My ex-husband and I never made a big deal about Valentine’s Day. I won’t be missing flowers, chocolates, or a fancy dinner out. But it will be the first time in 30 years that I have a Valentine’s Day without a partner, and that feels harder than I expected. I’m reminding myself of some important things.
First, this isn’t really my first Valentine’s Day “alone.” Last February 14, he still lived here, but in the important ways, our marriage was over and he was already gone. Sleepwalking through life in the fog of depression, I just couldn’t see it clearly. I felt lonelier then, physically together but emotionally distant, than I do now.
Second, my life is full of love. Far more than I realized a year ago. Let me count the ways:
My parents, who talked to me every day for a while. Who told me I hadn’t destroyed my life, that I was strong, that I would not just survive but thrive, that I would grow and change and make a new life and new happiness for myself. Who told me these things before and until I began to believe them. Who told me, in my first terrible shame and self-blame, that they love me as I am.
My sister, who responded to my news with “Now we can be real sisters, because you need me.” Who sent me affirmations and grounding techniques to practice when I was overcome by fear or anger. She’s a real sister, for sure, and I hope I’m being a real sister too.
My kids, just being themselves in the midst of these changes to our family.
The first friend I told, who sat with me in parks or went for long walks with me this summer and fall, listening, offering wisdom. If it weren’t for this fucking pandemic, there would have been a lot of hugs, dinners together, and glasses of wine as well.
The dog and cats, who snuggle up close at night so my bed never feels empty. In fact, guys, I could use a little more room to turn over!
The college friend who schedules a weekly FaceTime to share laughter and book recommendations and her hard-won advice about grieving.
Other friends who listen, and walk, and check in. The friend who crocheted me a scarf that feels like a hug. The colleagues who sent me flowers and set up Zoom happy hours and told me to buy new bedding.
The many people who, when I told them I had separated from my husband and was having a hard time, thanked me for sharing my vulnerability (it’s surprising how many used those exact words). Who helped me keep taking the risk of being emotionally open.
The people who told me how amazing and strong I am, so many and so often that I decided to try believing them.
I’ve been listening to Maggie Smith reading her book Keep Moving, written in the wake of her own divorce. She argues against using the word “broken.” Your heart is not broken, she says, it’s working fine, feeling things, doing its job. You are not broken, your family is not broken, your life is not broken.
I think this is mostly right. But to say my heart is broken feels right for me. The thing is, it works better broken. There is a line at the end of Laurie Colwin’s novel Family Happiness that has stayed with me since I first read it decades ago, and that I think of often now: “Polly felt her heart break open to love and pain, and to the complexity of things.”
That’s the way my heart feels broken. I tried to seal it shut, encase it in a hard shell that would protect me from the pain of depression. That didn’t work. (Surprise!) But it meant I felt almost nothing but the pain. Love couldn’t get in or out of that shell, even though I wanted to feel and express it.
Broken open by the pain of loss, I’m feeling so much–grief, joy, anger, calm, fear, peace, irritation, happiness–sometimes all in the space of few minutes. My broken-open heart can receive love. Love is helping to heal me. And so at last I have some to give again.
Happy Valentine’s Day!