Most thirty somethings spend their Friday night with family. Some spend it with friends, going out, etc.
I spent it sobbing in the cemetary.
Two weeks ago I lost my ex husband. By all accounts after the three years I’ve had, most people might tell me to bring celebratory balloons to his graveside. But I never saw divorce as a celebration, and I most certainly didn’t see his death as one either. The kids didn’t get to celebrate having two families and two lives so why would I consider it a celebration? Divorce to him terrified me because the day I left was the day I knew I was facing one of my most difficult battles yet. He was never going to let me just leave.
Three years ago I had to say good bye. And at his funeral luncheon I was reminded of that painful photo I found the day I realized I had exhausted everything in our marriage, given everything to something that was just spiraling into something worse and worse. The photo glared at me during the luncheon while we sat trying to eat a lunch we had no appetite for. That photo finally got me to the point that I realized that sometimes the best thing you could do for a person in a situation like mine was to let them go. That sometimes no matter how much you want to help someone, they must first want to help themselves. I had stayed home that hour of church that day I found that photo not feeling well after a week of caring for sick kids while he had been away for business. When I found the photo on his tablet linked to an online profile, he was teaching a lesson for our church. That photo made me realize that there there were two very different people I was married to and the photo left me infantile at the side of the couch of our then picture window, sobbing heaving sobs, hoping and praying in the direction of where he was teaching that day that what I was seeing him doing online was someone else and NOT him.
Unfortunately, for the next three years it would be my reality as endless court dates, legal issues and divorce issues would plague us during and after our divorce. I quickly realized I had been married to two men–Man #1 and Man #2. I did what I would have to do in the courtroom in order to protect myself, the kids and him from further harm and abuse from Man #1 that he let out, but the minute I would get to my car I would crumble and wonder where any shred of Man #2–the man I thought I knew I was married to was. I would scream inside my head, ‘I THOUGHT I knew you! Where are YOU?’ I would pray that he would come back! Every court date I kept hoping that this all could be a nightmare…that everything brought forward in that courtroom was a nightmare and everything happening outside the courtroom was a nightmare and I could go back 5-6 years to when things were better. That this wasn’t real. But then it would be, and my heart just ached for the man I knew. He could be the most compassionate person–often running to the aide of friends and family. He loved his family fiercely and especially the kids but when this other side came out–the anger, inability to rationalize, gaslighting and disregard for boundaries. I worried constantly about the kids when they were there at his house and they would come home and say that he was sick, or they had gone from house to house to visit people because his anxiety was so bad that day. My heart ached for him and for what he went through physically–and I always wondered if he went through those same issues mentally as well. It became a fine balance when working with my lawyers, victims advocates and others involved in my case during and after my divorce. Only I knew what he really went through and what we had been through in our marriage in regards to his health. My lawyers and advocates didn’t know what the health issues he dealt with were, or what they were like. But I did. So I would spend a lot of time running, praying, working out and generally avoiding my lawyers pleas to hurry and make a decision when I needed to make one on our cases until I felt that I had made the right one. ‘Right’ being relative. I would research, pore over his emails and analyze the documents he would send over and try to make sense of the senseless. Was he sick? Was he suffering from something more? So many times I couldn’t make sense of what he was trying to say. So at every court date I made sure that we fought for him to get the help he needed. In addition to facing his legal consequences which I thought were fair and needed to stop the behaviors, I also wanted to make sure that the ability to coparent and have a chance at healthy coparenting was there by him becoming healthy for himself and our kids. But every time a court order was violated and while I NEVER gave up hope and the image that I wanted for us post-divorce, I feel guilty that at our last court date I had come to the realization that that might not ever be possible. I had the sinking feeling that he just didn’t “get it” and a little over a week after our last court date he violated the judge’s orders again. I wrestled with what to do and two weeks after that while I continued to wrestle with the decision on what to do I found it wouldn’t matter anymore. He was dead.
My heart broke that day I found he passed away. I never got the chance to see Man #2 again in this life. The man that I married so many years ago. I ache to know what happened. Why he battled between these two men so much in his life. Why he just couldn’t make the other one go away! What held him back? What stopped him?
