This week I attended a class on the responsibilities of separating parents. It is required by the State of Kansas for any parent filing for divorce. It’s a two-hour class and it’s held every week and people file in and pay their fee and sit in a closed-in space in folding chairs, smile briefly at each other before retreating into their own world. It’s quite a cross-section of society, as you might imagine.
A woman comes in and approaches the front, introduces herself but no one remembers her name, at least I don’t. She starts talking fast as if she’s reading something or talking from rote, as if she’s done this a hundred times before and doesn’t want to be here. But then who does?
She starts reading through a booklet we’ve all been handed when we paid our fee. She starts with general divorce information, moves into the grief process and the stages of grief (this from Kubler-Ross) and talks about how it doesn’t end with the divorce, but can go on for years. There are PowerPoint slides to illustrate exactly what is in our book. We all shift in our seats.
She talks about communication and how we should treat our relationship with our ex-spouse as a business relationship, professional yet cordial. That if our communication was poor before we shouldn’t expect it to improve with divorce. That we will need to continue to negotiate for years and years over who will pay for sporting events, special healthcare needs, whether we can switch weekends when the in-laws are in town, etc, etc.
She moves into children’s response to divorce and what we can expect at different ages. She says that after the death of a parent or sibling, divorce is the single most stressful event in a child’s life. That we can expect them to be angry, hurt, sad, anxious, confused, depressed and afraid. They may regress. They will likely blame themselves. Children of Danny's age may become aggressive and throw tantrums, become suddenly clingy or have trouble sleeping at night. Anna may feel torn between her loyalty to each parent, may retreat into herself or sob uncontrollably.
There is more after this but I don’t remember what it is because this is where I stop taking in information.
At the end we sign a certificate and we are free to leave and return to our lives. I go back to work.
At the office my work piles up. I’ve got to revise our budget, make audit entries, close the books, complete a stack of grant reports. We are launching a new system-wide database next month and I’m supposed to be in charge of it.
Sometimes we'll be sitting in a meeting and someone will ask for my input and I'll look up and have no idea what's being discussed. None at all. Sometimes I go out at lunch but I'm not hungry so I just drive around for 30 minutes then come back to the office. Sometimes I close my office door until I think no one can tell I've been crying.
Two cousins had birthdays last week and I didn’t get gifts in the mail. Not even cards. My lawyer emails me and wants to know if I’ve completed the paperwork she’s waiting on. We need to have it before we meet next week to continue working out the settlement, dividing up assets, debts and children, the bounty and detritus of eight years of marriage.
I get a phone call from California. My elderly aunt has fallen in her apartment. She lives alone. She has no children or other close relatives, her brother (my father) having passed away years ago. The apartment manager wants her to move out. They don’t think she can live alone anymore, thinks she needs to be in a nursing home. The fire department has said her place is a fire hazard because they can’t get through the hallways, that she hoards stuff. Can I do something?
We are heading into a long weekend. I will turn another year older. A birthday will come and go. Our country will celebrate it's independence. We will buck up and strive to maintain some sense of normalcy for the sake of the kids. Go through the motions of family life.
For the longest time I was doing okay. I was feeling hopeful and looking forward to moving on. Sometimes I still do. Often I laugh and joke with my friends. Sometimes I feel light and I am doing okay. But more and more I am not. More and more, I'm just struggling to stay above water.