It has been a little over a year since my ex-husband died. A year of shepherding my two almost adult sons through the toughest times of their young lives. A year of learning that the grieving process is not really a process, it has no rhyme nor reason; just an ebb and flow.
A year has passed and the boys are coming to an understand what it means to be fatherless. What it means to not have him in their lives. They are coming to terms with the bitter disappoint that comes with an unexpected death. Coming to terms with what was left unsaid and unanswered.
And so am I.
But as who? I am no longer a divorcee nor am I a widow. Was I allowed to be publicly sad, to mourn the loss? People just didn’t know what to do with me. And I didn’t know what to do with myself.
To say that he and I were on good terms during the last couple of years would be an outright lie. We hadn’t spoken for months. Yet, I was profoundly affected by his death.
When people first heard about his death, they would most often express their condolences to the boys. Inquire as to their well-being, express how sad it was that he died so young. Rarely, did the conversation turn to me and how I felt about it. Awkward might describe those moments the best, especially with people who knew us as a couple, but who had chosen his side over mine or who had simply falling out of touch with us both. The talk might center around how I was handling the boys’ situation, but it rarely was about what was going on with my feelings. And to be honest, I didn’t really notice that there was no conversation about them. My guess is that I didn’t want that conversation to take place.
One day, I introduced my son to our new spiritual director. They bonded over Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, it was great to see my younger son light up a bit. Later, when I thanked him for engaging with my son, I mentioned their dad’s death. And the spiritual director asked me how I was doing with it. I gave my pat answer about how we were handling the situation well, and that the boys were getting through the grieving process.
He stopped me, looked me directly in the eyes and asked how I was doing with my ex-husband’s death. I paused and started to cry. For as much acrimony as there was between me and my ex, at one time I did love him. Not only for being the father of my children, which had been my mantra for years, but for being the man whom I chose to marry. The man who taught me how to play video games. The man who took me to all the first-run movies on date night, the man who dug up our first garden and who refinished our floors and furniture. The man who swore ’til death do us part.
I had mourned the death of my marriage long before he died. I had tried to make amends with him and had really made strides in making amends with myself.
When he died, all of those feelings arose again. But who was I to tell? It is difficult to mourn someone you are no longer supposed to love. There’s no Hallmark card for the death of one’s ex-spouse.
I miss what I had in the early years with my husband. I mourned the loss of the potential of those times. Not only did I grieve for my children’s loss, but I grieved for my own.
From what little I have found on the internet, this is not an uncommon situation. Divorce is a bitch. Life with an ex-spouse, the trying to define that non-married, yet still have-to-deal-with-the-person relationship, isn’t any better. Being the surviving ex-spouse doesn’t have to be worse.
What is the lesson here? For me, I now know that I need to be more transparent, I accept that my friends/family accept whatever feelings I have. I now know to ask after the person, not the situation. I now know to listen, wait and listen some more. I now know that to love, means that a part of me will always love, and that I am okay with that.
His birthday is this Saturday – the boys and I are going to go to his favorite breakfast joint and celebrate the good memories of the man I once called ‘husband” and they will always call “Dad”.