Love Without End, Amen

Dad and Me

When my sister and I each got married, in 1991 and 1994 respectively, our dad chose the same song for our Father-Daughter dances: George Strait’s “Love Without End, Amen.” It’s a song that he would often sing to us and it perfectly conveyed the bond that we shared with him.

Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love

A secret that my daddy said was just between us

He said, “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then

It’s a love without end, amen.”

A few days before I got married, I remember Dad standing in front of our living room window, silently staring out at the yard. I stopped in my tracks, seeing him deep in thought, and something told me to take a picture of that moment in my mind. It hit me hard that this would be one of the last times that we would be together in a room like this, just a daddy and his little girl. He turned to look at me and I saw something in his eyes that made me realize he was feeling the same thing. I went to him, put my arms around him and sobbed into his shoulder for a very long time. I missed him so much already.

My dad died this month. It was sudden and unexpected and the loss is so deep and cavernous that it’s difficult to believe we will ever reach the bottom of it. The days since he passed, as my sister so eloquently puts it, have been filled with heartbreaking lows and breathtaking highs. There are many signs that he is close by, comforting us and still walking beside us in a very real way.

In our grief, the love of our close-knit family has been a continual source of strength. When we are all together, we feel Dad with us and it’s impossible not to remember that he was the one who first taught us love and is still teaching us about love from the Other Side. Only in this case, it is a lesson we aren’t quite ready to be taught – how love grows stronger even when one of us is physically absent from our day to day lives.

My mom recently found a letter I’d written to Dad in 1994. I guess he’d been saving it all these years. Part of it reads:

 “I can’t imagine what our family would have been like without you. Our home certainly wouldn’t have been filled with as much laughter and love without such a special man at the centre of it all.

I (have) a difficult time listening to women talking about their fathers in the past tense. I, too, can hardly imagine surviving without knowing you are so nearby. Even now, when we have to go our separate ways, like when I had to catch a bus to return to work after we met for lunch, I still feel a sense of loss. I guess that’s why I felt the need to call you later that same afternoon.

I wish, sometimes, that I would have stayed little forever and we could spend all the time together that we wanted to.”

It’s impossible to sum up what a wonderful father and grandfather we had in Dad. As my sister so aptly says, “We really won the parent lottery with Mom and Dad.” Dad was our hero, our mentor, our compass and our biggest fan. And, just when we thought the love he gave so freely couldn’t get much bigger or better, his enormous capacity to love grew exponentially when he became a grandpa.

So many memories and stories have flooded into and through us this month that it’s difficult to mention only one without adding in at least four or five more. Yet the one that has come up most frequently is a real example of the man our dad was.

After retiring from full-time work, Dad landed his dream job volunteering as a high school football coach. He loved to encourage young talent and nurture the love of the game in others. Every year at training camp, when he was given a group of offensive line or defensive line recruits to work with, he would ask them, “What’s my job?”

Naturally, they’d answer: “coach us” or “teach us how to play football” or “develop plays for us.”

But inevitably, he’d say: “No. My job is to love you. And do you know what your job is?”

Realizing how off-base they were with their initial responses, most players would keep quiet at this point.

“Your job is to love one another and to love yourself,” he’d tell them.

Love was the first thing he taught these young men and it was the main rule he insisted that they live and play by. Now imagine what it was like having this remarkable man as your father and you get an idea of the legacy of love he has left our family.

I miss you so much, Dad, but I love you even more. I am so grateful to have been born into a family that always told one another how much we loved and were loved in return.  Whenever I feel my heart starting to ache with sadness, you still put your arms around me and I am instantly surrounded by your love. And you remind me in your own way that it’s a love without end, amen.

Find Your Tribe #1: Sharon

I’m excited to introduce a new series called “Find Your Tribe” – a reflection of the amazing people we meet and who resonate with us following divorce. We find a deep connection and sense of acceptance among those who have lived similar emotional experiences as us. By sharing our stories and learning from one another, we are able to heal, grow and be inspired to become better versions of ourselves.

