherness to them wherever they may be.

 

Relationships

Last Friday was a proud day for me seeing my daughter – my baby – being admitted as a lawyer.

In the days before, I thought of the changed family unit that was to witness her admission. With my two eldest sons away and my husband awol, the previously strong proud family unit of six was now down to three. It would be up to me and my third son to be the support for her and share with her in this joyous moment. There was a huge lump in my throat thinking of how it was to be compared to how it could have been.

Then the day before the ceremony a lawyer friend, the son of a family friend, with a change to his business commitments was able to accept her request for him to be in attendance and present her admission to the judge. It made her day to have him there and make her day so special. Afterwards we all crowded around my daughter and embraced each other and shared this special moment together – my two children, myself and our friend.

Later that night my son said to me. ‘Mum, don’t be sad for what could have been, look at what there is. Look at what we have. It is happy new memories we are making right here, right now, together.’

Too often we dwell on the stereotypical happy-ever-after image of the intact family unit of mother, father and children. Whatever the age of the participants, the image is the same.
Too often we dwell on the portrayed image of ‘love’ being the passion between a man and a woman; of two lovers; of romantic affairs.
Too often we forget all the other relationships in our lives that make us who we are.

Mother-son
Sister – sister
Brother-sister
Mother-daughter
Work colleagues
Sporting partners
Friends from the past
Friends in the present
Supermarket attendee
Grandmother-grandson
Grandmother-granddaughter
Cousins and second cousins
Neighbors and acquaintances
Cafe owner who makes you coffee
Person who comes and paints your house
Friend who babysat your children when they were little
Parents of your children’s friends who are still there for you
Music teacher who mentored your daughter in her passion for the piano
Son of a friend who made a special effort to attend your daughter’s law admission

 

Week 31 – Milestones

Week 31 – Milestones 20 April 2012

This separation is difficult for us all as a family at times like this – the milestones of life – weddings or a child’s graduation. Events that were previoulsy shared – and now have to be shared separately albeit together. It is especially tough for the children wanting to recapture those happy family times and at the same time doing the right thing by each of us and our feelings at the moment – where there is still hurt and pain.

In December it had been my daughter’s graduation – my last child flying the coupe. It was a happy occasion and yet tinged with the sadness of the separation and seeing other people there – her friends she had been with her whole life – and they with their “happy families” still intact. But it was her day and I was so happy and so proud of her.  

This week it was the wedding of our god-daughter. She is the daughter of my husbands best friend from school and our families had remained close all our married days. My daughter was her bridesmaid. It was on the whole a happy day. I nearly lost it in the church with now all the words of the ceremony taking on such a differnt meaning (for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health). However, as they were spoken I thought them through and thought to myself, that I did not break those vows and of that I should be proud. I still held onto my own values, I was still the captain of my soul, I am still able to hold my head up high.

After the wedding ceremony, the children rallied round me and we had lots of hugs and some photos together. Then I was determined to enjoy myself and have a great time for myself, for my children, for my god-daughter and for her parents. 

And so I relaxed for the evening wedding reception and then later danced and danced into the night.

 

Week 24 – Back to my roots

Week 24 – 03 March 2011

At week 24 after separation my younger two children and I spent the weekend in Sydney for a family reunion of about 100 people representing the five living generations of the seven generations of descendants of my great-grandparents and grandmother who came out to Australia from England 100 years before. The weekend was an all day Saturday gathering then a bus trip to all the old family haunts on the Sunday. It was a fantastic experience for my children who were still feeling the pain of our broken nuclear family of Mum, Dad and the kids. They were uplifted by connecting with their own immediate cousins, aunts and uncles whom they knew well; and then they began feeling part of the wider circle of second and third cousins, and great uncles and aunts. There was an intoxicating sense of belonging, having a place in the world, connecting with our roots.
My uncle, my mother’s brother, gave a speech regarding choices and how the choice at a time of crisis and adversity for what may seem an overwhelming situation; can lead to a different way in life that – if you can become strong and face it – actually becomes the right way of living and ultimately a better way. He was referring to my great-grandparents decision to move to Australia from England a century before at a time of financial crisis for them as a family. He spoke of the struggles they had in their early years in a totally different landscape and way of living for them in Australia away from family, friends and all the connections to their previous life. Despite that they persevered and carved a new way of life for themselves, their children and ultimately for all their descendants. He also spoke of other triumphs and tragedies the family had been through over the years and the strength he felt we had all inherited from his mother, my grandmother. I thought of this character trait that I remembered in her. My daughter told us later that she felt I had this same strong determination and she now understood where it came from.
I thought of my cousin nearest to me in age missing that day as we had lost him through a car accident 37 years ago. He had always been daring and adventurous and I had always been cautious and shy. As a teenager he had always dared me to do things that I would not have otherwise done. Even today there is a voice inside of me that says ‘come on, you can do it’ that I feel is him urging me onwards.
I looked at my own mother who organised the event, who was widowed suddenly at aged 47, her two eldest children married within the next year, and faced with the sudden financial pressure of having to return to work for the first time in 26 years to support my two younger siblings. What a huge sudden changed blueprint for her that I failed to appreciate at the time. Yet now at aged 85 she is still going strong, writing history books, and the matriarch of this our large extended family and her siblings’ families of over 100 people. She is an inspiration to us all and especially now to me, as I hope to one day be for my children in this my new blueprint I am yet to create for myself and my family.
So as the weekend ended I thought to myself – how can I ever feel alone? With my own fantastic children, with the extended family of mine who are always accepting of every family member whatever and wherever their life situation may lead them, and with their strength inside of me – I belong, I am never alone.