When it comes to human sadness, very few seem to have much patience over time. If a loved one dies, people extend condolences, and some feel empathy because they’ve experienced loss before. Then some times passes, and people don’t want to think about it. Not really. Some will feel fresh compassion if they’re reminded of your loss, and try harder to share your grief. Some just distance themselves until you’re ‘more yourself’ again. As though you can get over your grief like a lingering flu.
The truth is that I still miss loved ones that died. It hurts differently over time, but it still hurts. The missing goes on. The memories and ‘what ifs’ and ‘wish I had’ can linger. The change over time that I’ve found with grief from the death of someone I loved, is that where it once felt like I was in the middle of a dark lake and trying to tread water, now it’s more like the unpredictable and intermittent stabs and shudders of missing them, like a wave that comes from behind and momentarily carries me to my knees.
It’s different with a sad and painful marriage. The only people that I know that understand and don’t judge, are those who have lived in that dark, lonely place. I don’t have any clear cut answers. I wish I did. Even those that I’ve known who have left a painful marriage and gotten to the other side of it, didn’t offer platitudes or cliches or false promises. There is no ‘make it all better’ when you’ve gone down this path. There is ‘make it better’, but there is no ‘do over‘.
I’ll never be young again, and so I will never know the innocent and passionate beauty of a man loving that season of my life. I spent my young adult years with a man whose need was (and apparently still is) creating and keeping distance. Push me away, reel me back, repeat. His need to be dispassionate slowly crushed my hope of being passionately desired. I’ll never know what it is to experience a pure, unsullied joy and celebration of intertwining my body, sharing a child, running at a mountaintop together, and sharing wild, carefree, crazy young love. Because I won’t ever be young again. Bittersweet reckoning! There is no looking ahead to hope for a silver or golden anniversary with someone else, or sharing children together, or grandchildren. If you wonder sometimes why someone stays, this is probably part of it.
To be sure, I have some good memories. But I doubt I can find one that’s untainted by the presence of the shadow of the pain. The hurtful dynamics that are part and parcel of a passive aggressive man are in all my memories. Every pregnancy, birth, death, holiday, anniversary, the various homes we lived in, new jobs, milestones, navigating joy and grief, all of it impacted. If the memories were photographs, you’d see it there like a photo bomb. This means every happy memory I retrieve to savor or reflect on, includes pain and sadness. This contributes to the present day struggle of being able to feel happy without simultaneously feeling afraid.
Those of us who have walked long in pain look ahead with some pragmatic trepidation. We could reasonably hope to have a peaceful, blended family. Step-kids who might accept and like us. Sharing step-grandchildren mutually, and hoping we’re appreciated and not resented for loving the children and grandchildren of the man we love. We could hope for love itself, to be loved, and to find someone we can rejoice each day to share life with. Maybe we could hope for twenty years together. We could hope for the love that supersedes wrinkles and gravity. We could hope for someone who would passionately and deeply love our essential being, because we can no longer offer our youth.
Maybe this is why those of us who have walked too many years on this path can come across as so black and white in our advice to younger women. We want to scream at those in an abusive relationship, “Run, run, run!” and if they do run, we want to cheer, “Don’t look back! Be safe! Be wise! Be thankful, and be as happy as you reasonably can in this world!”