Living With Grief

Grief is different than I used to understand. I used to see grief as something that washed over me briefly, although sometimes intensely, when news of a death or failure or loss happened. There was that moment(s) of shock, followed by the moving through of the other stages of grief…denial…bargaining…guilt…anger…depression…acceptance…

Betrayal grief is different. There are the stages, although for me, I’ve gone through them again and again. There are moments and days and even occasionally – weeks – in which the grief retreats. So when it comes back, like a wave crashing over me at the ocean shore, I’m shocked. Sometimes it will happen as I drive down the road and ssswwwwhoooooosssshhhhh….I have the thought HUSBAND BETRAYED YOU – HELD ANOTHER WOMAN – WHISPERED INTO HER EARS – SHARED HIS BODY WITH HER –

And in that split second I am propelled into the realization that the grief is still present, still intertwined into every part of the me that is now me, and the new marriage that I’m living. It is a struggle every time…creates an immediate fight or flight response in which I want to choose FLIGHT as  I struggle to find my breath and to calm my heart beat and to see the present moment. Somedays it is followed by one of the other stages, and if so, I allow myself to sit there for a bit, to consider the emotion I am feeling, to express it. I let HUSBAND know what I am thinking – how I am feeling, and thus far, he receives it. He hears, he listens, he responds. He holds me if I can do that, or lets me be if I need that, but at least now, we are more in sync in this new dance than we used to be in our old life.

I get weary, though. Grieving. Wondering why it continues to nip at me, and haunt me, and sometimes stop me in my tracks.

So last week I was in DC on business, and got to Reagan International on Friday for the return trip. The airport was predictably crowded with a Friday early afternoon flight, and my gate was even more packed. I sat near the entry to the plane, prepared to settle down with a book, and a group of young men caught my eye. There were five of them, looking rather normal from different ethnicities ranging in age from probably mid 20s to early 40s. What caught my eye is that they were all in wheelchairs, gathered into almost a circle as they talked and laughed together. I watched them and was taken by the automatic way that there broken hands worked to open a soda, to send a message on a phone, to rip into a package of chips.

After a few minutes, I walked over to them…and asked them who they were and what they were doing. They all looked up, surprised, but very inviting and several began to answer…Sectionals…Wheelchair Rugby…vying for Nationals…

I sat with them until we boarded, and then on the plane, they sat all around me, too. During the next couple hours, I learned a little about some of their stories. One was shot. At 23 years old, he’d gotten in a fight in a bar, then gotten kicked out along with his opponent. He went to his car, followed by the other fighter who noted what his car looked like and the direction he went. The other fighter hunted him down on the road, pulling up next to him and shooting repeatedly into his car. He was left a quadriplegic. And now he is a computer science engineer working with NASA.

Another one of them had just turned 16, played linebacker for a local DC high school football powerhouse. Opening play of the game, he was hit, and his neck broke. He was left a quadriplegic. The youngest of the group, he is still in college majoring in fine arts. He laughed as he told me he would be required to sculpt this year, as he picked up his barely functioning hands, and began to strategize how he would make that happen.

Another story was a 25 year old named Joe, driving during the day, and then a terrible accident due to weather. He was left a quadriplegic. I asked him how the doctor tells you, what he says, how you respond, did you know. He told me that he knew he couldn’t feel his legs, and the doctor came in and hit him hard: You will never walk again. You will never be able to dress yourself, or brush your teeth, or eat without help.

BOOM.

But that wasn’t the end of the story, for any of them. Every one of these amazing men pressed into their pain, their limitations, their brokenness. They had to learn new ways to do old things. They had to learn to ask for help sometimes. They had to change course in the professional direction of their lives, or make great adjustments in how they were going to get there. But their brokenness does not define them. In a very real way, I could see it, but it was not who they were.

The next day, HUSBAND and I went to watch Wheelchair Rugby. The players I met were joined by two additional players, one of which was a woman. When we walked in, they warmly greeted me…met HUSBAND…had us follow them to the gym where we watched two teams play as they told us the rules and explained some of the strategy. It was ASTOUNDING. The players are fearless athletes who play with every bit of heart and strength they have, never stopping until the last buzzer sounds. It was so exciting, so compelling, that we stayed for several hours and returned the next day to watch the DC team play in one more thrilling game.

DCRugby1

What I did not see from these exceptional humans was their grief stopping them. Of COURSE they wish they did not live life from a wheelchair and that they were playing able-bodied rugby. OF COURSE they would like it if they didn’t know an entirely new vocabulary related to level of injury. OF COURSE they wish they didn’t have to board the plane first because it is difficult to transition from wheelchair to plane seat. Every moment of every day, these people are living with the very present reality of the enormity that one move, one action, one second completely altered the rest of their lives yet they are living. No, they are LIVING – boldly, fully and with completeness.

DCRugby2

Grief sucks, no doubt. But it doesn’t have to take over. I’m overwhelmingly grateful to have found such role models to help me see this. Grief doesn’t have to have the last word.

