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Sunday, March 22, 2009

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Undone: The Death of a Marriage

One of the fiercest arguments I ever had with my late mother-in-law was while watching the funeral procession of Princess Diana. She thought the royal family was not displaying an appropriate measure of grief. I told her I thought their grief was their own business, and that the need to see it demonstrated was peculiarly American. All our arguments, in fact, could be summed up as her complaint that someone wasn't doing something the American way, and my rebuttal that the American way was not the only way. In retrospect, I think she may have been having quite a bit of fun with me. She was a lovely lady and I would have happily risen to the bait for another twenty or thirty years, but her own funeral was a year later.

I still think public people should be allowed to grieve in private. Commenting on the death of a celebrity is not something I would normally do. And yet, the passing last week of actress Natasha Richardson has touched me, and I feel the need to say something about it.

There's the obvious coincidence, which has prompted a few people to email me privately. The day we skied with the boys last month, we were on the Nansen run, the same beginner's slope on which Ms. Richardson fell while skiing with her two sons. So many times this past week, I've replayed that afternoon: every turn, every fall. The kids wore helmets, but neither Patrick nor I did. I thought helmets were in case you were going fast enough to hit a tree, not in case you fell over.

Mostly, I remember how happy we were as we came off that slope. As happy as we have ever been as a family. Exuberantly, utterly, alive.

And then I think, why are we given eggshells to hold all this life?

It makes me crazy.

The people who've gotten in touch do so shyly, almost sheepishly. None of understand why we should be so moved by the loss of someone we've never met—really, what have we lost? And yet. We feel.

I know part of it for me is the solidarity of motherhood. I fear leaving my children before they are through needing me. My hearts instinctively flies out to the children left behind.

But I think, mostly, I'm sad for the end of a marriage.

When a friend passed away a few years ago, in her mid-thirties, leaving behind three young children and a husband, I remember thinking how tragic it was, over and above everything else, to end a marriage like that, in mid-stream, with so much left to be worked out.

Because no matter how much you love each other, how deep the connection, how intense the passion, there's a hell of lot to be worked out during and after the raising of kids. Fifteen years together is just the crest of a hill from which the road behind and ahead can be seen. It's barely enough time to understand how much you have to forgive and be forgiven. There are fights to be had, boredom to be overcome, temptations to be worked through, shitty things to be said, apologies to be made, doors to be slammed, tears to be kissed away.

How unfair to be robbed of that while you're still in the middle, before you're done.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

It's terribly unfair.

Natasha Richardson's death has touched me for reasons similar to yours. Living in Utah, we ski a lot. My husband and sons wear helmets but I never have. I plan to purchase one.

Eggshells... that's an accurate description.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Karen Maezen Miller said...

The stark, sudden fact of our fragility is the truest thing we ever see. There is no way to understand it. It is an invitation, in a way, to something far more important than just to wear a helmet. To take off our blinders before the next blink. I'm glad you wrote about this.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Cid said...

I have skied all my life and two years ago when we were getting our 3 boys outfitted for the season, my second son took a helmet off the rack and handed it to me and said, "You should wear one too Mummy. They're cool." Like most things in a mother's life, I didn't do it for me but for them.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Mama Non Grata said...

I'm intrigued by your thoughts on grieving publicly versus privately — I blogged for two years before (somewhat sheepishly; I'm a fellow Canadian) finally writing something about my grief surrounding my mother's death, even though it takes up a huge amount of my emotional life and influences so much of my parenting. In the end, that post ( http://mamanongrata.blogspot.com/2009/02/heart-break.html) garnered the most attention of any of my postings (in my small corner of the blogosphere, that is, :-)). It's difficult to know where to draw the line, isn't it? How personal does one get in one’s public writing, and when? I recently read your “How to Recession Proof Your Marriage” article; I think you did a great job of writing about such personal things (in our society, what's more personal than one’s financial status?) in a public forum. I struggle with that balance sometimes.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Thank you! I think it can be very appropriate to share deeply personal experiences publicly, depending on how, why, and on whose terms it's done (and as you discovered, letting the experience compost a bit is usually wise).

