After being happily married for 18 years, it’s with great sadness that I sit today to write the Eulogy of this union. For those who knew this marriage, you would have suspected nothing was wrong. Neither did I. For those who knew my marriage, I know you grieve with me. Thank you for your kind words, they have lifted my heart and provided great comfort. I did not know how others viewed my marriage until we separated. Friends, family, and even acquaintances shared their condolences with me, along with kind reflections. A lifeline out of confusion, words providing comfort, but also validation. That what I had lived was in fact, real and not the hologram it feels like today.
“Your marriage was #couplesgoals”.
“We aspired to a marriage like yours”.
“You two showed us what teamwork and true partnership looked like.”
“I tried to be the kind of wife you were.”
“When we talked about our marriage in couple’s counseling, we used yours an example of what we were striving for.”
“You guys were the most special couple I’ve ever known.”
I thought so too. At least it felt that way to me. Unfortunately, the truth is that it WAS one-sided and I just didn’t know it. My husband, I accidentally discovered, was deeply-embedded in a double life. A life that specifically attacked our marriage, and was quite the opposite of the vows we made to one another. Actions that left no speck of doubt that I was not loved, honored, or cherished.
So as I reflect back on my 18 years as a proud wife, I do so with great pain, sadness, and even anger. Yet that is not what I want to think of when I remember my beloved marriage. For me, my marriage was a gift. It was God giving me a best friend and a committed life partner. Someone to navigate the uncertainty of life with. When I remember my marriage, I can’t help but smile as I think of our early years. Engaged at just 24 with some asking “Isn’t that too young?“, we were confident that we were ready to join our lives. We married on a beautiful day in early May, in the little stone chapel by the river. We had fun planning all of the details.
We selected our readings, from the Bible “The Song of Solomon” 8:6
and “The Prophet On Marriage” by Kahlil Gibran:
“and stand together, yet not too near together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart and the Oak and the Cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
I wept at those at those words on our wedding day and again today. The perfect image of the importance of teamwork and respect for independence. To grow into our best selves with the support of our Other. My life/your life/our life. We chose the perfect song for our first dance, “When I’m Sixty-Four” by The Beatles. A song that spoke to the beauty of a long life lived together, into old age. But that life together was not to be, though I never once doubted it’s strength, I never knew it was even at risk. Until it was too late.
Between the Wedding Day (1999) and the Divorce Day (2018), there was much to celebrate. There IS much to remember fondly in those 18 years. Years that brought first jobs with cockroach infested apartments. Long hours with lean paychecks, anticipation of building a new home, and the unbridled joy of three beautiful babies, the best of us both is another living soul. The grief of a miscarriage, the anxiety over relocating. Over 18 years married, and 21 together, the undercurrent to it all, was LOVE. So. much. love.
A million examples of Trust and Respect strengthened our love. A love that grew far past physical and intellectual attraction, with a depth and breadth matched only by my love for my children. I look back and wonder when that changed, when my love, respect and trust was used as a weapon against me. When and why he chose to begin another life, without the courtesy of telling me. Taking away our love without even the opportunity to discuss it. To tell me that he no longer wanted me, our marriage, or the life we had built together. Why I had to learn that accidentally, the day his laptop told the truth.
I am haunted by the depth of deception. Why didn’t I know my marriage had already died?
Maybe because he did want those things, but also wanted more. A dangerous, secret life that required nothing of him except his cunning, and his money. I cannot honor the best of my marriage without acknowledging the painful truth that destroyed it. My husband had affairs with many, women over many years. All while I stayed home with our children, oblivious. His only self-defense being: “I wasn’t happy with the nature and dynamic between us. I wanted more attention”.
The brutal reality of my marriage looks nothing like the marriage I was living.
The self that I brought to the marriage I lived is my only comfort in this profound tidal wave of grief.
Certainly, I am not perfect. I did however, try my absolute best and brought my whole self to our union. I committed my life to him and vowed to love, honor, and cherish him.
Which I am proud to say, I did.
Hurting him in any way was not an option for me. Hurting him would be hurting myself, our children, our family and friends. The marriage I lived in was loving and safe. It was forever. I will miss my marriage, but not my husband. Because he was not real. Premeditated double-living was a choice, not an accident. He chose that life over me, his children, and our life together.
So as I say goodbye to my marriage, I choose to remember those years before the double life. The years where we dreamed of our future together, making plans, setting goals, celebrating our wins big and small. I smell our first tiny apartment, I feel my lungs burn in the cold Chicago air as we run together to collect a desperately needed paycheck. I feel his large, strong hand over mine, squeezing through each contraction. I hear his key in the door, and the sense of relief that washed over me, knowing he is home safely from another business trip. I remember with fondness, the years I was so proud to have him as my husband and to be his wife.
