Divorce: The Death of Hope and Romantic Illusion


Divorce is a death experience, a sundering of far more than a relationship. It is a preview of some aspects of that final walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in that it strips artifice from you and forces you to face dark and unwelcome truths. It is a severance, a wound, a move from one state to another, very different, one – analogous, in many respects, to that final move into an entirely new, and mysterious, realm.

‘Reader, I married him!’ I noted, in stunned joy, on July 28th 1997 as, five months pregnant and garlanded with freesias, I sat down to complete my diary account of the wedding. Did I entertain hopes? Of course I did! What bride doesn’t? Was I labouring under the romantic illusion of perfect love and soul-mate togetherness? Of course I was! How else was I to ignore the dark streaks already edging their way onto the canvas of the relationship? I was not the first woman to think that marriage and a child would fill in the gaps with love’s cement, nor will I be the last.

Unlike many, however, I kept hope alive and some semblance of romantic illusion simmering far longer than was healthy, constantly casting myself in the role of mad, dysfunctional, nasty witch in order to preserve the specious perfection, to believe in the wounded innocence, to empathise with the damaged soul, of the man I had married. I needed to see him as Mr. Rochester, blinded and hurt by a previous marital fire and scorching, because I did not want to admit that there was far more – and, ironically, far less! – to it than that.

Now, nine months after the Decree Absolute, I am numb, mourning, dulled, yet sparking – at some very deep level – with a strange form of grief. I do not miss the man himself, but I do miss the foolish, girlish hope and excitement (for it was, in its own way, addictive); I do miss the romantic-novel-inspired illusions; I do miss what could have been – even though I now know that it couldn’t.

But also I am saddened by a sense of failure – because I went into that marriage thinking it was for life, determined to make it work, committed to this man and, for reasons I won’t go into now, absolutely determined that I would never be unfaithful to him. It wasn’t for life. I could not, ultimately, make it work. My commitment to him wavered as a result of repeated emotional and mental abuse. And yet, and yet, for all that I could have taken other men as lovers, I never did. I couldn’t bring myself to cross that particular line, never even came close to it.

I do blame myself, though I am not quite sure why – except that the habit of self-blame goes so deep and is so pervasive that it has become like a default setting. I suppose I blame myself for not being the right kind of woman for him; for allowing behaviour which he claims I provoked; for being half of a situation which our child had to grow up in; for not being perfect, good enough, able to stand up for myself.

I had, in the end, to go No Contact – as the saying goes. It was the only way. And this I have adhered to: In the three months since I moved here, I have had no dealings with this man.

Perhaps the death of innocence has been the most wounding aspect of this whole sorry affair – and the knowledge that I read someone close to me so disastrously wrong; that I allowed good looks and charm to hypnotise me to such an extent.

But still it hurts. Still I feel that I have failed – as a woman, as a wife, as a sister, an in-law, a mother – because those fairy-tale words, ‘And they lived happily ever after…’ still have such sway over the silly, sweet, sugary imaginations of young girls, don’t they? And, as girls, I think we do feel that we have to be the cement that keeps the marital edifice in one strong piece: That it is up to us to make sure that our men do not stray, or get bored, or get angry or find anything to distract them from that which they promised as rings were exchanged and Holy Wedlock celebrated. And, as girls, I think too many of us are still brought up to believe that any crack in a relationship is our fault for being too wilful, insufficiently obedient and submissive; that we bring disaster upon ourselves by aping, at whatever level, the masculine role.

So: I mourn. I question myself. I ask whether I was too lively and loud, too fiery and frantic, too this, too that to be pleasing to a man. And I wonder, privately (as, I am sure, all abused women do at some point), whether I deserved to have my wings clipped; whether some defect in my character meant that I merited emotional punishment and constant control.

Parts of me are now fluttering uncertainly back to life. Other parts remain in deep hibernation, a kind of wintry faux-death. The tombstone of the marriage, with its dates of birth and death etched raw in the grey surface, taunts me. Its sad ghost haunts. I weep.


Reblog: Everyday

A fabulous post about the emotionally intimate and physical details of loss and recent bereavement. An immensely brave piece by a friend. This lady started her blog when she knew that a beloved member of her family was dying – and I have followed her thoughts and feelings since January. A must-read blog for anyone in this situation.