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I’d like you to meet Sharon, who instantly became one of my favorite people the first time I met her. Sharon is a business owner, IT consultant, Integral Master Coach™, brilliant artist and an all-around inspiring, dynamic lady who embodies the words “feisty” and “fierce.” I truly admire her beautiful heart, resilient spirit and the empowering way Sharon chooses to live her life. I think you will too.     

Can you please share a little bit about your situation?

I’m in the process of divorcing my second husband, who is a really nice guy, but who never really challenged me. He is supportive, but what I really need is someone who can inspire and shake me up from time to time. We were two very different people who met when we both needed some company and we really enjoyed each other for several years. Yet, at least for me, it wasn’t very passionate. I mean I loved him and cared about him, but I felt I was living life doing my own thing alongside someone without any of his own friends or interests. For the past five years, I have been telling him, “You really need a hobby,” and he’d say, “You are my hobby.” That put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. Ultimately, we shared some good times, travelling and having fun together, but there never really was a deep emotional connection between us. Or more accurately, for me.

In what ways is your second divorce different from your first?

My first husband and I had a really incredible love affair. Our relationship resulted in the birth of our daughter and we still have a deep connection mainly because of her. The marriage ended because I found out he was having an affair. Two months later, I moved out of the house and soon after, learned his girlfriend was pregnant. I was devastated and heartbroken and suddenly found myself a single mom to a four-year-old. Emotionally, I wasn’t prepared to deal with the end of my first marriage.

This time around, I knew in my heart that things just weren’t right for me, so my decision feels almost peaceful, though I realize and acknowledge the heartache I caused leaving my second husband.

There are people I know who believed I was lucky to live the life I had – and I really was. I still am. But there’s just no “juice” in that relationship for me. To stay with someone another 30 years just to live a comfortable life makes no sense. I also couldn’t live a lie and look my now 26-year-old daughter in the eye. She knows her mom and knows this relationship wasn’t right for me. I want to show her that love relationships need to be healthy and that people need to be true to themselves.

What has divorce taught you about yourself?

I’ve learned a deeper level of kindness, not only for my partners, but for myself. I’ve also learned that some people change while others, even if they know it’s the one thing that will help you stay together, don’t have the capability, capacity or desire to do so. Some people evolve and some get left behind and I no longer feel responsible for driving and sustaining another person’s happiness or social connections.

I’ve realized that I have been deeply loved in my life, but only when I started to connect to self-love did I really “know” what I am all about at the core and what type of partner will feed that.

Where are you at this point in your life?

I think I’m at a place of transition as there’s really a major shift happening. I feel more honest with myself. I feel lighter. I’m also feeling embodied in self-realization: this is who I am and these are the things I want to do. From now on, I can pick what to do with my time and choose who I spend that time with. As I get older, I realize that my sensibilities and the list of things I refuse to compromise on gets shorter but becomes more critical. In the past two and a half months, I’ve had three people in my life pass away. It sounds so cliché, but life really is short, and that’s why I want to wake up every morning and feel that my heart is full. There’s a lot of people and situations you cannot change, but you can choose your attitude and choose how you get through them.

Fill in the blanks: “Divorce has made me less ____ and more _____.”

Divorce has made me less bitchy (laughs) and also less manic, as I reached a point where I was trying to keep myself busy to avoid emotional or physical interaction in my marriage. And I would say that divorce has made me more grounded and certainly, more peaceful.

Do you think you’ll ever get married again?

I’m not in that head space yet. While I’m not putting my energy into finding a new relationship in the immediate future, I am looking forward to building more connections with people, including men, but not necessarily in the romantic sense.

What do you do to lift your spirits when you’re feeling sad or alone?