I was the one that started going through the process of trying to get someone to answer when we hadn’t heard from him in 24 hours on my weekend with the kids. I began texting family, the friend who was staying with him, and finally sent an officer to go and check on him. When I agreed to change nights with him when he was sick, I felt at peace knowing a friend was staying with him while he was sick. And then my gut screamed at me 24 hours later that something was very, very wrong. I thought maybe he was in a diabetic coma or was very, very sick. But I could never imagine as i was texting friends and family to see if they had had contact with him that he was gone. Shortly after hearing the news, I fell on the only place I could find any peace–on my knees. The distinct feeling overcame me that he had been fighting but just couldn’t overcome. I don’t know if that meant his health, if it meant the fight between Man #1 and Man #2 all these years, his battle with physical versus mental illness or all of the above. While I felt so grateful that so many of my questions were answered throughout the divorce and anytime I had doubts or inclings I would receive an answer, I’ll never know what truly happened this time.
I’m more broken now than I was when we first divorced. When I divorced, I lived in a surreal world of shock and awe. Every time I turned around, I was facing some new hell. It never ended. I never had time to mourn. I was thrown into a world that only my ex understood. Trying to disipher the thinking, find a way to stop the new loophole he would find, and trying to protect the kids and I and him from himself became a full time job next to working and finishing my masters degree.
And now I could sit at his funeral and finally mourn the man that I fell in love with so many years ago and put to rest the man he had become either through illness or other reasons. I get to mourn the man that I know was still in there somewhere and who he fought to let out behind closed doors. The man that so many people came to honor and show their love for. The man that so many people shared stories about. The man that made me laugh until I cried, was an endless prankster and would give you the shirt off his back without you asking. The man who loved his family fiercely and would spontaneously surprise me with everything from dinners to trips to even surprising me by flying my best friend out to visit when I hadn’t been able to see her for a few years because of us having babies. While I told the kids that we needed to not repeat the bad or allow it to happen in their marriages in the future, I made it clear that I didn’t want to EVER make that the only thing we remembered about him.
It hurts so bad. And it’s so complicated. Being an ex at a funeral is complicated. Some have already mentioned that I may be blamed for his death–all the legal issues, etc. were the cause of his shortened life. Others still referred to him at the funeral as my husband. To me, I can’t describe what or how it feels.
As I walked through his home prior to the funeral to help the kids load up things they wanted to bring back I cried at the HOME he had built for our kids. It made me so happy to know that he had built them a beautiful home. That he had even dated and found love again after me with his last girlfrined. As things were packed, I cursed him when I thought back to my email a few weeks prior to his death when I told him I didn’t have the tent and sleeping bag for our son’s upcoming campout and asked him to send them with our son at pickup. He wrote back that he didn’t have them, and when I walked into his garage I cursed him because they were RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF HIS FACE!!! I then started laughing because this exact thing would’ve been one of our silly fights years ago where i would’ve pointed that out to him and walked him into the garage to show him I was right and then done my “I was right” dance (I can’t dance) and we would’ve ended up in a fit of giggles. I separated myself from his family at times when they would start to cry over a box of old family pictures. To me, I had already said goodbye several years ago to that box when I gave it to him when he moved out. Sometimes throughout the week of the funeral it was hard to be around my extended family again. I had been told I had to say goodbye to them when I divorced him, and that he would make sure if I divorced him they would no longer be my family. I mourned their loss a lot–they had been there for me through some very tough times. And I worried that they were believing some of the crazy things they had been told during the divorce. To now hear their voices echoing through his empty home, to have them hug me again while we sobbed, was overwhelming to say the least. I had to step away many times. It became too much. I kept hearing his voice telling me to say goodbye to them if I divorced him. The love they were showing me became too overwhelming at times. How I missed the family events and sitting around the table listening to their stories. I couldn’t participate with them. I kept telling myself it was going to end. Enjoy it now. I cried when I saw his insulin supplies. How many times I had poked his finger when he was sick. Calling ambulances to come to our home. Spending Superbowl Sunday at his hospital bedside. At times I sorted things in his home in a zombie like trance. Things we had divided years ago were just now objects to me with no meaning attached to them and then I would stop across something silly like the only kind of toilet paper he would buy and just sob. We ALWAYS fought about toilet paper. Even when we were poor he would only buy ONE TYPE of toilet paper. And it was expensive! I allowed myself to just feel the emotions I hadn’t been allowed to feel or show for several years. It is a a surreal feeling–you feel like you are having to say goodbye again but you’ve already said goodbye in many ways. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to put what I felt into words.