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I miss the way I could never have a lie in. Always getting hounded for wasting the day and apparently spending my whole life in bed. I miss the tug of the covers and the throwing of pillows to shift me out of my comfortable duvet den. The morning news on full blast and all the doors open so no-one could get peace. I miss making four eggs, now only making two; just half a portion mushrooms instead of the mountain that we would share. Leaving the washing up and getting penalized for never making my fair effort with the chores. The huffs and the rows about how long a walk the dog needs in the morning; rain, sleet, snow or hurricane. I miss you turning up unexpectedly to join me on those morning walks in you smart shoes that always got muddy. Your deep laugh full of joy when…

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I’m sad, sorry

A friend of mine, who has recently lost her father, has started an immensely moving and honest blog about the grieving process and from the perspective of someone actually going through it. I admire her honesty, her emotional openness and her taut writing style. Today, I am reblogging one of her posts for you to read.

A fabulous, and very moving, evocation of the grieving process from a brave blogger. Please read.

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I know everything I write is sad.

I know that I am allowed to be sad. That it should be okay? I am allowed to feel like this. But for how long? How long am I allowed to have off days and bad days and angry days and days where I don’t want to give a fuck about anything. How long will people allow me to be on the verge of trembling tears and frustrated clenched fists and skin scratching tics. It can only be getting boring. To have this person who has this baggage.

The excuse can only last so long?

The annoyance of the fact that she whose father has died now has an excuse to hang her head, to feel sick to the pit of her stomach and have tired eyes and mind. The state of her hair because she hasn’t bothered with the effort of washing…

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The Visit: Farewell to Father

The planning started in late 2006. The unease, felt by all of us, was already there. Fifty years, they would have been married that spring of 2007 – and we, their five children, wanted to mark this Golden Anniversary with something special, fearful, as we all were, that they would not make it to another, though, at that stage, my mother seemed the more likely to disappear from the world.

There was only one possible destination: Devizes – and, to be more precise, the hotel where they had spent their honeymoon in March 1957.

I have told the story of that day before, that combined celebration (as all their wedding anniversaries were)of both a marriage and my father’s birthday. He reached seventy-eight – and I confess I was looking forward to his special eightieth in 2009.

He did not reach it.

I have told of his death, too, and the heartbreak of the funeral and the awful events which followed. It would be pointless to go over old ground once more, though some parts of the earth pressed down over the soil of bereavement and betrayal remain friable, the wounds underneath raw ten years on.

I tell instead of a series of visits which took place in April 2007. My parents did the rounds, as the saying goes, visiting the two of us living (at that time) in the South West and the one in Cambridge; the other two, both living in the Oxford area, were much easier to see on a regular visit.

My mother was, by then, unable to be left in a strange place: She wandered, got lost, couldn’t recall where, or who, she was. My father was stressed almost belief and had two hypos on this grand tour of children and grandchildren, one pretty serious. We were all concerned about their deteriorating situation, but none of us anticipated the tragic ending.

I have vivid memories of my mother wandering into what was then the marital bedroom (before my ex-husband and I started sleeping in separate rooms) and standing there, with a glazed look on her face, and my father, clad in a dressing gown I remember from my childhood, coming in to rescue her, his face all sharp planes and grim bones, tension vibrating in his body. I remember feeling such a wave of sadness and fear, deep fear.

The day they drove to the next sibling was a beautiful one – achingly springlike and colourful and bright with blooms of sun and flowers. I had bought my parents a long plastic container to put in the boot of their car. It had three boxes and would help to contain some of the possessions they had with them. I can recall hugging them both and feeling how frail they were. I can still feel the aching sadness and anxiety, and I think dread presentiment, I experienced as I waved and waved until their car was a dot in the distance – and this awful feeling I had that I would never see them again.

In a sense, I was right. I never did see them, as a parental pair, again. The next sighting was my mother alone; the one after that, my father’s coffin being unloaded from the hearse, outside St Andrew’s Church, Headington, and my mother, tiny in black and wearing a veil, protected by the five of us at the church’s ancient and familiar entrance.

I have often wondered, since then, if my father sensed that his journey was coming to an end – and wanted to see us all one final time. I shall never know, of course, and it can only ever be a suspicion, a feeling.

