Things fall apart: the people I’ve collected make me a separation survivour
I have always liked the phrase it takes a village to raise a child. Now, I have my own version. It takes a tribe to get you through a separation.
Your tribe can be anyone, or anything for that matter. It is entirely at your discretion. Friends, favourite books, food; beyond your family, it is the people, or the things, the little moments out for treats, or the larger habits built in, that raise you up, that sustain you through a dark time.
Much of my tribe is unaware of my very existence.
Pat Kenny on Newstalk in the morning; the comforting inevitability of him briskly arriving on the radio as I drive home from dropping herself to playschool.
The Instagram account of Emer McLysaght, co-author of Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling. There is something deeply comforting about watching her interpret RTE’s Sunday miscellany and play with her cats.
The Instagram account of artist Zoe Buckman, formerly married to David Schwimmer- they split last year and she is also the mother of one girl. I have over-identified. Similarly, I don’t mind admitting that it will be a blow if Sienna Miller sets up once again in domestic bliss and has more children.
Elizabeth Day, author and journalist who I interviewed last year. Also separated, totally flourishing. Sali Hughes, beauty journalist, and separation survivor, who has written honestly on the subject.
All of right thinking America constitutes part of my tribe. ‘Yes you had a rough 2017,’ I tell myself, ‘but so did the entire USA’. I take a strange kind of comfort from it.
The books of India Knight and her marvellously blended family, fictional but based on her real-life circumstances, cannot be beaten for a sense that all eventually will turn out fine post-separation.
I collect people who have been through a similar experience. Some of my tribe I have outright stalked- women I once interviewed, also separated, who have now become coffee buddies.
Through the time when our marriage was falling apart I used to imagine our family as if we had been thrown in the air, flung up by a massive trampoline. Holding my daughter close, I simply had to wait it out, see where we would land. To a large extent it was out of our control.
Telling people can be exhausting. Sometimes their upset sets off your upset. Others seem to expect a sort of dance of grief, when you’re not feeling it. ‘It’s ok to feel sad,’ They say. ‘It’s just so saaaaad’. ‘Believe me’, I think, ‘I know about sadness. But right now, I feel great. Or grand, Or just not sad. So let’s not summon it’.
So I dreaded it. The telling.
But months later, when we began telling people, the trampoline in my mind changed, and became a net, as the subtle support network of cousins, friends, and colleagues kicked in. The tribe.
The work wife is a big part of my tribe. I have loved this woman dearly since long before she acted as a life raft in getting me through my marriage breakdown. We became friends when both in the trenches with tiny babies. Six months ahead of me when I had my daughter, she was our first guest beyond immediate family after bringing Herself home, arriving at the house with dinner, a Stokke newborn chair, a breastfeeding cushion and homemade dessert. Her visit set a bar so high that I secretly resented all subsequent guests who failed to come laden with such an embarrassment of gifts, and she has been an invaluable friend ever since.
The work wife and I had a bad 2017. She lost her father, I lost my marriage.
Last year would have been unimaginably worse were it not for her. Countless listless, grey, sludgy days, when grief sat heavily making it feel as if you were moving through cotton wool, were sat out together, working from the gym, sitting outside children’s dance classes, writing together at my dining room table.
We got each other back into exercising, holidayed together, did endless trips to Milano with the kids. It’s the kind of intimacy where you often know what the other person is planning for dinner. She made me laugh on the worst days, and is the person who I rang when those worst days happened. Her son was my daughter’s first friend. Her family are my work family, her cousin one of my oldest, dearest friends.
I am not suggesting anyone lose a husband in order to make a best friend. But if you do, lose a husband that is, I hope you find a friend like mine. She is the stuff around which tribes are built.