The email was there in my inbox when I did my just-awake-but-still-in-bed scroll through Mail on my Iphone, the one I do every morning and which usually reveals nothing more than offers from FTD Flowers and urgent requests from political hopefuls seeking office at every level and seemingly in every state. I didn’t expect to find anything of substance last Friday, especially not anything from the paralegal at my divorce attorney’s office. The time stamp on the her note was 6:25 a.m. Wow, I thought, she was at work early.
I know women who have thrown themselves divorce parties, but I wasn’t sure I felt like celebrating.
The paralegal was attaching my final divorce decree. It was legal. Twenty-nine-and-a-half years of marriage had officially and somewhat anti-climatically come to an end. I wasn’t sure how to feel, what to do with myself. I know women who have thrown themselves divorce parties; I’ve even attended a few. Could I get a group together on the spur of the moment? Did I feel like celebrating?
Crowd-Sourcing My Divorce Day
At a loss, I decided to ask my Facebook friends. The post would do double duty: gather ideas and also notify people of my change in status. I know some of the newly divorced want to keep the split under wraps, but my husband and I had been together so long and people thought of us as such a unit that it seemed sort of necessary to make an announcement, especially since the split came so fast—four months from the filing to the decree.
Here’s what I wrote on Facebook: “How do you mark the day you get your final divorce decree after a 29-year marriage that has produced two remarkable sons and so much adventure and joy, but just fizzled out? Would love suggestions.”
Immediately answers started pouring in—everyone of them making me feel loved and supported. This was a twist on the lovely Facebook perk of getting tons of birthday wishes, except in this case the wishes were more thoughtful, more needed, and in some cases more revealing. In all, almost 200 people commented on my post and a follow-up. Here are the thoughts and ideas that struck me.
The Fun Stuff
“Break out the champagne” was probably the most common recommendation, followed by “throw yourself a party,” “surround yourself with your bffs,” and “spend a day pampering yourself/getting a spa treatment.”
I really liked Becky Nolan’s suggestion to “get a new little convertible,” which made me think I should buy back the orange convertible VW bug that I sold to my mom years ago after I started having kids and needed extra money. (See photo above.) Kay Creath reported that she bought herself a “sweet antique `freedom ring’ to remind me that I was back to my true self.”
Mary Pat Mueller advised me to focus on freedom and not the loss. (Someone even posted a GIF of Reba McEntire singing “Freedom.“) “Freedom to move things in the house without reporting their whereabouts,” Mueller specified, “decorate exactly to your style, freedom to focus on you and not extended in-law family, go on trips that float your boat. Exciting opportunities ahead!”
Do something your husband did not like to do!
“Five years ago, I was in exactly your shoes,” Wendy L. Cohan wrote. “Two sons, 28-year marriage. Everything changed. On the day, I ate huckleberry ice cream, then came home with a good bottle of wine and watched a season of Fixer-Upper. A month later, I was on a medical mission in Honduras. Giving back was a great way to move my mind to other things. But taking time to grieve this loss is so important.”
Maybe Catherine Hiller knew my husband and me better than I knew because her idea was spot on. “Do something your husband does not like to do!” she wrote. “If he doesn’t like to dance, go dancing!” My husband—I mean ex-husband (that takes getting used to)—actually didn’t like to dance and I love to dance. So I’m now looking for dancing opportunity. Then Hiller added this: “That’s what I did, three weeks after #1 left. At that dance I met husband #2.” Hmmm. Not ready for that yet, but still….
Divorce Day—especially a Divorce Day that comes quicker than you could have ever imagined—is complicated. So it can’t be all about toasting with Veuve Clicquot and bopping around to Motown. Some serious shit just went down. Many friends were on that track, encouraging me to not move too fast to the cork popping.
“Give yourself permission to grieve the loss of the beautiful life you built together (which will always be an intrinsic part of who you are),” wrote Sarah Gold. “But embrace the adventure of the new life you will make for yourself.”
From Jeanane Smith: “Go ahead and spend the day reflecting. Divorce is hard no matter what the circumstances. Allow yourself a moment to reflect on what you brought, what you gained, and what you would like to do different. Then dust off and go get it!”
