The analogy that best describes the end of my marriage would probably have to be a flash flood. I woke up one morning and the sun was shining; by afternoon though, it was raining; and by night time, I was completely underwater. I was totally blindsided and had no idea that my husband was having an affair and that he had made the decision to divorce. He announced this to me as if we were talking about sports scores. His mind was already made up. There was no discussion, no compromise, no chance to work things out.
In hindsight, one of the most foolish things I did at the time was allow him to stay at the house under these circumstances. I think those initial first weeks of suspended disbelief would have gone much smoother if I wasn’t pretending everything would work out. But the truth was, I was desperate and overwhelmed. At the same time as this announcement, I had a dear life-long friend dying in hospice. I was 35; she was 37 and my daughter’s Godmother. Her battle with cancer had been on our family radar for just under a year.
I chose to keep my marriage problems a secret for weeks because everyone around me was affected by the death of my life-long friend. These things combined literally almost killed me; more than once my therapist expected to check me into the hospital.
This may be one reason why I take offense when people who don’t know me imply things like “I used the court system to my advantage to cut my children’s father out of the picture” or that my speaking out on this difficult time of my life condones that I agree with divorce and are perpetuating the myth that it’s okay among Catholics. Neither of these things are remotely close to the truth. It is unfortunate, but I have found that if you are going through a divorce or are divorced, judgment—especially from people who call themselves Catholic—is a harsh reality, one that is extremely destructive. And I’m not sure why such judgment exists.
For those of you who are honestly seeking to constructively help your friends or family through the traumatic process of divorce, I found that there were practical ways my friends supported me which were irreplaceable:
1. Help With the Kids. My parents or close friends would help watch my daughters if I needed time to work out arrangements with my spouse or meet with my therapist or even just stay home and have a good cry. Most single parents I know try to be strong for their children and sometimes what they need most is a time out to deal with practical arrangements or their own feelings without being afraid of upsetting their children.
2. Make a Meal. A group of friends organized to make dinners for my family once a week for a couple of months. This was truly a life saver and it gave my daughters and I the chance to share a hot meal together without taking the time for set-up and cleanup which was often more than I could handle in those beginning weeks. There was a sense of normalcy about these dinner times which helped ease the rough edges of our life which had suddenly been pitched into chaos.
3. Offer to Drive. One of the most difficult practical details was working out driving arrangements—two children meant two different schedules and activities. I never realized how much I counted on that second driver until my husband was gone. I spent many long hours driving children to separate activities. Having someone available to help with the shuttle service was a huge deal.
4. Just Listen. Lastly, having close friends who would just listen—without passing judgment—was so helpful to me. One emotion that kept recurring during these beginning weeks and months (and even now returns once in a while) was fear. I was desperately afraid of so many things—being alone forever, being enough for my daughters, making enough money, living without a man in the house to protect us. Never in my life have I felt so vulnerable. My friends would let me talk these things out. Sometimes they would give me really good, practical advice— things I couldn’t see on my own because I was blinded by my circumstances. Other times they would just listen. But always they encouraged me to seek God’s will, to pray and they even prayed with me.
If you have gone or are now going through the traumatic issues of divorce, what concrete things helped you to make a better adjustment?