I heard them arguing as I sat in the living room watching the television. At the time, I could not have been older than four or five years old. My earliest memories are of my parents arguing, and even at such a young age, I knew this was not good. Before I knew it, my maternal grandparents were helping us look for another place to live. My parents were divorcing, and we could not afford to live in the house they had purchased together. My first memories would revolve around an event whose memories and the impact of which would never go away.
My early years (prior to the divorce) were not all bad. We lived in an awesome house in a middle class neighborhood, and I had some great friends. I had dogs, toys and parents that loved me. From my perspective (until the fighting started) it was a great situation. In fact, it was all a kid could hope for.
As soon as it became clear they would divorce, life as I knew it stopped. Emotions became raw, tempers flared and the family split in two. In such situations, everyone develops their own viewpoint, sides with one person or another, and vocalizes their opinions. There I am watching my life change and struggling to understand. Like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb, it would be years before the fallout was fully understood.
The most terrifying part for me was being caught in the middle. I loved my mom and dad equally, but my dad's decision to divorce (understandably) caused some derision. There were times when I felt my mom's side of the family hated him. Since I was so proud of him, this caused me a lot of pain. What boy does not want to be proud of his father and openly flaunt his awesomeness?
Looking back on my parents decision five thoughts have become crystal clear.
1. Divorce is a game changer.
After my parents' divorce, family time became a feat of coordinating and tracking every other weekend activities. When it was dad's weekend, we had to coordinate all the fun stuff into one or two days. It seemed like all the cool stuff happened at dad's and I felt bad. When I went home, I did not want to talk about it because I did not want to hurt mom's feelings. In the beginning, we never missed a beat. Dad was always prepared for his weekend and we always had fun. As I grew older, the divide grew, and we spent less and less time together.
2. One life gets divided multiple ways.
The parent with physical custody is charged with handling all the mundane and routine functions. Then the other parent swoops in for weekend activities and looks like a rock star. At the same time, their focus has changed to every other weekend. In between, they are focused on their career, their friends and perhaps even their new family. The mental image of a tug of war flashes through my mind when I think of what we went through. Mom at one end and dad at the other, all the while the children are caught in between.
3. Pain is unavoidable.
My parents' divorce was remarkably civil. I never remember them speaking ill of one another in front of me, however, the pain would manifest in other ways. For mom, it was guilt and shame for her perceived fault. Dad would express remorse for the pain of building a new life, a new career and not being as involved as he thought he should have. Then there are the family members. The aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters and brothers who sided with Mom. They allowed their emotions to shield them from reality and so they took sides. Their pain is the red hot anger felt towards my father for leaving my mother.
4. The scars remain forever.
Though the wounds have scabbed over and peeled off, the scars are readily apparent. At family gatherings, these scars have a way of revealing themselves. Almost inevitably, someone feels shamed and will not attend an event, or they linger in the background to avoid opening old wounds.
In spite of my parents' divorce and the ensuing pain, I forgive everyone involved. I forgive my parents, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles and cousins. No one is isolated from the fallout of divorce. Everyone says or does something they are sorry about years later. Let's forgive one another and move on.
Even though my parents divorced, I led an exceptional and blessed life. I had loving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who cared for and loved me. At the end of the day, divorce is much better than being miserable during our time on earth.
In October of 2014 our family was dealt another painful blow. We lost our patriarch, my grandfather, to cancer. He was diagnosed and dead in less than a week. As the pain of his sudden illness and death ripped through our family we all came together. We united around a wonderful man that had lived an incredible life for 82 years. His life was so profound that his death healed the wounds wrought by divorce over 20 years earlier. My father was welcomed with open arms back into the family and we all celebrated a great man.
Divorce is not the end of the road. It is an event that (even in the best circumstances) is painful. There will be tears and life will change, but time can heal all of the wounds. The key is we have to remain receptive and intentionally look for the opportunities to heal and forgive.