In the middle of some of my worst marital woes I find myself sitting on the white sandy beaches of Florida. The sheer, turquoise water in front of me as my feet inch their way into the white sand. It is the kind of hot day reserved for the gulf coast with enough of a breeze to keep me seated in my chair.
To my right sits “Bert,” one of my oldest guy friends who is like a brother to me.
“Colleen, you’ve become bitter,” he says.
“BERT!” screams his wife. She sits to the left of me.
“It’s okay,” I tell her.
I am not defensive. I do not deny it. I am not eager to explain all the reasons I have become bitter. Why? Because I know Bert and he loves me enough to tell me the truth so I have to listen.
Though I know that Bert is right, I am still stunned. Not because Bert told me what another may not have, but because I know, that in fact, he is right.
I am bitter.
The sun starts to set, we yank up our beach chairs, sling our bags over our shoulders and head back to the house. It is a quiet, reflective walk for me, but my poor, sweet friend walks beside me still agonizing at Bert’s candor.
“It’s okay,” I tell her again. “Bert’s right. I am bitter in my marriage. I am angry that I am a party of ‘one’ working to fix a party of ‘two.’ I am even angrier that because of this fact, I feel completely stuck moving neither forwards or backwards. I am tired of feeling hurt and defeated over and over again.”
“Still,” she kindly insists. “He shouldn’t have said that to you at a time like this.”
“I am actually grateful that Bert has the nerve to tell me what others might be thinking,” I say.
It is long after I leave Florida that I find myself restless, shifting from one side of my pillow to the other. I have never in my life been bitter. I can’t figure out exactly why I am now?
I sift back though my memory. My dad left when I was just five year’s old. He came back a few times here and there, but essentially that was when he walked out of my daily life. My mom, an emotional and spiritual, “Rock Star,” raised all five of us children alone.
I worked from the time I was 11 years old babysitting all summer and then at 14 transitioning to a job at a kennel. I paid my entire way through college, bought my first car by myself and paid (with my husband) for my wedding. I was never bitter. On the contrary, I felt blessed and I would say privileged. My mother did an incredible job of meeting all of our needs and she worked hard to give us a life that many two parent households enjoyed.
When I was nineteen I went to see my dad in the hospital. The doctor took me out into the hallway and asked me my age. When I replied, he told me that he was sorry and that my father had cancer.
When I was twenty-four, my mom collapsed with a seizure. When I was twenty-eight years old, my father died on February 1st. Six months to the day later, on August 1st, I lost my mom, due to complications of Alzheimer’s.
I was devastated. I was grief stricken. I was not bitter.
Over time, some would ask me why I was not bitter at having lost my parents so young. I was even interviewed for a book, by my now friend and CNN Producer and author, Allison Gilbert, Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children.
I remember Allison asking me why I wasn’t even slightly bitter. She had interviewed hundreds of parentless parents and I seemed to have a somewhat different slant on my loss. Many were saddened by the constant reminders that their parents were missing from ball games and school plays while the sidelines and schools were jammed with grandparents.
Believe me there were many moments I wished for my mom. The seconds right after my boy’s were born. The frightening hours that turned into days while I waited to see if my oldest son might be diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. Those first few years of motherhood when I was exhausted and questioning myself. The first article that I got published.
Yet, instead of bitterness, I found myself watching all those grandparents with great joy. I loved that my friends still had their parents and when I was around them I got to relive that sacred bond that I had lost.
In my moment of spiritual reminiscing, that night as I shift from side to side on my pillow, I realize why I have become bitter.
I have been fighting God, fighting my path. Something which I have never done before. I have never felt sorry for myself. My sense of spirituality is far too vast for that to happen.
My marriage isn’t working. I can’t have my way. I can’t save it. I have to surrender.
I have found bitterness. I have lost my spirituality.
I shift one last time and my head comes to rest on the pillow.
I lose my bitterness. I once again find my spirituality.
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