As I say goodbye, I remember THIS marriage, and am somehow grateful.
For all the wonderful joy filled-moments, for the excruciatingly painful lessons, the mundane days wrapped in the comfort of one another, and the understanding that you cannot have joy without pain.
Grief is indeed, the price we pay for love.
Yet I remain steadfast in my belief that marriage can be a wonderful gift, of love, trust, and devotion, as it was once for me. For knowing, feeling, living that marriage once-upon-a-time, I am grateful.
Today stings. It’s a head-shaking, hard-to-reconcile-things kind of day. This day, this DATE, was once the crown jewel of Dates in my life. Warm, glowing, magical. It was (is?) my Meeting Date.
It’s interesting how we humans organize our lives by milestones and special dates. Our birthdays, of course, but also those days that stand out from the average others. The dates that change our lives. Meeting Dates, First Date dates, Engagement Dates, Wedding Dates, children’s birthdates, Discovery Dates, Separation Dates, Divorce Dates.
These are the dates that construct our life’s direction.
They adjust our course.
They alter our paths.
They grow us. They change us. By extension, these dates become a part of us. An important part. So what happens when those dates no longer feel like reason for celebration and instead, become bittersweet and heavy at the thought?
For those like me, who have lost their loved one to betrayal/infidelity/a double life, these dates are now obstacles, not celebrations. There are no nice dinners out together, reminiscing about our Meeting Date. About our first conversation, about our young dreams, about the happy life we have built together. No dreaming about our Golden Years still ahead. Gray and old, hand in hand. Instead, these once-beautiful and revered dates now feel dull and frail, like tattered road signs, sheepishly sheepherding you to your next direction.
Almost like they know what lies ahead.
Today is my Meeting Date. For 21 years it represented more than even my wedding date did. After all, it was THIS date that forever changed my life. It was THIS date that was acted as the domino, allowing all the other dates to follow. I called it my “Divine Appointment Date”. Meeting my match, my Beloved, my soul mate was all that was needed to set my life’s course in motion. My adulthood was born on my Meeting Date. We were but 21 years old, still living with support from our parents while finishing college. From our Meeting Date forward we grew into adults together. First jobs, graduate school, a mortgage, three children, retirement accounts, college funds for our children, a dog. We were winning at life. Together. Or so I thought.
The Discovery Date and subsequent revelations have since taken the sparkle off my Meeting Date. It is no longer the PIN code to my accounts, the password to my voice mail. 0113, was so special to me, for so long. Used daily, ever-reminding me of the important moment my life’s course was set. Now, as I see that date in written form, it looks and feels more like an identification number – as in “Prisoner #0113”, or “Divorcee #0113”.
I reflect on my Meeting Date now and see the ending of this relationship side-by-side to it’s beginning. As if it were a scene in a sad movie.
<21 year olds earnestly shaking hands>
“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Stephanie…
(I will fall in love with you, marry you, have your children, and give you my full and authentic self. In 21 years, you will give me a Discovery Date, showing me YOUR authentic self, as a man who willingly and intentionally lied and deceived me with many, many, many women over many, many years).
..I’ll have a Bud Light, please. Thanks. So where are you from?”
<42 year old sobbing on the bathroom floor>
I am not working to reclaim today and make it into something it is not. I am working today, to process this date and it’s meaning in my life. I am attempting to rework my view and appreciate it for the amazing good it brought forth, 3 incredible gifts that would not be present if not for 0113. The most important gifts, and people in my life.
1030, 0522, and 1219. My three amazing children. A forever reminder of the best of my lost beloved and me. The best parts of us together in another. In 3 others.
How grateful I am for that 0113 meeting date.
It isn’t what it used to be for me, but if I had to, I’d walk into that bar again and smile and shake his hand, even knowing exactly what would happen 21years later, on 11117.
All for 1030, 0522, and 1219.
The beautiful dominos that followed.
The Best Dates of my life.
Friends, this season is going to be hard.
Ambiguous Grief yields Ambiguous Holidays.
Before Grief moved into our home, our family had many holiday traditions. Birthdays, First Day of School, Easter, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve/Day. At least one tradition entwined into each of them. For our family though, Christmas held the most. Dad and the kids would make their annual pilgrimage to select the tree, proudly bringing it home atop of the family mini van. Me rushing out to take the annual photo of them with their prize, then coming inside to serve them fresh from the oven, homemade, ooey-gooey warm and chewy, chocolate chip cookies. (Yes, that’s what we called them. Every year.)
