I didn't want a divorce. It was almost the death of me. Of course there are the big losses we experience when going through a divorce but I wasn't prepared for the small things that represented the enormity of the loss of my marriage.
I share these with you to let you know you're not alone if you're standing in front of the open fridge sobbing uncontrollably as you realize he's never coming back to eat the rest of his favorite pepper jack cheese.
1) Grocery shopping
Chicken breasts became a glaring reminder we wouldn't share any more meals together. The grocery store aisles I used to enjoy exploring became an emotional minefield. I wasn't going to cook breakfast on the weekends, no more dinner parties, no more Martha Stewart-inspired Thanksgivings to plan.
I took pride in taking care of the home front. It's not popular to admit but I loved doing traditional wife stuff, even the ironing. When my role vanished it seemed like every grocery item taunted me -- you don't have your husband anymore! I didn't need to grab his favorite crackers to go with that half-wrapped cheese.
For a year I was a zombie shuffling around the store but in time the supermarket became less of a haunted house and the post-pepper jack cheese disorder resolved itself.
I was reduced to tears as I filled out the paperwork for my volunteer trip to Romania for the first Christmas I'd be without my husband in 17 years. The form asked me to name my emergency contact. I instantly felt so alone in the world like a helpless, scared and abandoned child.
Being each other's emergency contact is part of marriage; it's the security knowing your spouse will be there for you if you need them.
I felt untethered staring at those two little words. I was disconnected from my life, because the shape of my life was rapidly changing. I didn't know who I was anymore.
3) The Ivory Soap
My husband moved his things to his new beachside apartment while I was on the trip to Romania. When I walked into the bathroom and saw that his toothbrush, shaving cream and the special Ivory soap for his sensitive skin were all gone, my knees gave out. I collapsed to the floor in agony. I wasn't expecting such a small thing to be so painful, but it was a material confirmation we weren't going to resume normal day-to-day life ever again.
I placed some pretty shells where his special soap had been and posted positive affirmations on what had been his side of the bathroom mirror. A rock inscribed with gratitude took the place of his shaving cream.
Sweet and Sour Pork. His favorite from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant where I ordered our usual dishes a few times a month. For months after my husband left, my diet consisted of gasps of air, wine and Kleenex. On the rare occasions I felt like eating, my heart ached looking over the take-out menus. There were no more the usuals. We didn't have our favorite restaurants anymore.
I never did order Sweet and Sour Pork again.
I only watched football games because my husband developed an interest in the sport. That's why it surprised me to feel sad when I heard the cheers after touchdowns during football season when the game blares from every public television.
It represented the loss of compromise. I enjoyed that aspect of being in a relationship, where you each do your best to support the other's interests and passions.
It took a while to detach the symbolism I'd given the football games but these days I'm grateful to be outside exploring a hiking trail and not sitting in a sports bar.
Of course I used anniversary and other special dates! Ugh. Every website was a torturous reminder of our wedding day. I replaced most of the married passwords with qualities I wanted to bring into my life and goals I set for myself as positive and affirming reminders of my intention to heal, to learn and to grow.
But even today I still have some of those old passwords lingering around the Internet that can cause a fluttering of my heart.
Divorce is a slow emotional disentanglement process with losses both big and small that eventually guides you back, sometimes on a very rocky path, to finding yourself.
What I've learned is how important it is in those first few months of separation to create an environment for healing, a sort of heartbreak recovery cocoon, to soften the edges of those losses. If you're going through a heartbreaking divorce, put everything that comes into your environment, including people, through a filter of whether it serves your desire for peace, healing and restoration.