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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

The Mourning After

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I realized something the other day.

I no longer remember my ex husband.

Not in any real way.

For a long time, when people asked me what I had loved about him, I could tap into the old feelings and describe the relationship we had (at least from my perspective). With the retelling came the feelings. I felt the love again, not towards him now, but towards who he used to be to me.


I could recite a list of what I had loved, sure.

But it would really be a list. Memorized lines, any emotion borrowed or manufactured.

When I try to remember loving him,  I draw a blank. I can recall moments together, picture the scene, even tell you what was said,  but I can’t occupy myself in those playbacks. I am always an objective observer. A omniscient narrator with the knowledge of what was happening in the bigger picture.

I see us in the last embrace, standing before the prohibited items sign at the security line at Hartsfield Jackson airport. I can feel his breath on my ear as he whispered, “You’ll be back before you know it.” I can still remember the kiss, no  kisses, that morning that ranged from sweet to passionate. I remember that I used to feel secure in his arms and that my respiration would immediately slow.

I can picture that scene perfectly. Yet now when I try to slide into the me of then, feel what she was feeling – anxiety and excitement about seeing my dad again, an ache about leaving my husband, all while trying to mentally rehearse the security procedures, I get stuck. My brain, or maybe it’s my heart, stutters.

Because when he held me that day, he must have been performing some mental rehearsal of his own. He had only a few short days to pack up his life and slip out through the back door. When he held me that day, reassuring me that we would be reunited soon, he knew that he would never see me again. When he held me that day, he really was saying goodbye.

And that damned narrator tags along with any recollection of the past, always reinterpreting and explaining the action occurring off screen, not allowing me to simply feel the moment.

My memory files are corrupt, damaged by the way the marriage ended and the time spent processing its end.

Some may say that’s a good thing, a sign of moving on.

Maybe it is.

But I don’t like it.

I want those sixteen years of life to be able to exist for me. Not in some sterile slideshow way, as they do now, but in a way where I can remember, really remember the times I felt love and loved. I want to remember that woman I used to be, not only the one who was blindly trusting. I used to love him so acutely and now I don’t even know what that felt like. I can remember the pain, but not the pleasure.

It’s like a second loss.

The mourning after.

I mourned the loss of the marriage long ago.

And now I mourn the loss of the memory of the marriage.

Those years truly buried.

And left for dead.


And now I’m enjoying my afterlife.







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30 thoughts on “The Mourning After

  1. It feels protective and healing for the feelings to be gone. Then there’s the “but.” Because it then hurts in a funny way, especially if you have kids, you wonder and they wonder and sometimes ask, “Did ya ever love him/her?”

    Maybe it’ll shift for us again. Maybe it’s temporary for the healing or too confusing to love what betrayed. I suspect, or I hope I can answer my kids’ question when I feel forgiven and I’ve forgiven him, then maybe I can find the trunk hidden the attic and pull it back out, dusty memory, and remember everything it was.

    Nothing’s wasted in life, just transformed.

    I think your post uncorked something, that felt cathartic.

  2. My memory gets occasionally fuzzy too. I wonder how much of this is time, and whether it would be the same for a widow; or whether it is strictly related to the bad memories of divorce, and more particularly, the pain of abandonment. That is, if we lose the memory of the happiness, the pain (of a loved one hurting us) will fade simply because being hurt by someone we no longer feel for is less painful.

    1. **Trigger Alert** possibly
      I’ve observed for several years now some of my close friends who’ve become widows, the first was in 2001, latest in 2012. I’ve come to believe that death rather than divorce allows the widows and their children the ability to hold onto those good, happy memories of the times shared and of the person that their husband was (in their opinion). Death tends to allow them the retention of those good memories while diminishing the bad, ugly, or in other words the “realities” of who that person really was – one of them was outwardly verbally and financially abusive (as observed by others). It’s like the reverse effect of those of us who have or are going through an ugly, hurtful divorce, I can’t remember the last time we were “happy” but definitely remember the last real interaction we had (the words he spoke to me and the assault – leaving me bleeding and injured). While my friends are grieving their loss they can look at photos, mementos, and memories with a good feeling and their kids can do the same. For me it is excruciatingly painful to look at photos of “our family” knowing now what lies were really there all the time. Me, I’m still wondering if I should just burn them all…as for the abandonment issue – although my friends have expressed a level of feeling abandonment more often like being alone it is different. There is usually still connections with extended family members, friends, social groups and they have their children (and don’t have to turn their children over to the influence of the other for “visitation”). Abandonment by choice leaves shattered fragments all over the place and I for one would have preferred to be a “widow” – Divorce is like a death without benefits (and I’m not speaking about finances)! I’m working on getting to that point where I’m Indifferent to him and our former life.

