I still get the odd phone call.
Phone calls of shock and disbelief from people who had heard years ago, but are still coming to terms with it – or who are just struck by the finality of it after bumping into one of us.
I got one such call yesterday and found myself negotiating what has become a familiar, dual role. I’ve had a lot of time to get accustomed to my new reality. In less than three months, it will be a whopping six years since the separation, and two years since the divorce.
Six years is a long time, and for me, this amount of time has been more than adequate for me to make sense of the past and get over it to the extent possible. We were separated for so long that I don’t feel ‘newly-divorced.’ But it’s different for others who haven’t seen either of us in a while. Still a lot to absorb and try and get over, I mean. And so when I do get those traumatized phone calls, I find myself playing the role of consoler, while trying to avoid getting swallowed up by the trauma myself. I feel obligated to mourn with those who mourn, over something that I’m personally done mourning about. And so I listen politely and make all the right noises, and genuinely feel bad that they’re feeling bad, and feel bad along with them that the marriage had to come to this awful, screeching halt. But I do so as someone who has already mourned. There’s a difference, you know, between someone that ‘just heard’ and someone that heard long ago.
In situations like this, I always tend to use my father’s death as a reference point, but I guess that’s because it’s the one death that has had the greatest impact on me. Even though next month will make it seven years since he died, I still get phone calls from people who have just heard, or who heard long ago but never quite had a chance to reach out – or wanted to, but didn’t quite know how. At such times, I comfort the distraught caller, fully understanding the rush of emotions, having experienced them myself time and again. I honor their grief by giving them time to express their shock and disbelief. It would be easy enough to hurry them along, comforting them with the assurance that all is well and that my mother, siblings, and I are doing well despite the circumstances. But that’s the last thing I want to do. I allow them to pay their respects to that which is honorable. (And marriage is no less honorable.) But as I do this, I’m careful not to transport myself back to where I was seven years ago when I first got the news of my father’s death. I mean, it’s never really over. But it’s over. I will always mourn that horrible incident. But I’m a mourner who has already mourned.
The same thing applies to the marriage I once had. As I comfort those who mourn, I don’t want this practice to take me steps backward. Oftentimes, in people’s well-meaning minds, there is this deep hope for a turn-around in the present state of affairs, and this hope is usually expressed very clearly. And so, I have to negotiate these conversations very carefully, not wanting to upset the mourner further, but wanting to care for myself, too. I see not dealing with and living in reality as particularly bad for my health.
The analogy between these two important deaths in my life (the death of my father and the death of my marriage) is something that I can go on and on about. There is a major point that sets them apart, though: No one expects my Dad to miraculously rise from the dead.