11:30 AM  
Blogger Lauren Taylor said...

I love the entire paragraph at the end. Too often I compartmentalize when my fiance and I are in a particularly heated arguement...he is the only one who can get me to stop, breathe, and remember that this is one of the FEW disgruntled times. We have only been together for two years and therefore, when put into perspective, have barely begun our climb up the mountain. We have barely scratched the surface of all that a relationship contains, ALL of that which you've mentioned, and although I cannot conceive or conceptualize losing him in a way that seems real; I cannot imagine my life without the completion of these experiences. He is the one who brings me out of my funks, who reminds me of all of our good times which far out weigh the bad. He is my constant reminder of how far i've come from who I once was and these experiences, each of the ones you've mentioned, are the ones that make a marriage. These are what craft us into adults fit, in some sort of way, to bring to life new little ones.
Thank you for this.

11:36 AM  
Blogger nicole said...

Thank you for putting into words the many thoughts i was having regarding Ms. Richardson's death. I can not stop thinking about her husband and kids and the immense sorrow they are experiencing. Grief has always intrigued me...how different it is for each person and in each moment. I appreciate your words about the loss of a marriage. So sudden.
As an aside, the death of Princess Diana was a deeply memorable day for me. a day I shall never forget.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Alisa said...

I found my blog to be a very important part of grieving when my ex-husband passed away over 2 years ago, just one year after our divorce. I do it both to remember details for our son and to work things out in my head and heart. I can write about that but not so many things that are going on now with other relationships. I don't know why. Even though we were divorced I feel like his death cutoff midstream our dream of raising our son together and any chance I had of getting answers to what happened between us.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

Kyran I just wanted to comment about the article you wrote about in GH. My family and I are going through something similar right now, you see I found my family in your article. It made me see things through my husband's eyes. You see 18 months ago I left the comfortable nest of a corporate job to venture on my own. It has been an amazing journey for me so far but-- it has been a strain on my marriage. I want to thank you for what you wrote, it made me feel like we are not alone in all of this, and other people every day are going through similar trials and tribulations. May you always be blessed!

6:54 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Hi Kyran. I'm not sure that our kids are ever old enough not to need us. Losing your partner midstride is viciously unfair. We all have hopes and dreams of our relationships and some just end, that fast. The lessons I have learned is that life can be pretty crappy, you have to grab on to the good times with all your heart and don't let go. PS - I can't wait to spend some time with your crazy Mom next month!!!!!

7:22 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Well put, Kyran.

What I wouldn't give for a good argument with mom right now.

8:29 AM  
Blogger AnnDeO said...

Thankyou for this post. My son lost a 15 year old friend last year skiing, and then 6 weeks later we experienced the shock of losing my mother in a horrific accident where my father was responsible, and this hurts incredibly. It has been devastating and what you say about getting cut off midstream is so true. I ache for the family, as I understand the bewilderment of a loved one suddenly just gone.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Schmutzie said...

That is one of my biggest fears, that I or the Palinode will die before we've grown older together, before we've worked out so many of our mid-life kinks.

3:29 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

A beautiful piece. You are so able to express what we all feel and fear......

5:27 AM  
Blogger JCK said...

What a beautiful post. And so utterly true.

I've been looking over my shoulder since the news came of Natasha Richardson's tragic death. I had a fall on the ski slope and had a serious concussion where I couldn't remember simple things...like who was President, where I lived, how old I was. It lasted for several hours. My husband was unnerved at the time, and I continue to be.

It is, exactly like you said, an acknowledgment that we are not ready to leave yet. Our children still young and much to live...

It is terribly sad.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Girl con Queso said...

The truth in your writing always astounds and comforts me. Thank you.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Candy said...

It is very unfair! My husband died to years ago as a result of a car accident. He was 37 years old, we have 3 children. All my sympathy to her family and anyone else who has or will have to endure this pain.

8:25 AM  

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