The ornaments, specially chosen for each family member were then passed out. Each ornament represented the achievements, the travels, or the memorable moments from the year. As you might imagine, this meant that our family tree wasn’t one of those perfectly curated trees you see in some homes. We didn’t have matching bulbs or ribbons, to compliment a coordinating star atop the tree.
Instead, ours was a tree of US. Patchworked with bulbs and booties from babyhood, crocheted and construction paper framed school photos. Personalized puppies reminded us of the year Santa brought our dog, and city skylines recall once happy family vacations.
My most treasured, and now most painful ornament is a simple door, donned in garland with our family name and “year of establishment”. Thinking of it now brings tears to my eyes. As I recall it now, I’m saddened thinking it could have a “dash” and a death date. ‘Est. 1999 – 2017’.
The beloved ornaments, telling the story of our family of five, sits unopened in a festive holiday bin, that I packed away last year, our last Christmas together, just weeks before discovering the WHOLE heart-breaking truth about his betrayal to our family. Our divorce and the grief endured from the discovery of my ex-husband’s long-lived double life aches deep within my bones. The authenticity in which I lived in our marriage is mirrored by his fraud. We aren’t gathering around recalling funny stories about him, or finding comfort in his things left behind. He didn’t die. He just deceived us and left.
Not being certain how to “do” this first Christmas, I read what I could find, and I asked professionals and friends who had also endured divorce with children.
“Make new traditions”, “forge forward”, and “do something totally different”, were the most commonly received recommendations. Yet none of them felt right.
I decided to ask the children, all teens, what they would like to do. My hope was that if we HAD to celebrate (something I honestly don’t feel like doing), then for their sake, maybe we could “Tweak” our Christmas, just as we had tweaked our home when he moved out. Making it slightly different with new things, while keeping the familiarity.
Sounds like a reasonable plan, right?
Me: “So do you all want to put up a tree this year?”
Trio: “I guess”, “Sure”, Yes”
So with the “TWEAKmas” in mind, I set up this plan:
- Buy the tree on the traditional first Saturday of the month (tradition)
- I take the kids to a new tree farm to select the tree, enjoy hot coco, walk the farm with homemade donuts, admire the carolers. (tweak)
- Make homemade, ooey gooey warm and chewy chocolate chip cookies for the family when we got home (tradition)
- Decorate the tree with lights and new bulbs and ornaments (tweak)
- Add the family star to the top, decorate the house inside and out, hang stockings (tradition)
Saturday morning came, we volunteered together at the local food bank (tweak) and then headed for the tree. As they say, the best laid plans…..
Tweakmas was a disaster. We got the tree, but not without a lot of eye rolling, attitude, shoulder shrugging, and door slamming. There would be no posed photo this year. They were offended I asked. For all of us, it was just too hard. The experience of understanding things are no longer as they once were is glaring and bright when your tradition changes. The pain was palpable and took them by surprise. I think my eagerness to heal their hurt was too.
We brought the tree straight home in a silent car. No stopping for ornaments.
We worked together to stand it in our foyer, and then each child retreated to their bedrooms. Presumably to process. I took the cookies to each room. Nobody wanted one. That was 3 days ago.
The tree stands naked but for a couple strands of lights.
They don’t want to decorate it, after all.
They don’t want to see their ornaments or their stockings. Which is ok, because neither do I. 21 years of ornaments I gifted to their Dad are in those bins. A bin he chose not to take when he left. They are but a remembrance of a happier time. We were being lied to then, we just didn’t know it. Now, that we do and with the truth out in the open, we are working to find a new normal, to tweak our traditions, and find our way.
I know we will.
Just maybe not this year.
Connecting with others enduring the difficult life of an ambiguous griever, provides a lifeline of understanding. There is no “one-upping”, no diminishing, no comparing. We are grievers dealing with the death of marriages, or loss of loved ones to addition, or sickness or disease. To adjust to our new life means we have to go through grief. Having others that understand can make such a difference in feeling supported. Sometimes, that just means looking into the cavernous “online” and reading stories and snippets. Here are a few favorites, that underscore in fact, that war buddies of AG are out there. It means you aren’t alone in navigating the gnarled nuisances of ambiguous grief.
Have a favorite? Add yours in the comments.
Books, tv programs, blogs, websites, therapy. All terrific resources to help us through the grieving process. I’ve been personally helped by all of them, but what has helped me the most: finding my people. When I say “my people”, I’m not referring to my dear friends or my family. “My People” are those that are walking my path, right now. Those dear souls who are struggling with my specific form of grieving. The gnarly, messy kind that has taken our loves away in spirit, but leaves them in their bodies as shells of their former selves.
