Because I'm the Mom

How mothering pervades all relationships in life.

How Good Wives Survive Bad Marriages

Your marriage–and so your life–feel over. Now what?

It turns out there are a lot of brave wives out there upon whom much has crashed down. There are so many of us living with, what a dear friend so wisely calls, a Great Ache. It's like with miscarriages. We never talk about them. We rarely share the experience with each other. We suffer alone, often not even telling our families or our closest friends. And then, we're in the "Powder Room" at Macy's or Nordstrom and somehow -- who ever knows how -- we're telling a complete stranger about the babies we lost and how shattered we are and it all comes tumbling out. I mourned  a miscarriage more open-heartedly with a woman in a Macy's bathroom once than I did with my then husband or any of my dearest friends. Why? How is that possible?

Anonymous Grief Relief

Why is asking for help from those in the best position to give it so hard for us? Why do we run from deep, intimate comfort? In some ways, this kind of grief relief can be like (sorry, this is crude and what do I know but...) anonymous bathhouse sex. Complete stranger. No strings. Feels oddly safe yet, well, isn't. You let go in ways you can't with true intimacy but somehow you are freer. Same with all the silent horrors that go on in marriages gone wrong. Why don't we tell each other what's really going on?? Why all the silence and shame?

Opening the floodgates of midlife marital meltdowns

The internet allows some of the same grief relief, hopefully more safely and with more prolongued opportunities for healing. We endure a lot in marriage. We hang in and hang on for all kinds of reasons that nobody gets to judge, I say. The betrayal of a marriage is a specific and special kind of  hell. I'm hearing from a lot of women going through this inferno. Here's one courageous soul whose story feels like so many others. I want her to know she is not alone. I know that's not comforting, but it's still true. And she will get through it - which isn't comforting either. But also true.

"....tell me my pain is valid."

Here is a woman with her Great Ache. She wrote:

I am getting help, but it is still overwhelming. I start an anti-depressant today. Although this goes against your no-hierarchy credo, maybe I just needed you, a member of the Real-Reasons-for-Grief Club to tell me my pain is valid. I just saw your post on When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages. That's essentially my story. We are trying to work it out, but I don't think we can get "it" back. My life is filled with a sad, desperate longing for what I thought I had. I feel you would tell me to look forward, not backward. To stop trying to recreate something that is not only gone, it never existed, and to embrace possibilities for a different future whether or not it is with the same person. But its the only thing I want from life & nothing else will do. Thank you for caring.

Here's what I want her - and all of us - to remember:

All of this is really sad and hard and sucky and I'm so, so very sorry. Believe me, I understand. And having come out on the other side, I promise you there is light. There is LIGHT and hope and real growth and new opportunities for love and life. But in some ways it will always suck. And making peace with that is not defeat, it's liberating. There will always be a loss. Okay.

But NOW IT SUPER SUCKS. And don't let anybody diminish that. No comparisons. No judgments. Reject the impulse to rate your grief or loss against any other. The loss of my beloved brother, to me, is the Greatest Ache of my life. Ever. Done. But it's only mine. Your grief over your marriage is yours. Only yours. Nobody competes. Nobody compares.

Please, I have no real credo other than give yourself the same compassionate lovingkindness I KNOW you'd give to any other person in your situation. I have no more real reasons to grieve than anybody else. Please. You are suffering. Suffering is suffering. Feelings are feelings. Nobody gets a vote on their value or power but YOU!!

Protect your pain. It's yours. And the only way through it is to be in it and the only way to be in it is to let it be whatever it is. I would invite you to look both forward and backward. Look where you look. I would invite you NOT TO FIGHT against any of your feelings or impulses or yearnings! It's the fight that is the suffering.

You can't do all those wonderful things - feel hopeful, look forward, let go, embrace possibilities… without really sitting in and with the truth of the sadness, the energy of the pain.

The comfort, in my humble and broken opinion, is in our ability to get rid of the storyline about the pain. The pain is energy. IT is OUR energy, our experience fueling feelings and movement and motion and emotion. It's the storyline behind that energy/potential that causes our suffering. For me, meditation and the loving guidance of a remarkable Buddhist therapist have opened my broken heart enough to let some breath and space between the pain energy and the story underneath it. In those moments of space, those precious, transformative, quiet moments, I can feel the love of the pain, the LOVE truth of the pain and it becomes love energy and capaciousness, rather than a giant black, soul-sucking abyss.

From death to life. From death to love. I know it sounds insane. Maybe it is. I don't care. And in that capaciousness, that space, I heal. I grow. I understand clearly where I am going. And if I feel like I want to die later that afternoon, I gently remind my mind and my heart that feelings are just the weather, and they change, and the 'truth' of me, the root of me, is loved, loving, and wants not only to live, but to live in compassion. to live a life of justice and of benefit to others. To live in my beloved brother's light.

Make NO MISTAKE. IT STILL SUCKS. It is not enough and will never be. And I am enraged and feel cheated by the loss of my brother at the highest levels of existence and beyond. And yet, I also breathe into that pain and sob into that breath and there's that space again, there's that moment again of space and peace and the heart of me that feels the most me of me. Sending love and light.

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

more...

Subscribe to Because I'm the Mom

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?