And then at the luncheon as I sat staring at that awful photo, I did the same thing that I had been doing for years. I thought it through, then tucked that awful picture from that awful day between the baby that I was holding and I and walked over and discreetly placed it under some jackets so nobody would notice. So I wouldn’t make a scene. My head told me to smash it in a million pieces in front of everyone and give everyone a piece of my mind on the type of person I had found out i was living with. But my head had also told me to key his car and max out all his credit cards back then like that song on the radio said, or to stab a fork into a “just divorced” cake and gleefully eat the entire cake, but I never did any of that. Why? Because I always loved him. I knew if I responded a certain way, there would never ever be a chance at being healthy coparents. That he would not feel encouraged to get the help that he needed. I also knew how bad cruel words could hurt and impact a person, how bad his words had impacted me, and I didn’t want that to impact him getting better on top of the physical and mental issues he dealt with. In my heart I always hoped that he would get better. That we would have 10-15 more years to fix things with us (we always knew he would pass away early, just not this early) and that somehow Man #2 would show up one day with arms outstretched to the kids and I, ready to take us on one of his surprise vacations. That all the blood, sweat and tears in and out of the courtroom to get him help would just “click” one day with him and Man #2 would come back. That I would be able to write my own messed up modern day Hollywood version of the Parent Trap movie for my kids.
As I sat sobbing at the cemetary tonight, I realized how much pain I am still in. How much healing there is still left to do. The man who was approaching to tell me my dog wasn’t allowed in the cemetary walked away to notify someone else about their dog when he saw how hard I was crying. It hurts so bad. I feel like I am finally being able to mourn the marriage I had and the marriage I had to leave behind. The burdens and responsibilities are now becoming real, and I need a strength that I don’t know that I have. My heart breaks at the pain my children feel and for the hope that all the prayers and thoughts and worries I have on their behalf will be heard. I hope that they will reach for their dreams and hopes in spite of all the burdens and trials they have had to face but that I have tried to shield them from. I hope they will forgive me and forgive their dad. I hope they will know that their dad and mom loved them in spite of our flaws. And I hope that they will see that I loved their Dad but couldn’t condone some of the actions because they just weren’t healthy for them or me to continue to be impacted by. That they will understand how my heart literally broke everytime I had to make decisions that i.mpacted our family. I can’t describe the pain that I feel right now. My body just aches and my head hurts. I am so tired all the time–bone tired in an indescribable way. And then there is a numbness that doesn’t allow you to feel anything. I hate these feelings and went through a lot of these feelings several years ago and to go through them again so quickly is just too much. I at times feel like it will never end. Is the rest of my life going to look like this? Will I be subjected to these horrific cycles the rest of my life? I have a hard time loving, trusting and believing. it just seems like everytime it gets taken away. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to fully allow myself to not have so many walls up to protect myself. But for now, all I can do is try to put one foot in front of the other and keep plowing forward. But I’ll also allow myself to feel for awhile. To hurt. It’s something I wasn’t allowed to do, and I’m going to allow myself permission to have “trainwreck days” as the kids and I call them. I’m going to cry with my son over seeing the certificate of death for someone so young, I’m going to sob in the cemetary and I’m going to allow myself to lay down and relax and read my daughter a story or watch TV with the kids on days that we just struggle. I feel I spent the past three years building a “new” normal–this was the first holiday the kids were going to have that they finally were back in the routine for–they looked forward to Thanksgiving with Dad and Christmas with Mom this year. They were excited for the plans and what we had going. And now they have to establish a new normal all over again. I don’t know how to get them through this, there isn’t a manual or help for this kind of situation. So we will continue to just do what we’ve done–stick one foot in front of the other and plow forward.