It’s funny, but I think for the first time, I’m embracing the solitude. Even when I spent time alone before, I always felt this tug of obligation that I should be doing something with my husband instead. This cloud was always hovering. But now when I come home, I feel more relaxed. Don’t get me wrong, solitude has its downsides too, but what keeps me going is the tenderness of the people who really care about me. I honestly did not realize how big and sincere of a fan club I had, and I’m really buoyed and energized by them. It’s almost like they’re holding me up in some way. Even when I’m by myself, I feel them and know they’ve always got my back.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

I’m in the process of opening a new studio with an office for my coaching clients as well as an inspiring art space where I can paint and create and invite my friends to do the same. I’m looking forward to having a warm, welcoming space where people can feel safe and comfortable to express themselves in ways they’re not accustomed to. I have some travel plans in the year ahead, too – a road trip with my daughter as well as some getaways with friends to Florida, New York and Cancun for a yoga retreat.

But I think the thing I’m looking forward to most is the unknown and to the possibility of things. I have no idea what’s around the corner. I’m one of these people who doesn’t fear change or surprises. There really are no guarantees so you have to keep moving forward.

What three pieces of advice would you give to others going through divorce?

One: Make space and time to rest and just “be” in the emotions that you’re experiencing because they’re all valid. You need an opportunity to connect to them and own them.

Two: Relationships are hard; we all do our best every day, but sometimes things still fall apart. Don’t blame yourself. A lot of people fall into the “woe is me” trap, but that doesn’t help anyone. You’ve got to move forward. You’ve got to get up in the morning, wash your face, have a cup of coffee and get on with your day. At the same time, if you need to cry, even in front of your kids, that’s okay too. They will see that you’re human and that life isn’t always easy. There’s an authenticity that comes from being true to yourself and to your feelings.

Three: Lastly, I’d say be kind to yourself. It’s one of the hardest things for us to do, but it’s so important to remember that you are enough and that you are worthy.

The Birthday Blog

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This week, the blog turned one and I turned 46.

When I first started this project, I was in need of some renewal and purpose in the post-holiday season. January is a cold and depressing month, and even though it’s my birthday, I seem to be ultra-sensitive to everyone’s grumbling which makes me susceptible to the blahs.

But January is also the beginning of a new year and a good time for a fresh start, so I went in search of a new creative pursuit. I had always thought about starting my own blog but couldn’t come up with a worthy theme. Up until 12 months ago, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I had plenty of material to mine in my own backyard.

A few people suggested I write about the things I’d been dealing with since my divorce, but I had been avoiding it for fear of reliving the pain – which had subsided but not altogether disappeared. As I revisited the journal I kept after my marriage ended, I realized that grief still had a stranglehold on me. It was preventing me from fully opening up and allowing myself to be vulnerable in many aspects of my life – in my relationships, in my work and in my writing.

So I started this blog as a way to work through my layers of “stuff” and to hopefully find and accept the reason for my divorce. As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

As those dots began to connect, I started to truly understand how cathartic it was to talk about what I’d experienced. And then an amazing thing happened. Other people reached out to me with their stories. Some said they could relate my musings to their own lives, even if they had not gone through a divorce. I also discovered a community of fellow bloggers and found comfort and kinship in how they shared their “stuff” too.

Over the past year, writing about my divorce has taught me about letting go, moving on and finding gratitude – but it’s your support, kindness and encouragement that has really been transformative. Thank you for helping me to find purpose and meaning where there was once only darkness. Dear readers – you too, are a gift. I am not sure which direction the blog will take in the year ahead, but I am looking forward to the journey even if that means revisiting the past. I hope you will join me.

When The World Ends

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Facebook just reminded me that five years ago today, I wrote this on my wall:

“But don’t you worry ‘bout a thing.”

…I was echoing lyrics to a Dave Matthews Band song called When the World Ends.

The irony in this is ridiculous because 72 hours after posting it came the annihilation of my 20-year marriage.

At first, I was mad that Facebook threw that tidbit back at me. I don’t need a reminder of my naïveté in the finals hours leading up to Destruction Day. Especially not this weekend. I remember all too vividly how things unfolded, thank you very much.