Two weeks tomorrow, he would have been eighty-eight – had he lived – and they would have celebrated their sixtieth, Diamond, wedding anniversary.

I miss him still – and that final visit is doubly precious because I never saw him again. He wasn’t perfect. They neither of them were. Who is? Of course I wish he had survived to see me leave full-time teaching, publish novels, extricate myself from an unhappy marriage, move to Glastonbury; of course I wish he had lived to see his fifth-oldest grandson grow to Man’s Estate; naturally, I would love him to have met the special friends  made since his death…

…but, at least I have that golden-green April visit, for all its worry and sadness, to cushion some of the reverberating blow.


Road of Dead Rabbits…


These two images (one of unknown rabbits; one of Pippa) represent the way I like to see bunnies: Content, bright-eyed, alive…

Today’s Jumble walk was like following in the path of a mysterious massacre – and a sad contrast to yesterday’s sunny, if malodorous, trek.

Rain was spitting as we reached Velvet Bottom’s smaller sibling, Blackmoor Reserve. Almost immediately, we came upon part of a small furry corpse. Jumble sniffed it, but did not – as he often does – see it as Canine Take-Away food. To be frank, I thought nothing of it, other than the brief pang I always feel, because raptor-ripped rabbits are an inevitable part of life in the country.

But, as we walked on, and the number of little dusty brown bodies grew in number – some plumptious and only-recently dead, if I am any judge; none touched by Jumbs – I began to feel a sense of uneasiness. In all the years I have been walking this path, I have never come across death that widespread; I have never seen more than one, or perhaps two, ragged remains of the Warren’s residents.

Other people I met along the way had also noticed this drizzle- damp hecatomb – and we commented, one to another, on the strangeness of it all.

I do not know what happened. It may be that the dreaded Myxomatosis has broken out, as it does from time to time, in the vicinity (though the rabbit population of Velvet Bottom, which is only yards away, was not lying in heaps on the trail yesterday); it may be that a particularly vicious and speedy predator has been doing the animal version of serial killing in the dark of night; it could be airborne attack by starving hawks or kestrels.

I did feel sad, however, as I walked past bunny after bunny, all dead. I know death is a part of life; I know nature is notoriously red in tooth and claw; I know that wild rabbits do not, typically, live to a ripe old age – but, since getting Pippa, I have seen the gentle charm of these creatures, the way they drum their back legs when scared or in danger, their helplessness when faced with more vicious animals.

I just hope this was an anomaly, a one-off. I just hope that some ghastly disease is not going to decimate what has, until today, been a thriving – and lovely to watch – colony of wild rabbits.

Death Denial: Response to ‘Griefwalker’


Many of us disapprove of the circus, feeling it to be cruel and barbaric, scary and potentially lethal. Yet, we cannot resist the temptation to nip along to see, often through slitted eyes, the death-defying acts, the sight of huge and dangerous cats being controlled by a human being, the ghastly funny-sad faces of the clowns, the freak shows large and small. We thrill to the fear factor, and to the colour, the variety and the unknown hovering behind it all.

So it is with the circus that is death: We are unable to resist watching the graphic programmes on the television, reading horror books and detective stories, gawking at horrendous car crashes, feasting our eyes upon the evidence of the recently-departed.

We fear – and yet we engage.

Circus. Death. They have more in common than you might think. Read on…


I have long been terrified of death. I think a lot of that is down to the whole Christian, Death-as-the-wages-of-sin upbringing – and, underneath it, a never-discussed current of death-fear flowing inexorably from my mother. So, apparent reassurance about some kind of angelic life beyond the grave became tainted with the utter gut-wrenching fear of an abyss which seeped from her every pore.

We do not, as a society, treat death as something natural, cyclical, normal. We have made it the enemy, the dark horror, the epitome of all that is grievous and taboo and sinister.

For most of my life, I have tried to force that fear into the dark cabinets of the subconscious – or have gone into panic mode about the nothingness so many of us fear, or the actual moment of no longer breathing, the potential agony of it all.

I am not alone.

The strange and sad thing about it all is this: We see the death of animals all the time; our roads and verges abound with road-and-predator kill; we eat the flesh of creatures (not thinking of it as, basically, death on a plate); we celebrate the beauty of Fall/Autumn – with its inherent irony that death fuels that colourful, and then stark, magnificence – and yet too few of us truly claim death as our common humanity’s inevitable end; too few of us live, as Carlos Castaneda/Don Juan had it, with death always over our left shoulder.

