A few months ago, I found myself in a place I never expected to be: facing the end of my 17-year marriage. It was not my idea to separate, and for a while I fought against it with everything I had. Unfortunately, relationships require two interested parties, and it eventually sank in that I was alone in my desire to save this one. Getting to that place of acceptance was the most painful experience of my life. But time is working its healing powers, and I’m beginning to focus on the path ahead, rather than what I’ve lost.
That I made it through this difficult transition at all is a testament to the power of love and friendship. I am blessed to be part of a close-knit community, and the support I received from the people around me cannot be underestimated. I am also blessed to have a handful of lifelong friends who carried me through the worst of this experience. Finally, I credit the good fortune of having a naturally optimistic and positive temperament: I just cannot seem to stay down for long.
Having turned 50 not too long ago, I had begun to think I was on the retirement end of my career path. Now, faced with having to provide for myself and my family, I suddenly find myself perusing job-hunting websites. This is terrifying for any woman who has remained largely at home in a parenting and homemaking role for the last several years, let alone a women who is into her second half-century of life. But the privilege of being home with my kids during those precious childhood years came with the price of being financially dependent on another human being. It was hard enough processing the end of a relationship that spanned decades without the added fear of losing the house that nourishes my soul and is set amongst a supportive neighbourhood of friends. Staying here has become my top priority, and to do so I will need to find more sources of income.
When I moved to this rural community, I did not expect to be looking for work in an advanced scientific field, and I certainly never expected to find anything like that here. Added to that is the difficulty of working full time outside the home. My children have autism and are prone to high anxiety; when I’m away too often, or for too long, their anxiety increases, and this creates problems for themselves and others around them. They don’t attend regular school, and they have regular appointments with various therapists, so their schedules are complicated. My plan right now is to find work that I can do mostly from home. I currently have two part-time jobs that allow me to do so, and I’m looking for a third to round out my income. Alternatively, I’m keeping my eyes open for a full-time job that allows me to work at least part of the time from home.
Over the last few years I have embraced the concept of Gratitude and the power it has to bring joy into one’s life. And while it may seem counterintuitive, gratitude has the most power when life brings us the most pain. While recognizing that I must allow myself to grieve the loss of my marriage, and the future I thought was laid out before me, I am also trying to focus on gratitude for what I have, and the new possibilities ahead.
First and foremost, I have renewed gratitude for those Best of Friends who are there when you need them the most. They readily gave of their time and energy to support me through the darkest times, and I was ashamed that I had not given half as much to staying in touch more often, or pay attention to what was going on in their lives. I have sworn to put more effort into letting these amazing people know just how much I love and value their friendship, and I’m grateful for the reminder to do so.
I am also grateful for the precious gift of my two children and the time I was able to spend with them over all these years as a stay-home mum. The relationship I have with these blossoming adults is precious to me, but as they become more independent and immersed in their friends and pursuits, spending quality time with them requires more planning and intention. Without the distraction of another adult in my life, I am focussing more on spending quality time with the kids. When I consider how few years I have left living with the both of them, I am grateful for this reminder.
Finally, I am grateful for this place I call home. I was born and raised here on the beautiful West Coast of Canada, and the land speaks to my heart. You cannot travel here without being reminded of its beauty. Whether I’m hiking on foot along empty forestry roads with spectacular views or forested trails ringing with bird song, driving along a highway with vistas of trees and mountains, or taking the ferry across the Salish Sea with its majestic coastlines and ocean life…I am surrounded by spectacular natural beauty. People travel all over the world to see what I live amongst every day, and I am so grateful.
I didn’t want my marriage to end, and I am still grieving that loss. They say that divorce is right up there with the death of a loved one in terms of life stressors. I’ve lost a loved one before (my brother), and in some ways divorce has been much more difficult to process. With death, there is no-one to blame and no way to get that person back. Divorce is not so simple, and neither are the emotions that go with it. I have moments of intense sadness and heartache, other times I feel angry and betrayed. I try to avoid feeling like a victim, but it’s hard not to see this as something that was done to me, rather than something that just happened. I feel jaded and bitter about relationships, and have a quiet envy of people with intact marriages. I also experience stress and anxiety as I worry about my future and that of my children. Where will we live? What will I be doing for work? Will I be able to support myself into retirement? Will I be able to help my kids establish independent lives for themselves?
As time goes by, the negative emotions happen less frequently, and I occasionally have moments where I feel really good and positive about the future. I manage my stress and fear through yoga, meditation, and hiking. And I have found great comfort in focussing on the here and now. A dear friend shared this advice with me early on in this process, and I have found it a good mantra when I need to calm my fears:
Don’t waste time worrying about the past, because it’s over and nothing in the universe can change it; Don’t waste time worrying about the future, because it is unknown and you cannot affect it; Instead, focus on today, on making the most of each and every moment.
I’m at the age where I understand that life really is about the journey. Not the plans we have for the future and the places we imagine we will be one day, but the here and now, today. We tend to move through the days with our eyes closed, focussing on specific events coming up on our calendars and moving on autopilot through the rest. And so when I find myself experiencing sadness or fear, I try to focus on just today. What plans do I have? What do I feel grateful for today? What are the high points of my day, and what challenges have I met? Each day is a new opportunity, a moment to be treasured (or borne with grace). I don’t want to waste any of them by dwelling in a past that is over, or fearing a future that just might be wonderful after all.