But a few hours later, I realize maybe there was a serendipitous reason I needed to see that message today.

As the 5th anniversary of that milestone circles around once again, I must remember that while my relationship ended, my world did not. Sometimes, the universe just has to shake you up to wake you up. It may have felt like free-falling at the time, but I’d eventually land on my feet and everything would be okay. Better, in fact.

Five years ago this week, I survived the end of my marriage. And really, I didn’t have to worry ‘bout a thing.

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Leaning Toward the Light

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One of the earliest lessons in my divorce recovery was finding ways to treat myself with kindness. Funny how the last person we show gentleness and compassion to is ourselves.

So I started buying fresh-cut flowers – I mean the good ones. I love flowers. They breathe life into my space, slow me down and reduce my stress level. It’s not just all in my head, either: a Harvard University study proved that we have an emotional response to having a flowers at home. They have a positive effect on our well-being, strengthening feelings of compassion while decreasing depression, anxiety and worry.

Some say flowers are indulgent or a waste of money (they die anyway), but I say they’re even better than splurging on a bottle of wine (the bottle empties anyway). Hey, if you’re going to self-medicate, flowers have a more natural and healthful impact on mood and they won’t leave you with a hangover or drunk-dialing regrets.

Despite what chick flicks tell us, it’s perfectly fine to buy your own bouquet. Being kind to yourself is not sad or pitiful. What is sad is waiting around for someone else to pamper you so that you can feel good. Trust me on this. Buy your own flowers. Or a spa day. Or new sheets and lingerie. Or draw a scented bubble bath with candles. Date yourself, for crying out loud. You’re a catch!

I discovered that fresh flowers are not only a joy trigger for me, they are a continual source of inspiration. They grow through dirt just as I know the experience I’ve been through will make me stronger and wiser (“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all” – Disney’s Mulan). Expectant buds unfold petal by petal until they fully blossom; I’m finally coming into my own by discovering the extent of who I am.

Flowers are awesome in that no matter where their vase is placed, they will tilt to seek out the sunshine. They remind me that leaning toward the light and focusing on gratitude is what heals my heart and nourishes my soul.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Be kind to yourself. 

The Power of Three

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“Congratulations, you have a Million Dollar Family!” A well-meaning relative celebrated the news of our son’s birth in 1998 as if we’d won the gender lottery – one girl and one boy. Serendipitous symmetry afforded us the portrait of a perfect, happy, family: a mom, a dad, a daughter, a son.

Being a unit of four is certainly great in a lot of ways. Four chairs fit nicely around a square restaurant table. In the car, everyone has their own seat without anyone forced to sit on the hump. No one gets outnumbered in arguments. Hotel rooms with two beds are easy to book. Even pizza slices neatly into eights or twelves.

But then, quite suddenly, there was three of us.

While the kids continued to have a relationship with their father, there was just three of us living in a home built by four. Over the years, the kids and I had plenty of opportunities to hold down the fort just fine while my ex was away on business. I’ll admit I cherished those times. Instead of spending evenings apart in our own separate quarters, we would inexplicably gather together in one room to watch a video, share a snack, cuddle or talk. The three of us laughed more, it seems, because things felt more harmonious and relaxed. Or maybe it was just me.

But things were different now. With their father gone, I was hypervigilant about being the lone captain, keeping close watch on the bridge so that our ship stayed upright. I hoped the kids didn’t doubt that I could handle it on my own. If they did, they didn’t let on. I constantly assured them that we’d be fine and that we were still a family although dad didn’t live here anymore, but yet I worried they felt a void at home.

I grasped onto the Power of Three. After all, a three-legged stool is just as sturdy as a chair with four legs and I wanted to show the kids that our new home life could be just as good, if not better, than the one they grew up knowing.