      1. I agree that widowhood may be easier to deal with… at least in regard to being able to treasure the happy memories (if they existed, which in my case they did), keep the family photos on the wall with pride, and bury any ‘issues’ that may have existed.
        My ex-husband wants us to be ‘friends’ for the children’s sake whereas I am aiming for that place of indifference you spoke of which must be better than toxicity. Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it.

  3. That’s an interesting way to describe it… I’ve been having moments of this too. I can look back at the good times, but it’s an effort. I really have to reach way way back. And by the time we actually got divorced, I was well along this road. I have the same bittersweetness about the good times. I wish I could remember the girl I used to be; but on the other hand, I almost don’t want to remember when things were good, when we were happy (or I thought we were), because it feels like a betrayal of who I am now and how hard it’s been to struggle up this hill. Hmm. I’ll be chewing on this for a while. :}

  4. Your last line was the icing on the cake. My therapist asked me one time, “why did you marry her?” I had to take a whole week til I saw the therapist again to give her the answer. Sad.

  5. I suppose I will get there, won’t I? Right now, I wish it would be soon. I guess when I don’t feel the memories, I will regret the loss. Right now, I only regret feeling them.

    1. Unfortunately, healing doesn’t speak calendar. You’ll get there. Probably later than you’d like, but in less time than you need. For now, enjoy the good memories and layer new over the bad. You can guide where your thoughts go.

  6. This is so spot on target. I have a very feint memory for the good times ( which I know we’re many for many of our 25 years together) but for the life of me I can’t quite get them any longer. Lisa, you put into words such a profound idea of this sort of”white-washing” of time and memories that have become mitigated by pain. I know there was once laughter, joy, deep, deep love — but now, I can’t remember much 4 years since she left me. It’s really an astute article you penned and helped me immensely.
    Thank you.

      1. Truly a cathartic blog post that astutely addressed the very thing I couldn’t put into words. This will help a lot of people heal. Thank you again. I’ve bookmarked it to go back and refer to your observations.

  7. Thanks for putting into words what it’s like to lose the emotional attachment to your memories. As it was happening I felt such intense grief, I wanted so much to stop that process, put a halt to my memories going down the drain. In the end there was nothing I could do. It was like the tether from my past to my present was pulled from my hand no matter how hard I tried to hold on.

    One of the last things my ex said to me was “We’ll always have our memories.” I remember thinking, “Yeah, but now those memories hurt, asshole.”

    To know that he was planning to leave as he said “I love you,” as he wrapped his arms around me for reassurance after I’d found an odd sign. My gut was right all along, but my head wanted so much to believe.

    Later I found out that he’d already been to a lawyer, had coldly made a list of how to split our assets, that he was in love with his married coworker…36 years of memories suddenly shifted in meaning. I kept looking at different gifts he’d given me and wondering, “Had he stopped loving me when he gave me this? When did he stop being real?”

    It’s been almost 4 years since he left and there are days I picture him laying in my lap in the back seat of a car as he was taken to the hospital. All the love and concern I felt for him, I can almost feel it again. Sometimes I picture his vivid blue eyes peering at me from behind the surgical mask he wore as our first child was born… how clinging to his strength got me through a very difficult delivery.

    But so many memories are just pictures now.

    1. Memories to pictures. Yes.

      And I so relate to the questioning about when the real stopped and wondering what was happening behind the scenes of my picture memories. It’s like a slideshow where the original narration has been replaced.

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