I was a child when my father died without warning. Now, 40 years later, my memories of that time are blurry and ill-defined. There is, however, one part I distinctly remember: the grief of my mother.
Only 46 years old, with failing health, my mother bore the loss of her best friend, soulmate, and lover bravely; our small community rallied to support her as she found her way …… until the one year mark.
At precisely one year, without ceremony or notice, it became offensive for my mother to grieve in any way. In fact, even mentioning my father’s name was suddenly taboo.
And so my sweet mother faded quietly into her private grief. So great was her grief that she left our tiny community and sought a job hundreds of miles away from clucking tongues and judgmental church ladies.
Watching my mother mourn in silence became the most devastating part of my father’s death. Yes, she found a new life. She even found happiness and community. But she was changed, and she carried her grief with her until she died.
Now, years after divorcing a sex addict, I find myself bearing a familiar yet wildly different socially unacceptable grief.
We spouses of sex addicts carry a shameful, misunderstood grief. We save our tears for therapist’s sofas or the darkness when we are alone.
Holidays are brutal reminders of what might have been. Weddings make us cynical. Our children’s birthdays remind us of learning that our husbands had left us alone in hospitals after we bore their babies; not to grab a bite to eat as we thought, but to grab a quick blow job on the corner because the birth had been so hard on them.
We are forever changed; there is no way back to who we once were. We grieve the loss of our safe, peaceful lives, but even more deeply we grieve the loss of our former selves.
We loose our faith, our trust in humanity, our security, our ability to sleep peacefully, our pasts, presents, & futures, our financial security and sometimes, if our abusers are particularly cruel, we even lose our children and our health.
We struggle to make sense of every memory in light of incomprehensible new truths. Did he bring flowers because he had sex with another man at the nudist colony that day? Did he offer to run to the store because he could grab a quickie in the Home Depot parking lot?
Nothing remains unquestioned.
Just when we are at our most vulnerable, we even lose the ability to relate honestly to our closest friends and family. We carry our burdens alone, understood only by those who have walked our path and survived.
Our grief is not Facebook-friendly. And so we, with gaping holes where our hearts once sat, go about our days quietly, bearing the grief and pretending to be OK. There will be no heart emojis for us.