The basketball court lines on the church gymnasium floor encircled us, framing us in the wedding pictures. My new husband and I greeted well-wishers whose shoes clicked along glossy wood as they trod off to eat cheesecake. This was the man I had chosen to share my bed with, have children with, weather sickness and health, school and jobs with. It was to be marital bliss, timeless and eternal.
Some people dream of freedom and flings for life; others of finding the perfect person to spend life with until death breaks open the closed door of matrimony. Mormons dream of happily ever after for eternity, two souls bound in one, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Amidst a world of casual hook-ups and laissez faire sex, there is something distinctly beautiful about being with only one person body and soul for life. We are certain forty, fifty, sixty or so years of happiness wed on earth will somehow help us make it as a couple in a celestial glory we can’t understand. It is no wonder that single members sometimes question the wisdom of being tossed together with someone unbeknownst to them in the hereafter in order to fulfill promised blessings. Yet even with the promises of heaven upon us, tragedy in marriage often strikes.
In her essay Mourning (Segullah, Inside and Outside Marriage) Kellie George writes about her own tragedy:
The Coffin lies before me, rude and glossy and solemn. It’s smaller than I thought it would be. It should be much large for what it holds—nearly thirteen years of memories. And my heart. Our dreams, unmet. And my life as it was, before. Who is going to carry it? Can it be lifted? Can it be borne?
I am battered, bruised, broken. My eyes rough, allergic to the world. My thrumming head floats untethered, lost, my neck misplaced in my body’s jigsaw. A piece of my middle; crystal-edged air seeps in, frosting my skin, slowing my blood, chilling me into disuse. I’m splitting, disintegrating, tumbling into the crevasse, motionless.
The pain George displays in her words creates a visceral reaction. I too am left numb by the painful end as the coffin lay before me on the page. And then she peeks inside, and I see inside it too.
I keep staring at the coffin. Blink—it’s still there. Close my eyes, breathe, then peek again. Still there. It isn’t going away.
It holds my marriage.
My marriage is dead.
Start the funeral.
People instinctively understand that the demise of any marriage is tragic, just like the death of a loved one. We want to know, “What happened?” and sometimes impolitely ask like we would about the death of cancer patient, “What kind of cancer?” We wish it could have been saved. We wish more could have been done, and wonder if in years to come new medical advances will save more cancer patients and new research on marriage and families will course correct the divorce rate.
Mostly there is just awkwardness, whispers in ward councils as people, “just want to make you aware that the ‘Smith’ or ‘Jones’ family is going through a divorce right now.”
Kellie George poignantly writes:
I have wished for a funeral for my marriage. Some outward display to ceremoniously acknowledge what I have lost, what I am mourning, and the changes it has forced into my life…But of course, no one has a funeral for a dead marriage.
She expresses her deep loneliness, the averted eyes of others and,
No tissue-sodden hands holding shoulders through tears. No funeral meal…[It’s] not like anyone DIED or anything right? I just hurt like it.
Reading her words I want to lift her out of her pain, make that funeral meal for her, hand her tissues and acknowledge what she has lost. Yet when someone is going through a divorce, I am as likely as anyone to advert my eyes.
George ends her essay on an up note, full of courage, with a smile and peace. I imagine the divorcing sisters (and brothers) around me will find that place in years to come too. In the meantime, how can we comfort those going through a divorce? Have you gone through a divorce? What helped you? What hurt?