 

 

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Gifts 1 and 2

friendshipsharingheart

This week, I am going to share gifts of those early weeks. Things or people or support that, looking back, I see were such gifts to me, my heart, my journey. I am deeply grateful for each of them and realize how important they were in mending the unraveling tapestry.

Overbearing SHAME was a crushing emotion I experienced early on. Those first weeks…I walked around in regular life feeling like everyone could see that I WAS A BETRAYED SPOUSE. I checked out of the grocery store and felt like the cashier was looking at me with pity. I took my cat to the vet and felt like the tech was sadly shaking her head…Oh…That Poor Woman…Her Husband Messed Around On Her…That somehow I hadn’t been pretty enough or good enough or supportive enough or cooked enough. That I hadn’t been enough. Bearing the weight of the shame was crushing me, and while sharing in counseling was helpful, I see now that I needed someone – NOT MY BETRAYER – to give me care and validation. Me, for me, and me for the choices I was making at that point.

So one day, when a friend asked to meet for breakfast, I said yes. I had breakfast with this old, dear friend  who had been woven in and through my marriage-kids-life for nearly the whole of it. Before going, I asked HUSBAND if he wanted me to tell Ann or not tell Ann or do anything in particular, and he told me he wanted me to do what would move me toward healing (Gift 1). I went in to the breakfast with no plans to tell Ann. The first 30 minutes, I had no plan to tell Ann. But at the same time, it was like this literal present cloud hanging over our conversation and our presence. It was almost like I could not talk, could not concentrate, could not really focus on anything because this HUGE LIE was looming up between us. This thing that had, in the time it took to read one 3 page letter, forever changed every-single-aspect-of-every-single-moment-of-every-single-day for the rest of my life. And she did not know it. So how could I be sitting in a booth having a conversation about every-day life and our college kids and the service in the restaurant? Eventually she talked of her sadness about some of the pain she was part of…a person close to her saying “so I can’t pay my mortgage and my house is being foreclosed on…do you still love me?” and the next person saying, “I am drinking. And drinking. And drinking. And I can’t stop. Do you still love me? And the next person saying, “I don’t love my wife and I’m seeing someone else. Do you still love me?”

And that’s when I had to tell her.

I softly said, “Ann. Ann.” She looked at me. I said, “HUSBAND had an affair.” She just looked right into my eyes. She asked the caring questions…is it over…how do you feel…what are you going to do… So I told her VERY simply & quickly about the discovery process. And the pain and hurt and fear and recrimination and sickness and all else that goes with it. And I told her that I did not KNOW what I was going to do, but that I was shocked to say I still loved HUSBAND. And that I wanted us to have the chance to work through this situation. HUSBAND was picking me up from this breakfast. I’d texted him to let him know I’d be right out…and then he came in. Slid in the booth next to me. I told HUSBAND that I’d shared our story with her, and then Ann told HUSBAND she loved him, and that we could recover from this. She had amazing words of healing, sharing that it had taken her seven (7) years to get to the point of truly forgiving and forgetting her husband’s affair. She was supportive and wise and loving (Gift 2).

Gift 1, Gift 2. Beautiful things.

Reclaiming.

Tears. Anger. Counseling. Questions. Self-blame. Counseling. Fear. Disgust. Counseling. Leave. Stay. Counseling.

spirograph

These next weeks were a Spirograph of emotions. As all of this was unfolding, my dad was slowly dying, living in our home so we could help my mom out. It is a black time…a period shrouded in such an ominous covering of shadowy pain. To get through all of this, I allowed myself a couple freedoms:

  • Make NO DECISIONS until…
  • Get through the next minute, the next moment. Don’t even look forward to an hour or two, just the next moment.
  • Allow myself to feel honestly, and don’t apologize for those feelings.

As I struggled to fill the gap between the reality that I’d lived for 27 years and the reality that I now knew my life really was for 27 years, I frantically reread diaries and cards and looked at pictures. I pieced these things together trying, trying, trying to see where I had gone so wrong, how I had been so STUPID and searching for the WHY WHY WHY.

My city, the city we had met in, married in, had our babies in, lived in now was tainted from one end to the other with marks of his deceit. No matter where I went in the city, I experienced triggers and questions and sadness and disgust. In a crazy moment, I asked HUSBAND to take me to one of the places that he regularly met his second affair partner so we could look at it together. He agreed. We drove there, him glancing at me with a pained look on his face, and when we arrived, we sat in front of the place and I asked him to describe to me how he arrived, where they parked, what happened. Then we got out of the car, held each other, cried, prayed against the lies and filth that had existed there and begged for that to be replaced with love and beauty and covenant. It was a painfully healing moment.

I realized that we had somehow reclaimed that place. Reclaimed it for the truth and dignity of our marriage from the clutches of secrecy and degradation.