For writers, the Power of Three is a principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying and easier to remember (“Veni, vidi, vici” or “Stop, look and listen”). Stage and screenplays are written in a three-act structure. In fact, a great deal of our cultural upbringing is made of triplets and trios: Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs, Three Wise Men. Three is also a mystical number, if you are inclined to believe; in numerology, it denotes joy, inspiration and a moving forward of energy.

As quickly as I removed photos and mementos of the past from our home, I replaced them with subliminal reminders of the Power of Three. We have a curio shelf containing three miniature vases, three gold ornamental apples and three bamboo hedgehogs. Over our fireplace mantel is metal wall art featuring three tall trees, flourishing.

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At the time, my Mama Bear instinct used the Power of Three to protect, comfort and reassure, but looking back, I question if it was entirely the right thing to do. I wonder if it was actually my way of closing ranks; of not only proving myself as the steadfast parent but trying to shut out my ex by saying, “See? We didn’t need him anyway.” Perhaps, perhaps.

Fortunately, my daughter and son showed amazing resilience and coping skills as our household went from four to three and, since my new partner joined us, back to four again. Even if I made a few missteps in my parenting choices post-divorce, I am able to forgive myself because of the two extraordinary human beings who continue to live and thrive under this roof.

We may no longer be considered a Million Dollar Family by some people, but my kids are a reminder that I hit the jackpot.

Switching Off the Negative

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I first encountered my shadow late at night. It was shortly after my separation when I was at my most vulnerable, the best time for sinister shadows to slither out from their shady corners. It attached itself to me and from then on, followed me everywhere. It tried to drag me back down into the darkness by creating fear. The fear that I am not enough. That I am not lovable. That I am 40 and alone.

My shadow played an endless loop of negative, self-defeating and sometimes self-destructive thoughts in my head. It became a dangerously addictive soundtrack and that fear only perpetuated my anger. Sure, resentment and blame made me feel better, at least temporarily, as I rehashed my sob story (“I don’t deserve this. This is so unfair.”). But playing the victim and dredging up the misery of past events only fed into the fear; and my shadow loved every minute of it.

My shadow’s name? Ego.

“When you recognize that negative voice in your head as the ego, you also become aware that you are not that voice,” explains Mary Holloway, a speaker, writer and resilience coach. “You become aware that you have a higher self; and the higher self and the ego (lower self) cannot co-exist.”

Holloway says if the ego is the shadow, think of the higher self as the light switch. It comes from a place of love. Flick on the light and the shadow disappears.

“This awareness makes you realize that you no longer have to react to the fear because your thoughts are not you, they are from your ego,” she says. “When you come into awareness, you can move above these thoughts and shift your perspective from negative, fear-based thoughts to ones that serve you positively.”

Once I called out my ego, I took back my power by replacing the negativity with self-assured talk from my higher self. I even created my own mantra to drown out destructive thoughts that I am not worthy:

I want what I deserve, and I deserve what I want. 

I want what I deserve, and I deserve what I want.

It wasn’t instant nor as simple as deciding to turn my ego off, but getting to a place of awareness allowed me to see the shadow for what it was. It wasn’t reality and I didn’t have to react to it. Even when my shadow tries to play that loop of lies (and it still does) I just record a better track over it. I know that I am lovable. I know that I am surrounded by people who love me. I know that I am enough.

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, opening up the discussion about mental health. Emotional self-care during divorce is a valid part of that conversation. http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/

Thanks with an “Ex”

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“Gratitude: Mixed Media” by Isa Tyler

I carried around my hurt, anger and resentment for so long that the weight of it felt normal. Despite all I’d read about forgiveness being for the forgiver, I just couldn’t reach that point. I still struggle with it; even now, I’m not sure I will ever completely get there.

One day, I confided to my counsellor that I felt far too consumed by toxic thoughts. Of course I had every reason to be bitter; I had done what I was “supposed” to do and my marriage still fell apart. I had been fully committed to our home and family and yet, it wasn’t enough to hold it all together ‘til death do us part.

