We think we understand a thing called divorce. We see it happen to naive newlyweds and those crushed by crises. Sometimes it is a welcome release though mostly it is sad. But there is a kind of divorce few have seen that is the strangest and saddest of all -- divorce after a lifetime spent together. After children, dreams, careers, retirements. Divorce that isn’t so much a separation of two lives as the splitting of one being.
A lifetime of answering unasked questions. He knows to bring home a certain ice cream bar for her when he goes out. She knows to check that he has his wallet and keys before he leaves. Only she understands the system for their ancient file cabinet, and only he can decrypt their tax forms. At times no one else can make sense of his foggy-minded conversation, and when she needs to be brought on board, he’s knows exactly what to say. Now, no one does.
A lifetime of habit. His arm always finds hers when they climb stairs side-by-side. She always reaches out at night to cover him with the blanket that he tends to kick off. He is an excellent driver with a terrible sense of direction, and her arthritic knees do not cooperate with driving, but her mind still navigates well. “Together, you guys are one decent driver. Just don’t go out alone!”, their kids will joke. Now, they both must.
A lifetime of sharing. There is no his and hers. Only ours and theirs -- bedroom, bathroom, bank account, and Scrabble board. Their home, carried from house to house, is decades of flotsam of which neither can remember the source and now neither wish to own. It will end up claimed by their adult children for utility or discrete bittersweet memories, the rest, given to charity. Their family traditions will also be left orphaned and unwanted, tainted by this tragedy, further hollowing out holidays and get-togethers. Now, they start from scratch.
Like two wind-beaten trees, they survived the battering of time by growing into and around each other. To painfully uncoil and pull apart after decades leaves both unbalanced and exposed. And yet, they have. They stand alone, willfully ignoring their raw and weak parts, trying to straighten out into independent stability. Each denying the constant nagging existence of the marital phantom limb. Fighting the habits. Ignoring the unanswered questions. Seeking comfort with control and ownership. Struggling to define and manage themselves as individuals again for the first time since first becoming adults. It is a pain and process unlike any. May your parents never have to experience it.