Last summer, a couple months into a trial separation with my husband, I was given the amazing gift of attending a “Blessing Way” for a mother who had lost her young son in a horribly tragic accident. This mother’s friends formed a huge circle around a labyrinth that her husband created for her. She moved through the labyrinth with key women at several stops along the way, helping her move through until she entered a tented shrine in the center where there were photos and sacred objects. We all turned our backs to allow her to go to the depths, so that she could return to the surface of her own free will, choosing life, and choosing to go on. As the true teacher that she is, she consciously offered up her journey for deep healing in each of us. This was her son’s legacy. I allowed myself to feel the catharsis of going through the death of my marriage, my own deep well of loss and grief, and my own choosing to live this life in a truer way.
The end of a marriage is very much like a death. I have experienced the death of people close to my heart, so I do not say that lightly. There are the stages of grief that one passes through. Many of us who have endured the process of disentanglement from the ones we made vows to navigate life with understand that we are in a form of this grieving process. It is not a pretty picture. It does not make for a neat step-by-step guide. I am not comforted by the stream of reassurances; “kids are so resilient” and “divorce is so common now, your son will be fine.” I fully understand that, as with a death, no one really knows what each of us goes through, and healing knows no external timeline. We must simply go through what we have to go through. With deep respect for our unique processes, I humbly offer up an exploration of the ending of my marriage and some things I am learning. I am still in this process.
The partnership with my husband once felt like a safe haven, a place to cultivate dreams, a home, a family, our highest selves. It was the working grounds for each of us to do our spiritual work, working our ego, our bliss, realizing deep acceptance of one’s self and another, surrender, partnership, re-patterning unhealthy family imprints. We understood that this lifelong relationship would summon untapped reserves of forgiveness and grace. We were there to “hold each other up” as the Tlingit elders say, but without the martyrdom trappings of our parents or ancestors. Gradually this sacred place where we were navigating the raw challenges of life became an absurd mockery of what I thought we were co-creating. After our son came, I started feeling more and more that I was married to my husband’s father. The basic rules of human engagement got blurred, no matter how many books or counseling sessions. There was a deep questioning around whether I was depressed or had an anxiety disorder, as that truth seemed easier to work with.
Finally, after several years, the realization surfaced that the relationship was beyond repair. I stepped off this cliff, with no safety net. The out-loud speaking of the truth that our marriage was truly not working gave way to an elation, a giving in, to this truth. The liberation of giving up, of not being able to fix the relationship, the bizarre freedom of utter failure was woven into my despair. I also felt an enormous amount of compassion for my husband and sense of offering him the true liberation he had been calling for for so long through his silence. Of course, anger and blame reared their heads and still take the reigns. I still hear myself scream into my husband’s face, “Do you realize this ship is going down? Are you truly content to just let all the beauty go? Let it die without any attempt to resuscitate?” Then there was the “let’s make sure” phase, interwoven with gut wrenching awareness of the unavoidable wounds we are inflicting on our child, tearing apart the fabric of his fundamental being. Knowing all too well that our son internalizes everything spoken and unspoken, the normalcy of tears in mom’s eyes first thing in the morning, dad stomping off in silence, starting the car. He gradually understood that we were not living together as a family anymore, that we don’t puppy pile on the couch anymore…
There is a strong gravitational pull to “check out” with the dizzying pain and guilt surrounding the implications of our divorce for our son. I notice the impulse toward mollifying my pain with alcohol, or defensive excuses for being emotionally unavailable for my son during this process. In order to stay connected with him at this pivotal time, I am making the choice to not reflexively plunge into full-time work. I also check myself that I do not fixate on his needs to distract myself from my own. This takes an enormous amount of compassion, self-love, meditation, prayer, yoga, professional counsel, and the patient hearts and ears of dear friends. My understanding is that, as with an actual death, these initiations of grief do not fade away if you do not face them. This facing can be extremely uncomfortable. Honoring our experience is possibly the most important and least sexy aspect of this process of ending a marriage. How often is the depth and grace and true grieving process of this important passage reflected and honored in our lives? It does not make for juicy coffee-talk. It is deeply personal and often does not have words.
There are many times when this time of introspection and just being “in it”, feels like an endless stuckness, a perpetual empty place. However, allowing myself to see the end of my marriage as the death of a being has helped me transcend the degrading dynamics between my husband and me. It has allowed me to appreciate all the amazing energy we put into that being, the beauty there, and to truly see that it has lived out its natural life cycle. I feel the poignancy, while contextualizing the pain that only time will heal. Ironically, through the personal, deep inner work I did with the intent to save the marriage, I was actually making space for my being to unfold, building courage, and self-love. There has been a grace taking root and it has been absolutely key in my healing process to notice and coax it along by truly opening to all the ways myself and my son are supported. I am drawing people and experiences to me that reflect my empowered fuller self. I choose to swim in the full embodiment of my life, with the full range of sentient experiences. I refuse to allow my heartbreak to diminish the love that we shared and that brought our son to us. I hold a curiosity toward this this new way to which I am engaging with life, releasing fear, and embracing a more authentic inner language. What moves my heart? How can I meet this offering and not cower from it? I am building capacity for joy and honoring this precious life that I have been given. I trust that this will ultimately come through to my young boy; a mother continually learning and living her truth, giving thanks to the grace of friends, counselors, and the ways unseen that are working on our behalf.
Megan Sherman is a 41 year old mother of a 7 yr old. She is an ecologist as well as a massage therapist, and facilitator for women’s empowerment. After living close to the earth in Haines, Alaska over the past 19 years working with bears, salmon, and humans, she recently relocated with her ex-husband to Bellingham, Washington to build their new coparenting, and separate lives. She spends time in swordfights with her son, playing the harp, doing yoga, gardening, hiking, and harvesting wild plants.