It became my goal to do this everywhere that we could. So, place by place, we traveled around our city, first, then the region. We went to the restaurants, to the “spots,” to the hotels and stood in front of doors or by the river or near the turn off and rid the place of the LIES and ushered in TRUTH. It was crazy bad and incredibly good. Unbelievably, dear friends who were walking alongside us in this journey who had also experienced infidelity, owned a home in the mountains of North Carolina…gave us their house for a week…the same precise week that one year before HUSBAND had been in that same town with SW in a little cabin fucking her and cooking for her and taking her to a restaurant. So on the SAME DAYS one year later, we went to that restaurant, sat in the same seats, tears streaming down my face. We went to the cabin together, sat outside it listening to the rushing creek and grieved together, holding each other, crying and praying. And then the anger started.

My anger escalated during that trip…alcohol may have also been a factor…and nothing HUSBAND did or said could soothe my feelings. He finally, very calmly, got up and started to walk out. WHERE ARE YOU GOING? I screamed. His look of sadness covered him from his face to his posture to his toes and he said quietly, I’m just hurting you, I can’t help, I’ll just go on a walk.

NO! NO! NO! YOU CAUSED THIS! YOU CAN’T WALK OUT! YOU HAVE TO TAKE IT!

And he came back in, picked up one of the many articles we had with us, pulled me next to him and began to read and tears poured out eyes, down my face and onto my chest. At first, I was stiff and resisted, but he just kept reading. The article was written to betrayers, telling them how the betrayed felt and how to deal with their emotions. It was spot on…SPOT ON…EIGHT PAGES and he quietly read, and kept reading, and I got more and more calm and he kept holding me close and reading and telling me how terribly sorry he was.

And then we just held each other and cried and cleansed. Exposed, bare, raw.

He fixed me dinner that night. A beautiful dinner of all things good and we sat on the porch of our healing house, looking at magnificent stars. We reclaimed the place, and there was a small place of hope in me that maybe, we could reclaim us.

North Carolina

That best friend.

The collateral damage from betrayal is an odd an inconsistent thing. As the months wore on in New Marriage History, there were additional peripheral discoveries that sliced off little pieces of my heart and forced responses.

The life-long best friend of HUSBAND had planned a visit to our home while the last affair was in progress. We had traded dates, and shared excitement at his upcoming visit. The trip included fishing with HUSBAND and two of our sons. At the last minute, it was interrupted due to a serious illness within best friend’s family. During the year of the affair, best friend intermittently sent me encouraging facebook messages which I happily responded to.

HUSBAND had promised me that no one knew of his affairs…any of the affairs…NO ONE, ANYTIME. Anyone who has been cheated on understands the multiple layers of pain and of shame and of embarrassment and of anger and of disbelief and of so many other things. I took comfort that no one knew…that at least HUSBAND had kept his filth to himself.

But…HUSBAND told me that he HAD let best friend know that our marriage was in a tough place, and he wasn’t sure we were going to make it. Per HUSBAND, he had asked best friend about his divorce and best friend had STRONGLY encouraged him to work out our marriage at all costs…that divorce SUCKS and that “we could work through anything.” I was grateful for best friend’s support of our marriage, and sent him a facebook message saying “I know HUSBAND shared we had been going through a tough time. Thank you for your faithfulness…for being a rock for him in hard times…for your encouragement. Not sure if it’s possible, but we are trying to work toward reconciliation…” He’d responded with words of warmth and reassurance about our love for each other, and our future. I was thankful for best friend.

A couple weeks later, out of the clear blue, best friend sent HUSBAND an email suggesting HUSBAND come up for a visit for a few days…to get away and get his head cleared. He even went so far as to say that he would pay for the flight, and that he wouldn’t “corrupt HUSBAND’s morals.” Here came that niggling feeling again…

So predictably, over the next few weeks, it came out that best friend was a confidante for HUSBAND’s slime, a safe place for both HUSBAND and SW to go with their thoughts, feelings and plans for the future. That best friend was the one who “sent HUSBAND that shirt” and willingly became the standard cover. That best friend, opening a new company, had invited HUSBAND and me to attend the festivities and let HUSBAND know if I could not attend, SW was welcome too. SERIOUSLY? That best friend was sending me sweet little facebook messages and planning to come stay at my home and go fishing with my sons and meanwhile, that best friend was complicit in the fucking AFFAIR my husband was having with the slut-whore? That best friend sent HUSBAND and email, months after the affair was in the open, saying “contact me asap on the D.L. It’s impotant to you.” I saw the email. HUSBAND called that best friend in front of me, and that best friend said SW had reached out to him the night before and asked him if loved her. IF HE LOVED HER. GOD IT JUST DOESN’T END! The pain of betrayal RIPPED through my entire being all over again. HUSBAND had allowed me to, not only believe that best friend was supportive of our marriage, and an encouragement when HUSBAND was in the dark-fantasy fog of affairdom, but he sat right there and let me send him a thank you. A THANK YOU.

The utter and complete humiliation of it all. The SHAME cloaked me in a bizarre combination of guttural despair and bellicose fury. Somehow this went beyond just the abhorrent indignation of my own betrayal, it now involved best friend and his willingness to be part of my life, our family’s life, while harboring the dark secret of treachery. Oh. The pain.

That best friend. Collateral damage.