As I came out of my fog (which for me was around month 4), I felt an incredible urge to find these people. On-line resources were helpful, but having just had my TRUST shredded to pieces, I was cautious of the (very few) people sharing their ambiguous grief experiences online. On the recommendation of a friend, I looked into The Meadows, a substance abuse treatment facility in Arizona. She wasn’t sure if they would offer something for betrayed, grieving spouses, but she thought if anyone did, it would be The Meadows. She was right and I registered for the next session of “Healing Intimate Treason“. It’s not cheap, but for me, it was worth every penny. This five-day intensive did so much for me, most important among them, it gave me My People.
Meeting and hearing the stories of 8 other women, all wounded by betrayal and lost in various stages of grief, is both painful and healing all at once. Holding space for another as she shares her devastating discovery, and having them do the same for me was a gift. For so many deeply betrayed women, there is much shame and embarrassment in their loved one’s addiction/actions. Speaking them aloud is SCARY. But together, we began healing our wounds, and seeing ourselves in one another, began to believe the addiction/actions/betrayals had nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them, the men we were grieving.
These women are smart, strong, beautiful, successful and loving. They are all loyal and kind. I would be lucky to call any ONE of them “friend”, but now they are so much more. We are sisters of grief. Born of parents, Trauma and Betrayal. There is no judgement of one another, or of our sick and sad partners whose actions brought us together. We cry together, cheer one another on, listen, support, care, and mostly, but most importantly, we UNDERSTAND. A good therapist or a trusted friend can prove a helpful resource and listen, care, and offer insight. However, they likely won’t come close to UNDERSTANDING the multi-leveled experience of ambiguous grief, especially grief through sacred sexual betrayal. Utilizing a daily text loop and weekly phone calls, we support one another. We remind each other “YOU ARE NOT ALONE”. On this painful, bewildering journey, they are a nothing less than a gift to me. We are a gift to one another. As we work to put our broken pieces back together again, we know we have been deeply fractured. We will never be the same. Not. Ever.
But together, we are working to embrace our broken pieces and look to the ancient Japanese art of Kintsukuroi for inspiration. As a nod to this ancient practice, we’ve named little broken, golden group “The Golden Girls”. Together we Golden Girls cry and bemoan our lost lives and the men who brought so much grief to us all. One day, I hope we celebrate a hard-fought feeling of hope and finally, happiness. We aren’t there yet, nor do we even know one another as happy or joyful. In fact, we haven’t once laughed together. We just aren’t there yet. The grief is too thick and our wounds too freshly inflicted. We are meeting in grief and grieving the loss of a loved one still living.
We grieve for what was lost and what will not come to be. Shining with endless tears we hold each other up and there is beauty in that, somehow.
If you’re healing, or helping someone you care about to heal, find YOUR PEOPLE. Those that are traveling through the Dark Night of the Soul with you. Look to on-line support groups, treatment facilities, or ask a friend for a referral or introduction if they know someone who is in struggle now too. Keep looking for YOUR PEOPLE, once you find them you will know. Once you know, don’t let go.
Looking for YOUR PEOPLE? Here are a list of my favorite resources.
- Check out the website based on the book “Option B” by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant. Here you can read excerpts from the book of the same name, as well as stories of people building resiliency. The best part? You can connect with a community of others grieving a variety of losses. www.optionB.org
- The Meadows. If you’re grief is a result of a loss due to addiction, The Meadows may be a good investment in your healing. As one of the premier drug rehab and psychological trauma treatment center in the country, they help change the lives of individuals through The Meadows Model, 12-step practices, and the holistic healing of mind, body and spirit. With 40 years of treating addicts and those suffering from trauma, The Meadows also provides support to the families and loved ones of those affected by the addict.
- Ted– The famous “talks” have far more to offer than TechnologyEducationDesign. Here, I have found a portal into new ideas, ways of thinking, and perspective on life. Talks on grief, love, loss, shame, empathy, vulnerability are but a few great topics covered.
- The Omega InstituteWith a robust selection of classes and workshops, along with R+R opportunities, I found the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies to be like “sleepaway camp for grown ups”. It is a non-profit educational retreat center located in Rhinebeck, New York. Founded in 1977 by Elizabeth Lesser and Stephan Rechtschaffen, inspired by Sufi mystic, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan and his ecumenical spirituality, today it offers classes to over 25,000 people a year, at the 190-acre campus. Sleep in dorms or cabins, nourish your body with incredible meals, and your spirit by connecting to beautiful natural setting. The institute’s stated mission is to “provide hope and healing for individuals and society through innovative educational experiences that awaken the best in the human spirit”. Omega’s workshops, conferences, and retreats aim to create dialogues on the integration of modern medicine and natural healing; connect science, spirituality, and creativity; and build the groundwork for new traditions and lifestyles.