I think there is an underlying assumption (unspoken, unthought even) that, somehow, if we deny the reality of death, it’ll deny us the experience too; that, if we hide from death, the scythe will not find us; that, if we are special enough, death will make an exception for us!

But, moving from general to personal, what are my repeated doctor visits about if not acute fear of death? Am I not, actually – and under the individual symptoms – simply asking, ‘Am I dying?’ and hoping for the temporary reassurance of, ‘Not this time…’

This is no way to live a life.

The film made me cry. My whole body tensed watching it. I felt scared, then moved, then, amazingly, inspired and bolstered. Jenkinson is RIGHT, gods damn it! It is not human to fear death. Nowhere else in nature is the death terror evident. We have claimed that fear as part of our religious brain-washing: The trade-off for Salvation is, with sickening irony, craven fear of both life and dying – mainly because the whole concept has been tied in with sin and suffering and punishment.

My body convulsed, post film, as all the vulnerable instruments tuned up and joined in the orchestra’s loud symphony of pain. And, yes, the little girl part of me was wailing, ‘Am I dying?’

The reason I wept was in recognition of something fundamental: This constant Pain Watch is not living. This constant thrumming of the Death Watch drum is beating a rhythm so loud that it often drowns out the sweet pipes which play the Love of Life melody so beautifully.

I do not regret watching the film; in fact, I am so glad I did. It felt like something I very much needed to do. It felt utterly appropriate, given the mini-death that a divorce actually is, that I should be facing the bigger spectre I have tried to push away for so long.

I am going to die. One day, I’ll be dead. My body will be still and pale; the spirit which animates my face will be gone. I will be cooling flesh and then host to the amazing bacterial miracle which allows our bodies to be consumed from within and then recycled. I will decompose. The hands which are typing this piece will stiffen in rigor mortis and the skin will slough off like a glove. If I am not cremated, the bones of my skeleton will, eventually, push through. All that is Alienora physically will disperse, go back to the source one way or another.


Isn’t it wonderful, though, that nature is so clever, so economical with its beings, so green in terms of waste disposal? That built-in obsolescence has something truly beautiful and intelligent about it: Waste not, want not on a grand scale!

I, the warm breathing me, will disappear. We all will when our time comes.

But something of me will remain. Call it my spirit, my soul, my essence. Call it the impact I have had, and will continue to have, upon others during my life. Call it the power of love and memory. Call it the spark of the divine, the light we all have.

‘Death feeds everything that lives…’ (Stephen Jenkinson)

Yes, it does.

Facing death-as-an-absolute-truth is what I need to be doing now – because in the reality of our end we find the freedom to dance and sing and embrace life with all our strength and passion. We find, and are able to use, the strongest rays of our individual light sources when we know that they are surrounded by, and illuminate, a vast darkness.

Death is not going to go away or be denied or make an exception for an Orange-Haired Alienora! Nor should it! Death is the final adventure in life. It is the Path Working from which there is no bodily return (at least, not in our current form). It is the portal to a new country, a new form of existence.

One day, I will die – but now, on this sunny Tuesday in latest May, I am vibrant and alive and, despite current pain and fear, passionately in love with life.

And fear begins to give way to curiosity and interest and a shimmering of wonder.


A must-read post and a wonderfully thought-provoking film. Thanks to Running Elk for bringing this to our attention.

Shamanic Paths

Click image to view movie Click image to view movie

A friend shared this on the facebook. If you have 70 minutes to spare, well worth a watch. Incredible man, following a beautiful vocation…

Synopsis:Griefwalker is a National Film Board of Canada feature documentary film, directed by Tim Wilson and produced in 2008. It is a lyrical, poetic portrait of Stephen Jenkinson’s work with dying people.

Filmed over a twelve year period, Griefwalker shows Jenkinson in teaching sessions with doctors and nurses, in counseling sessions with dying people and their families, and in meditative and often frank exchanges with the film’s director about the origins and consequences of his ideas for how we live and die, while paddling a birch bark canoe.

A few of the themes appearing in the film: Where does our culture’s death phobia come from? Is there such a thing as good dying? How is it that grief could be…

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