I also liked that several friends suggested creating some type of ceremony. “Build a bonfire and burn what no longer serves you,” said Lisa Kay. “Take a solo trip (I just went to Montana all by myself) and revel in the freedom that you can do What. You. Want., whenever you want. That might take a bit to sink in, but you are FREE.” Another fire fan was Katy Koontz, who suggested I “make a sacred fire. Feed it your pain and grief to transmute all that and to make room for the new.”
You’re not likely to feel this combination of emotions again and art has a way of holding on to that like a time capsule.
Carey Berkus had another type of ceremony in mind, a gratitude ceremony perhaps somewhere that meant something to the two of us. “Create a mandala of love and thanks, old and new, to help you move forward with a healed heart, letting go of any resentment. Make room for love–of self and more mature and nurturing relationships.” Then since Berkus lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I’ll be traveling with a bunch of NextTribe women at the end of the month, she suggested we create an altar to my marriage for Day of the Dead, which I kind of like.
Ever the optimist, Berkus also had this idea: “In a perfect world, you and your husband would meet one another in the place you originally met and would laugh and cry and set boundaries for no finger pointing, only clearing the threshold with love. Now that is a movie script.” Actually, I did that before with the fiancé I left to marry my now ex-husband. My fiancé and I spent the day going around New York City, where we had lived together for four years, visiting our favorite spots. I don’t know if my ex-husband and I are ready for that yet, but I can imagine a time when we will be.
Of all the purchase suggestions—jewelry, new clothes, tattoos—Leah Heck had the most surprising idea. “Buy art,” she wrote. “I know that sounds odd, but there is something about marking an important transition with something that speaks to you, right now, in this moment. It can remind you of the complexities of the moment in all its depth and beauty. You’re not likely to feel this combination of emotions again and art has a way of holding on to that like a time capsule.” Now I need suggestions on what type of art could possibly live up to the task—and still meet my budget.
To Cry or Not?
Our own Answer Queen, Cathi Hanauer, weighed in, and she did not disappoint with her advice. “Celebrate all the great stuff you had with him and then celebrate moving on to the next batch of great stuff!” She included this quote from Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” Answer Queen + Dr. Seuss = a pitch-perfect perspective. So many good things happened during my marriage and I have to remember that I don’t lose the beautiful memories of those good things just because the marriage didn’t last.
Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.
Another friend, Emily Vickers, bucked Dr. Seuss’s advice and suggested a good cry. “I know how much I needed mine after my first marriage ended, even though I was the initiator and we were not antagonistic. My tears were of gratitude. I was lucky; my ex husband and I are friends to this day and I cherish that relationship with him and his (third) wife. Over time, I have realized how much that marriage made me who I am today, which is happier than anyone has the right to be with the man of my dreams and the life of my choosing.”
When I think about it, I do feel a lot of gratitude—that I loved and was loved in return—and I can see how my marriage has shaped me into who I am now. It may still take a while to fully embrace gratitude as the primary emotion, but I like that it can be my goal.
Happy Divorce Day: How I Actually Marked It
In a stroke of good fortune, my 24-year-old son was in Austin for an unexpected visit, which of course he did not realize coincided with my Divorce Day. We ended up paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin, and while we were on the water, we listened to the first bands playing at the Austin City Limits music festival. We paddled over to a creek and climbed the banks to launch off on a rope swing, and then we played under the frigid water pouring out from Barton Springs Pool. After lunch, we visited my grand nieces and nephew and romped around with them. For dinner, we walked to a Mexican restaurant in my new neighborhood and drank margaritas, ate tacos, laughed, and made plans for a ski trip together with my other son.
We talked some about the divorce—how could we not?—but mostly I tried to keep the mood light and fun and he responded in kind. He was game for anything I wanted to do; he teased me and hugged me often. I am sure I will mark my divorce in many of the ways friends suggested above, but in the end, what I truly needed that particular day was to spend time with this living proof that my marriage had been good and worthwhile and wasn’t done producing love and joy.