We all know about Grief and what it is, but maybe we haven’t MET Grief yet. Not in a proper introduction kind of way. At the very least, most people know Grief like we know our distant, out-of-town cousins. Peripherally aware of their being, slightly curious maybe, mostly irrelevant, and showing up once in awhile during family gatherings. Not until that distant cousin comes to visit, and outstay his welcome, do we then really know him. By then, we are intimate companions feeding on the familiarity. It’s annoying, to wake day after day, to find the horrible house guest squatting on my heart yet again, suffocating my happiness. I long for the day, when I wake and find Grief has gone. I imagine a kind of “Dear John” letter left on my kitchen counter announcing defeat and exiting just as unexpectedly as he arrived. Grief comes in all forms. It came to me, without invitation, last Fall when I lost my dear husband and the life I loved. Nearly one year later, despite my many invitations, Grief has yet to leave. Instead, he’s unpacked, strewn himself carelessly all over the house, seemingly propped his feet up on the couch and defiantly says, “Yea, that’s right, and what are you gonna do about it?”
Thankfully, in our society, there’s at least a cultural roadmap for managing this mangy houseguest. When we lose someone we love, whether it’s unexpected or not, there are certain things we can depend on. Funerals are planned, eulogies are read, stories are shared, memories preserved, and love and support envelope those left behind. But I didn’t lose my husband to death. Like many woman today, I lost my husband to the realization of his double life. A life so carefully curated on-line, with legal pick-your-partner pages available for a small, quarterly membership fee. The uncovering of this broke me in two. Two lives: his AND mine. My life “BEFORE DISCOVERY” (which was pretty much all I could have ever hoped for) and the one “POST-DISCOVERY” (which was pretty much a complete living nightmare). I often hear what I think the sound the Titanic must have made as it broke into two halves that night it hit the iceberg and sank. I know that sound. It came up from the depths of my belly and out every orifice, violently, slowly, the night I found my husband’s double life, a life with many, many, many betrayals with many, many, many women. The night my marriage hit the iceberg, sank my marriage, rerouted my life’s course and Grief came to visit.
As a form of my own therapy, I am writing about my trauma, and the subsequent tidal wave of grief that has been my last year. Since my Beloved did not die, I didn’t have the luxury of an immediate and structured grieving period. Our marriage of 20 years died and I was left to grieve not only my present, but my future, and a now unknown past as well. Without the societal milestones we use to heal our grief through death of a loved one, I was left to chart my own course. I read and I read and I read. I watched every.single.SuperSoulSunday every made. I wrote to authors. I devoured TedTalks. I prayed and meditated daily – and still do. All of this to help my mind process, and maybe someday understand how and why this all happened. In this quest for information, looking for “my people”, or someone, ANYone with a roadmap for Ambiguous Grieving, I learned so much. Most importantly, that I CAN DO THIS.
There is a way back to joy. I feel it. I don’t have the map, and I know it won’t be easy. What I DO know is who I am. I know I am strong but flexible, humble and generous. I am deeply rooted with branches of blessings surrounding me. Grief has overstayed his visit. I am done living in the dirt. I feel it coming. I feel I’m changing.
I feel it’s my time to Rise Up. Rooted Like Trees.
Thanks for walking with me as I do.
How Surely Gravity’s Law
How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.
This is what the things teach us:
patiently trusting our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Grief is uncomfortable. Grief is brutal and beautiful all at once. I have become a reluctant student of grief. Perhaps not the grief we are most familiar with. This is a particular sort, sometimes known as “Ambiguous” grief – experienced when you lose a loved one, just not to death. Maybe it was betrayal, divorce, illness, addiction, or an accident. Either way, the person you knew and loved hasn’t died, they just aren’t the same person anymore. What you loved about them is gone, yet they remain. This is a kind of grief that has changed how I see love. How I see the future AND the past. Ambiguous grief is torture. I know that many people reading today won’t ever experience this kind of grief – and I’m glad for you.
You don’t want this.
For those that have, or are walking this path, I hope the collection of research, musings, heartbreak, and my own attempt to rise from the fire-burning-hell-on-earth life I’ve been living will help you, or someone that you know. My hope is that this space will serve a community working toward healing their grief by offering experiences from many voices and resources. I hope it will help you begin to heal and know that you too, CAN rise up rooted.