My counsellor suggested that I replace my hostility with gratitude, even going so far as to write an unsent thank-you note to my ex. Thank you? Thank you for what? My blood pressure spiked.

She reminded me how my nature as a nurturer meant that I would’ve never walked away from my marriage. It’s simply not in my DNA. To quote Audrey Hepburn, “If I get married, I want to be very married.” In my book, taking vows meant accepting a lifelong gig; it was not fathomable that we would divorce, let alone me instigating a split.

I had to reconcile my relationship values with knowing that my life is much closer to what I always wanted it to be on the other side of divorce. Okay, maybe my world did need to be shaken to the core so that I could grow and redefine myself. But even if my marriage had an expiry date, something cataclysmic still HAD to happen in order for me to admit it was over. And for that alone, my counsellor said, I should thank my ex.

She suggested that every time I feel my anger rising, I should say a quiet thank you instead because it will help me let go. So I do. And it’s opened me up enough to let the light of gratitude in. It’s only a start, but now I can say…

Thank you for revealing the truth about our marriage.

Thank you for teaching me that not all relationships are built to last.

Thank you for helping me to realize that it’s better to become who I want to be instead of trying to fix who I could’ve been, should’ve been or never really was.

Thank you for freeing me so that I could go out and find the love I was meant to have.

Thank you for presenting me with an opportunity to discover that I am so much stronger and resilient than I ever imagined.

The Head and The Heart

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“We are never fully prepared for the depth of emotions that losing a loved one brings. If the death is unexpected, it will be a huge shock.  The causes of unexpected deaths are wide and varied, but irrespective of the cause – the fact is that you will not be ready for it. Those that are left behind often feel stunned, and suddenly find themselves living in a surreal world without their loved one.

“At the other end of the spectrum, an expected death brings different emotions. Even though you are prepared for it and have said all that you can say, including your goodbyes, it doesn’t make it any easier. Often the lead up to death  can be excruciatingly painful and stressful to all those involved, so your loved one’s departure could result in an immense feeling of relief.”

(From “Dealing with Death, A Personal Perspective” by Donna Raynel)

If you substitute the word “divorce” for “death” in the above passage from Ms. Raynel’s website Not Alone, you may be able to see how the two life experiences are closely related. Like the newly bereaved, I went into survival mode upon the unexpected death of my marriage. Despite going through the motions and ensuring that our daily routine still continued, I lived on auto pilot those first few months. I did what I had to do so that the kids and I would get by. And to survive the pain.

It wasn’t until I went for a tarot card reading that I realized I may have been productive intellectually, but I was low functioning emotionally. The first card I pulled from the deck was the Three of Swords:

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That’s a scary looking card, and the powerful, piercing imagery is ominous. But the meaning, as it was described to me, is quite enlightening. In tarot, swords often have to do with our mental function. Translated, it’s about managing difficult emotional circumstances (like death or divorce) where we have to make tough, headstrong decisions. It signifies the interaction between the head and the heart energies.

My intrepid tarot card reader explained it this way: picture a cartoon brain and a cartoon heart about to depart on a road trip. The heart is a wailing, weepy mess, so the brain protectively says, “It’s okay. I know that you’re in no shape to drive. Hop in the backseat and I’ll steer us along until you’re up to the task.”

The cards didn’t lie: I was certainly in survival mode. I busied myself with mental tasks – dealing with lawyers, realtors, bankers and the like – so I didn’t have to feel too much. But seeing the Three of Swords revealed an undeniable truth. It was time to allow my heart to get back into the driver’s seat and start the grieving process, even though it was going to hurt like hell.

As in coping with death, there would be no short cuts on my personal divorce journey. I had to feel it to heal it.

About This Too, Was a Gift

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Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

This poem by Mary Oliver really captures how I feel about my divorce, especially all of the personal discoveries and life experiences that have come since. Even though my marriage is over, I gradually started to appreciate (yes, appreciate!) this ending as a new beginning. It’s true what they say: this is the part where you find out who you are.