I miss who I used to be: someone who believed in one love for your whole life, an overly optimistic Pollyanna who could find the silver lining in any situation, someone whose life was simply…
I know that simplicity was always an illusion, one largely supported by the massive privilege I’ve been afforded by my white skin, my cis-gender heterosexual able body, and my stable middle-class upbringing. But even so, I miss the illusion.
The truth is that simple first died more than 8 years ago, when my first marriage blew up unexpectedly and left me an enraged single parent. While I quickly came to understand that the marriage itself hadn’t been very good for me, I grieved the loss of the dream that had been enabled by it. The one where my son grew up in a two parent household, where our mortgage and bills were paid by two incomes, by which we could also afford vacations to the places we’d always dreamed of going. More than any other part of the grief, I mourned the loss of a simple nuclear family like the one I’d grown up in.
And I was right to grieve that, as I learned the complications of two divorced families merging when I married Marrett. Though our children got along fabulously (they still do), the task of managing two custody schedules, four children, and two very different parenting styles left me exhausted for months after our wedding. That we each had unresolved relationships with our ex-spouses was the arsenic sauce on top of our three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich.
Yet I learned from being with Marrett that complicated doesn’t have to mean unhappy. As has happened so many dead things in my life, simple was resurrected. It came to life in small things. Him bringing my first cup of coffee to the bedside table in hopes of dulling my hatred of morning. Me rubbing the knot out of his back in the place it always got tight. The kids playing together around the kitchen table or down in the woods behind our house. Though a simple nuclear family was no longer an option for us, joy was readily available. I learned to draw strength from those every day joys, which enabled me to set boundaries to keep the chaos at bay.
In the last year of our life together though, that strength eroded. When there is an active alcoholic in your family system, there is no amount of joy that can cancel the chaos. The resurrected simplicity I’d found was dying an agonizing second death. The brokenness in the relationships between family members kept deepening, mostly without our understanding why. His relapse was a hidden complication whose effects we could all feel, but whose cause was invisible until after his death. No matter how many joys I counted and boundaries I set, the complication just kept increasing.
Until he died. Then things got painfully simple. I was truly responsible for all the pieces of my life: all the parenting, all the bills, all the housework, all the scheduling. While I grieved every new revelation after he died, I also came to see the whole picture of our life together with a clarity that had eluded me while he lived. The truth about our marriage was simple: his past trauma and disease were a border wall around which we couldn’t reach each other, a third rail which proved literally deadly.
Don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying it’s good that he died. It never will be, no matter how much goodness we find going forward. The management of all the pieces still feels unbearably heavy some days, but it’s not complicated. Even if I don’t like my life right now, I am able to understand why its hard. There is freedom in seeing all the pieces clearly. There is a simplicity to being in charge of your own life again.
And against all odds, there is joy again in the simple things. It’s in the peaceful feeling I get when all the kids are together at my house, knowing that his death didn’t destroy the family we built together. It’s my spirit which has grown wide enough to hold all his goodness and brokenness within my one embrace. It’s in the new possibilities that have emerged right out of the worst thing that’s ever happened. It seems God is never done resurrecting the dying parts of my life.
I hold tightly to that hope moving forward, as I begin to imagine new work, a new family structure, and God willing, a new relationship. Even in my imagination, these things feel impossibly complicated. So I remind myself, often in Marrett’s voice, that complicated doesn’t have to mean unhappy.