She stood in front of the mirror, trying to focus on the words and not her reflection. She wanted to get it right. Ending a marriage is no small task, and it was important that he hear and understand what she was hoping to convey. During their 11 years together, she had rarely felt heard or understood by her husband, so it was unlikely that this would be an exception. She knew it. She needed, however, for him to receive her comments with empathy and compassion despite the hurt that they may impart. This, of course, was an exercise in futility, considering that he neither respected nor cared one iota about her feelings. That was the problem. Eleven years of hoping that he would change had not come to fruition and she had finally accepted that the relationship was no good for her, for him, or for their children. She knew that she was far from perfect, with scars and unhealthy habits of her own. She felt, however, that she had to change herself on her own terms, away from his influence.
If she had only known then that the next 14 years would bring one heart ache after another, together with financial instability and the pressures of parenting and maintaining a household alone. Would she have stayed if she’d had the ability to predict this? Perhaps. It might have been easier in some ways, particularly given the realities of a single income household. She may have been able to travel more, as he has, to live a more comfortable lifestyle, to retire earlier and stress less. At the same time, she knew that she would not be the person she is today if she hadn’t initiated such a drastic change. Growth can be painful but so can staying in a situation that isn’t working. She would remind herself of this innumerable times over her lifetime, reflecting on the journey she had taken through the years. The opportunities and experiences that had presented themselves were completely different from what she would likely have encountered within the confines of her marriage. Some of these were good, some were bad, most were ordinary. She was grateful to have had so much joy and comfort, while grieving the many losses and regrets. She counted her blessings and tried not to focus on the negative thoughts that lurked in the darkness.
At 48 years of age, Julie found herself in a midlife crisis. All but one of her children had left home to start lives of their own, although they still needed her support and guidance at times. They visited often and she appreciated how these relationships had become the most important in her life. She wished she had spent more time enjoying her children and less focus on relationships with men, however old patterns die hard. She had learned at a very young age that male attention felt invigorating and validating, which was unfortunate as she hadn’t realized that the intimate relationships were simply reflecting how she wanted to feel about herself. The doubts and the self-sabotage were strong. Years of unhelpful thoughts and beliefs about herself and others, along with habits that felt soothing but had harmful effects (overeating, binging, eating a lot of processed food and not a lot of healthful food, not exercising, picking at hair/skin, biting nails, using “substances”, engaging in risky behaviour, avoidance, etc.) had taken their toll on her being.
From the day her marital status had changed to “single”, Julie had set about redefining herself and building a life she and her children could be proud of. Only she didn’t really know how to do this. She had learned many painful lessons along the way, and survival was often the only goal. She could now be proud that she and her loved ones had survived. She had worked hard, studied hard, and invested in their future. She had fought for what they deserved, arranged multitudes of adventures and learning experiences, and nurtured them to the best of her ability. She wished that she had been more present, gentle, patient, and mentally healthy in her younger years to now, however she knew that she didn’t know then what she knows now. She wonders if things would have been easier for her daughters if she had stayed.
Her gratitude list, which falls in the “avoidance” category because writing it consistently lifts her mood and helps refocus her thoughts, building and strengthening new pathways in her brain, includes: Family, friends, home, pets, nature, beauty, love, knowledge, music, work, resources, comfort, kindness, health, and so on. She knows she is privileged in so many ways, born white, middle class, able, relatively intelligent and attractive. Her parents had worked hard and provided many opportunities to Julie and her sister, Karen. They had lived within an hour or two of each other since immigrating to Canada from England on February 12, 1982. When she received the call from the hospital advising her that her mother was in intensive care, she’d immediately made the 5 minute drive, parked beside the school that her daughter had attended, and maintained her composure as she navigated the visitation protocols. The sight of her mother, face pale and wrinkled, hair disheveled, eyes sunken into deep dark sockets, so frail and unwell, brought back all of the emotions she had ever felt. The tears overwhelmed her. She waited for Karen to arrive so they could sit with the woman who birthed them by caesarian section 46 and 48 years earlier, while she passed into whatever came next or simply “expired”, as they say in medicine. They held hands, the three women, as they had done when crossing the street at age 2, 4, and 31. They didn’t speak but cried their love from sad eyes, grateful for the ability to be present for and with one another. Julie, Karen, and Gillian, a story of adventure, drama, comedy, romance, and even horror. Their lives forever intertwined, another chapter now ending.