The Pickled Wedding Dress

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My wedding gown has been folded up in a cardboard box since 1991. Even though I designed it and had it custom made just for me, I didn’t bother having it preserved. Of course I’ve thought about throwing it away, yet as the most beautiful dress I have ever worn, I can’t quite bring myself to take it out to the curb.

My daughter doesn’t want it either and I don’t blame her a bit. I suppose I could donate it, but there is that superstitious part of me that worries residual bad luck might rub off on the starry-eyed bride that wears it next. So it remains in storage, still dusted with odd bits of confetti that well-wishers showered upon me 25 years ago.

So I’ve had zero ideas on what to do with my gown. Until I saw the Pickled Wedding Dress.

Now on exhibit at the Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles is a silk floral wedding dress crammed in a pickle jar. It is owned by a San Francisco woman whose husband told her that he felt “stuck” in their seven-year marriage and “probably” didn’t love her anymore.

“He’s been gone a year and I haven’t really known what to do with the dress,” writes the anonymous owner. “Every option has felt wrong. I hate throwing perfectly functional items in landfills and would hate to see someone walking around in my once beautiful but now sadness-infused dress.”

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She goes on to say that she didn’t like looking at it either, so she stuffed it down inside a jar “mostly for space reasons but any sort of appropriate pickle metaphors can also be invoked.” Truly inspired.

The Museum of Broken Relationships, which opened earlier this month, has 115 heartbreaking artifacts from jilted lovers – a case filled with mixtapes, a ripped-out payphone, a dried-out prom corsage, excised silicone breast implants, even an ax that one woman used to destroy her cheating husband’s furniture – along with the story behind each of them.

And in case you’re wondering, the museum is open to receiving future donations, too: “Have you ever had a broken heart? If you’ve wished to unburden the emotional load by erasing everything that reminds you of that painful experience by throwing it all away – don’t. Give it to us,” the curators plead. “Donate your object to the museum and take part in the creation of collective emotional history.”

According to the museum’s director, their graveyard of grief receives 10 to 20 new items every day.

Why do we bother holding on to relationship rubble – those love letters, stuffed animals, ticket stubs and other trivial keepsakes left behind in the wake of a break up? It’s probably for the same reason we retain souvenirs of the places we’ve visited: to prove we were once really there.

Although I still have my old wedding dress, it’s not for a sentimental reason but rather, a practical one (how the heck do I dispose of it?). After all, I had no problem clean-sweeping the house of any traces of my ex in what has become known as The Great Purge of 2011. We threw out so much stuff that my shell-shocked son still refuses to call “decluttering” anything but “the d-word.”

Honestly, the only things that remain of my 20-year marriage aside from the dress are photo albums, and a cute hand-painted vase I bought on a beach in Puerto Vallarta 22 years ago. I keep it not to remind me of my ex, but of the only time I’ve been on a winter vacation. In the aftermath of my marriage, I found very little worth saving.

IMG_3068What I think is most interesting about the Museum of Broken Relationships is that it puts the raw emotion of being dumped under glass – or inside glass, in the case of the Pickled Wedding Dress. These are just ordinary objects that mean absolutely nothing to anyone except the person who donated it for the world to see. And yet, it’s painfully obviously that these items are so much bigger and more significant than what first meets the eye, just as a pickle jar can barely contain the totality of that woman’s heartache.

Each strangely intimate, cringe-inducing museum exhibit is an opportunity for its donor to receive a sense of catharsis or closure – and for visitors to get a sense that even after love ends, life goes on.

“Hopefully, you can look back and know that even if it didn’t work out, it contributed to who you are today,” says the museum’s director. “We’re all failing together and we’re all trying to get back up together. And that, I think, is very beautiful.”

What relationship rubble do you continue to hold on to? Why did you choose to preserve it? And what the heck do you think I should I do with my old wedding dress?

 

Going Through Hell? Keep Going

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The following message found its way to me years ago. It offered comfort, inspiration and most of all, reassurance that my compass was pointed in the right direction.

It echoes Winston Churchill’s famous words, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” a truism that resonates with anyone who has fought to find the strength and courage to go on. You cannot go wrong by simply taking a step forward.

This message meant and still means a great deal to me and I’ve paid it forward by sharing it with a number of friends facing a struggle, loss or personal crisis – including the end of a relationship. My hope always is that it will remind them, as it does me, that what we’ve gone through is valuable to the growth process.

It’s within all of us to “make the experience count” by being thankful for what has happened and finding a way to put our life lessons to positive use.

 

REASON TO KEEP GOING by Ralph Marston

Just because life has let you down doesn’t mean that you must let yourself down. Pick yourself up, quickly take a positive step, and know that you’re closer to reaching you goal than you’ve ever been before.

You’ve been through some of the difficulty you must go through. So keep going, and make that experience count.

Change your approach if that’s what is called for. Learn from where you’ve been, adapt and adjust your efforts to be even more effective.

Every day, every encounter, and every outcome is a new opportunity to move yourself forward. Keep yourself focused on the goal you’ve chosen, and keep yourself moving in the best way you know how.

The disappointments are just as much a part of the process as the victories. Be truly thankful for it all and in your gratitude, you’ll find a way to put it all to positive use.

Whatever has happened is a perfect reason to keep going. Keep going, and create the life you have chosen to live.

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.