Yesterday, I said it again: This is not how I pictured my life. It’s a phrase I have uttered far too many times over the past several years.
I’m not the type of girl that overly fantasized about how my life would look when I grew up. I didn’t cut photos from magazines of my dream wedding. I didn’t see 2.5 children, one of them definitely a girl, living in a large house with a picket fence. I didn’t picture what my husband would look like or what career he would have or whether we would have a dog or a cat.
I had some assumptions. I assumed I would be married. Forever. I assumed I would have children, and yes, even assumed at least one would be a girl. I assumed I would have a short career and then transition to being a stay-at-home mom with a healthy volunteer resume to boot. I assumed I would be happy. My husband would be happy. My children would be happy. And all of us would be healthy.
In my mind’s eye, my life would look like this: my husband and I would drive together to our son’s soccer game. We’d cheer for our son together. We would take him and his three brothers out to eat after his game.Together. In one car. I’d ask my husband about his day and he would ask about mine. We would celebrate our son’s victory as he would tell us both – at the same time – about the kid who kept trash talking him on the field. We’d smile at one another and everyone would be content. It’s not too much to ask. It’s not a wild daydream. Families live like this everyday. Mine was supossed to.
Reality, however, does not mimic that picture. Last year, while sitting at my youngest son’s soccer game, my boyfriend and I took our seats on the far end of the bleachers. Soon, my ex-husband rolled up in his wheelchair and stopped next to us. A few minutes later, I heard a familiar voice and glanced back to see me ex-boyfriend sitting behind us. I laughed at it then, mainly out of awkward discomfort. I laugh at it now because it makes for a ridiculous story and I love ridiculous stories… even if I do sound a bit like a floozy.
I’ve written about this notion of life not turning out the way it was supposed to: https://lynnhouse.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/a-real-life-thanksgiving/ and I know I am not alone. So often I hear some variation of this phrase uttered from friends who are going through a divorce or the death of a loved one or some other traumatic incident. “How is this my life?” they ask.
This is exactly what I said to my friends yesterday as we sat by the pool catching up on each others’ lives. I told them about my son’s 20th birthday and how my ex-husband joined us for dinner. This is a rare event as he spends most days comletely bedridden from a rapidly progressive stage of multiple sclerosis. As we sat at a local restaurant, it all seemed so normal as the banter from our boys bounced back and forth across the table. When our food arrived, things ceased normalcy. As he looked at his salmon and quinoa, my ex-husband asked one of the boys to feed him as he is incapable of moving his hands to his mouth. It seemed silly for my son to get up from across the table to feed him, so I offered to do it instead as I was seated next to him. Our four boys carried on eating and talking and laughing as I fed their father.
I told my friends that I can’t quite put words to the feelings I had around this situation. I don’t talk about the pain of our divorce much any more. Partly because it’s been eight years since he moved out, and partly because I don’t know how to share my truth about it without getting in to details that are not mine to share. Needless to say, divorce incites the kind of pain that causes your heart to PHYSICALLY HURT. The kind of pain that you hope no other loved one will ever have to experience because you don’t know how you possibly went through the deepest of pain without actually dying. But in some mysterious way, the pain ends up settling and you go about doing things you never thought you would do. Like feeding your ex-hiusband his dinner at your son’s 20th birthday party. You do it not to be a martyr and for others to recognize what a big person you are. (The irony of sharing it here is not lost on me, but getting kudos is not my intention.) You do it because you find a way to love again. Despite all of the pain or anger or sadness, you love again because love is freedom and the alternative is too dark a place to stay.
I wish I had a way to speed along the heartache for those of you who find yourselves asking how your life turned out this way. I know that the garment of grief is heavy; my hope is that you will not stay under its weight for long. I hope that ultimately you will understand that love provides the strength you need to shed the burden you carry. Real, honest love, that is. It cannot be manufactured. It cannot be hurried. But it can be cultivated. So when you fall into some weird scenario like feeding your ex-husband you can practice choosing love. You can do the thing you never thought you would do, the thing you never pictured when you assumed life would deal you a different hand. And in time, my friend, I think you will see that it is love that allows you to move through these questions and realize that althougth things look different, you are still okay.