“My husband and I divorced six months ago. Shortly after the holidays last year, we ended our marriage. In many ways, I feel more relief than grief. Things had been falling apart for some time. And now that it’s all over, I am completely certain that we did the right thing.
Our separation and divorce were pretty nasty. Lots of accusations and mistrust. For my part, I have been able to shield our children – they are 6 and 9 years old – from most of the back and forth, but this has been a tough year for all of us.
Thanksgiving is coming up next week, and I am really messed up about it. I have never had a Thanksgiving or Christmas without my children before, and I worry that I won’t survive this separation. I know that sounds dramatic, but I don’t know how to do this.
I have family and close friends in town, but I am afraid that I’ll drag everyone down with my grief. I don’t want to fake-smile through the weekend. But I also don’t want to be alone. This is my conundrum. What the hell am I supposed to do?
I know you have done this before, so I am hoping you can give me some advice. How do I make it through this first holiday without my babies?
Since I started telling the truth about my life, this is a question that finds its way to my inbox often. Figuring out how to do the holidays after divorce can be so scary and sad.
I first want to say a big “Congratulations!” to you. Making big life changes can be tough, and I think divorce is one of the most difficult things to do. It sounds like this was a healthy decision for you, and I applaud your courage.
You have done this hard thing, and now you will continue to do the next hard things with that much more kindness and tenderness and strength.
On this morning seven years ago, I woke up with a lump in my throat. I had dreaded this day for months. Within an hour, I would say goodbye to my boys as I dropped them off at before-school care just as the sun was waking up. And I wouldn’t see them again until the next Monday after school. All of those hours of family Thanksgiving memories – 123 hours, in fact – I would miss for the very first time. To say I was devastated would not be an overstatement.
On the way to school, the boys and I talked about keeping our Christmas tree up until at least January (it turned out to be February that year, and on purpose!), what presents we’d like to get our puppy and kitty cat. I kept my eyes forward and my grip tight on the steering wheel, channeling all of my focus on the drive so I didn’t have to think about how much my heart was breaking. At least not yet.
After saying our goodbyes and kissing their pink cheeks, I walked out of the school gymnasium toward our car, my body wracked with grief. Slamming the door shut in outrage at what my life had become, I did the only thing I knew to do that would release the pent up rage and fear and agony in me – I screamed “NO!” about a dozen times and sobbed. I beat the steering wheel, too. (That always helps until you accidentally hit the horn.)
The rest of that Thanksgiving holiday is a blur for me. I remember snippets here and there, but the one thing I know for sure is this: I survived it.
Lost, I know what it feels like when the anticipation of this weekend and all it entails is sitting so heavy on your chest you’re afraid you’re going to stop breathing. When your throat aches from screeching out anguishing cries in a whisper so your children don’t hear. And I am here to tell you it’s moments like these that wear down our rock-hard, jagged edges and soften us into the tender, open-hearted people we are meant to become.
On really tough days like this, my friend Bess would text me with some truth bombs. We all need to be reminded of the truest things sometimes, so here are some for you.
You are strong enough to weather this.
No matter how much they hurt, feelings can’t kill.
Being alone is not necessarily a bad thing.
Your people love you and want to shoulder your pain. It’s okay to let them.
My first piece of advice to you is this: feel your feelings.
It is easy to self-medicate with a million things to dull our pain. But it never works, Lost. I have tried nearly everything there is, and I’m here to tell you: it. never. works.
So sit in your grief. Let it seep into your bones. And then share it. With a trusted friend, with your therapist, with the pages of your private journal… Whatever makes sense for you, do it.
Because this taking in and sharing of grief has transformative powers, I believe. Like the caterpillar that hides away in its cocoon, quite literally consuming itself
so that it can come back together again to emerge a butterfly, we must first become undone in order to be made whole.
And then, we must learn how to look inside ourselves to find that safe place, home.
For human beings, I believe the active ingredient in this process is grief. So hold this grief, this gift, tightly to your chest and let it shape you as you share it with those who are standing with you in this season.
One of the biggest challenges for me in parenting after divorce was all of the open time I instantly had when my children were with their dad. It is still a challenge, honestly.
For so many years, mothering consumed my time, my thoughts, everything. Because, well, it had to. Those early years of parenting demand so much of us physically and emotionally.
And then, in a breath, I had 122 days every year without my children. 122 days. That’s a lot of days.
At first, I tried to fill this time with things like browsing the aisles at Target, lining up dates or lady dates so I wouldn’t have to eat a meal by myself, or traveling to visit friends and family out of state. But after a while, that grew so exhausting (and oftentimes financially irresponsible, quite honestly).
One weekend, I had too much month left at the end of my money and had no choice but to stay home. I was admittedly nervous about this predicament I’d found myself in, but it turned out to be one of the most life-giving and replenishing weekends I’d had in a long damn time.
That weekend was the start of me learning to find a home within myself.
On Friday night, I fell asleep to an Austin City Limits re-run streaming on my laptop. Saturday morning, I slept in. Made French press coffee and scrambled eggs in smooth butter for breakfast. Took a long walk with Polly at a park nearby. Finished Cheryl Strayed‘s moving book, Tiny, Beautiful Things and bawled my head off in the best way. Sunday brought church and lunch with my parents and lesson planning for my classes the following week.
I cared for myself the way I would care for my best friend who was going through a crisis and needed a weekend to just breathe and be. It was uneventful and quiet and soul-feeding.
Lost, on the days when you find yourself in an empty home with nothing to keep you busy, learn to care for yourself as if you were your own best friend. It will change your life.
Since that first Thanksgiving without my sweeties, I have had three more like them. It does get easier, but the ache of missing my boys never leaves. I still get choked up when I have to say goodbye for a break. Thoughts of them are always running in the background of my mind, and that’s okay. Beautiful, even.
As you walk through this first Thanksgiving without your babies, I hope you find comfort in your grief, remembering that experiences like these can be catalysts for growth and change that otherwise might be impossible. And I hope you find a home within your beautiful heart, remembering that all the love and care you pour out on others is meant to be poured out on yourself, too.