When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
We go away for my fortieth birthday (this is the last time I will mention the birthday, promise).
I wasn’t sure if I would do something big for it. A party seemed like another job on the to-do list, something to organise, and I don’t like being the centre of attention anyhow. But the Work Wife persuaded me to do something, and so we booked a house in Wicklow and invited a gang of friends for the weekend.
When you’re a single mother, or really, I think probably any kind of parent, you don’t get minded by others a lot. Most of my friends are in a stage of their lives which involves intensive minding of others. Increasing amounts of young children, and gradually, to our terror, ageing parents. It’s a time of looking outwards, towards the needs of others.
Related: Just because I'm a single parent, doesn't mean I'm alone
We arrive at the house, and I can see it in the others. A sort of dazed expression. One sits down on one of the many cavernous couches, cake and coffee in hand from the afternoon tea we have decided to kick off the weekend’s eating with. She looks around her as if to check. Nope. Definitely, no small child tied on by an invisible string, who she must watch, monitor, protect, cajole.
She leans back into the couch, curls her feet up under her. I am way ahead of her by now, already lying prone on the couch, balancing coffee and cake on my chest (an impossible act if there were a small child in the vicinity), deep in my book.
A break from the norm
We are not minding. Well, not minding small children, specifically. Because for two days, I am minded by my friends. The Work Wife had offered to cook for the weekend. This, it turns out, was not just the dinners she had mentioned, but has extended into the making of five cakes. And I, a person who does all the cooking in her own house, gets to sit on the couch reading and drinking a glass of wine while meals are prepared for me.
I thought I was the organiser of this weekend, but it turns out that behind the apparent group email exchanges, there has been other organising going on. Balloons are secreted from cars and appear in my bedroom. Presents are pulled out.
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When you separate, it is as if a huge chunk has been taken out of the unfolding of your life. You were going this way, everything was building along a road, and then suddenly, that road is ripped up. All those years, and all that effort, come to nothing.
The 'couple friends' you takeaway-ed with on a Friday night. The couple you holidayed with. The things and people you spent your Friday evenings, your Sunday afternoons, your holidays, your nights out with. The retirement you imagined having, where you would mind each other. All gone. Your life has had both a massive interruption, and taken a drop off a cliff; present, and how you imagined things would be, suddenly disappear.
Support to get through it
And so you begin a process of knitting yourself back together. The before you, the during you, the after you. And imagining a future you. Other people will be the most helpful way of doing this. There will be the people from your past, who will remind you that you were you before you were married. The oldest of school friends, siblings. People who confirm there is continuity underneath it all, beneath even the most disruptive of events. There will be new friends, who confirm there is a future, just not the one you had imagined. They will pull you into it.
There will be the people, some old, some new, who will literally get down into the trench with you and help to dig you out. Some of them will offer a rope when you yourself simply cannot see your way to maintaining a firm grasp on the shovel. One of them, your mother, may even lift you out of that trench when you cannot do it for yourself.
And then, if you are really lucky, you might get away with keeping some of the people from that middle bit. An in-law. She arrives, and I burst into tears at the sight of her. Maybe partly because the sight of her reminds me of a time when I presumed upon the continuation of a closely shared life. Of couple’s nights in, holidays together, and the assumption of children who would grow up in close contact. But also it is because apart from being a relative made through marriage, she is just a friend. A solid, caring friend, who once knew all the minutiae of my life. And who I have got to keep.
It is the relief of it.
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