The Loneliest Time of My Life
I have been alone. I also have been lonely.
They are not the same.
Alone is a choice, lonely is an absence. An absence of company, of laughter, of conversation, of empathy, and of love.
The loneliest I have ever been is not when I divorced my kids’ father. It’s not when I remarried and discovered my husband drank in secret and watched porn there too. It’s when I couldn’t do it all, when I couldn’t make circumstances and logistics HAPPEN correctly, and without any real preparation or thought or opportunity to shield up my heart, my kids moved out of my house and into their dad’s.
They were tiny pieces of me then; two in elementary school and one just starting middle.
I thought I would completely unravel. Everything I had ever done, since I was sixteen years old, had been for them. It was a sobering thought, in the midst of my personal hysteria, to know my actions were not enough. It was not enough I provided a home for them. It was not enough to have a job. It was not enough I had a vehicle. It was not enough that I cooked their dinners, and helped them glue projects, and checked homework, and fell asleep on their beds while reading nighttime stories.
It was such a simple thing that changed our home-world.
There was nowhere for my oldest daughter to go after-school. It was too far for her to walk, too scary for her to ride a City bus – something she had never done, much less alone. The programs at school were full, I could not leave work early, my mother would not pick her up…, and the list goes on. The panic I felt that week consumed me. Could I quit my job and find another one? Would I find one in time? Could I pay my rent then? What about my bills? And the spiral continued.
So did my guilt. I had recently changed jobs and moved us to a little house by the beach; somewhere I had always wanted to live. I could not stop thinking this was all my fault.
The only option left chased me everywhere I went and like a nightmare, I ran and ran and ran until he called and said the words out loud, making my nightmare TRUTH.
“I think the kids should come and live with me. Shannon. I know this is hard, I do, but there aren’t any other options.”
He said it quiet. He said it with compassion. But it still felt like a blade, cutting all my insides out.
I began to cry and was not sure if I’d be able to stop.
That weekend I packed all their things, explained the best I could the switch that was happening, and told them I would see them the following weekend. Thinking of it now, I cry the same.
I was alone.
I had failed.
The three things I loved more than my own existence, were gone.
I did everything I could and it was not enough.
The nights were the hardest. Aren’t they always? The dark closes in like a tomb and the quiet was accusatory. I could not get away from the constant reproach, “YOU FAILED.”
“What kind of MOTHER are you?”
Anytime it would come up in random conversation that the kids lived with their dad, the expression of the person I was speaking with would change. Suddenly I was being assessed. My worth as a mother and a person came into question. I could see it in their eyes, the way their body would shift away from me.
Is she a drug-addict?
Did she abuse her kids?
She MUST be the most selfish person on earth.
Maybe she sleeps around? Slut.
Unfit. She is an unfit mother.
I get it. I would have thought those very same things. Because MOTHERS don’t lose their children.
But I did.
And my isolation grew. No one understood and no one knew what to say. I couldn’t stand to hear them try. I was broken.
I began to avoid home. If my kids weren’t there, neither was I.
I started drinking, going to bars, telling myself I was having a great time and this had actually worked out in my favor. I slept with guys and gazed into nothing while it happened. Numb and oblivious.
I wanted someone there. I wanted everyone to go away.
But all I really wanted was my kids back.
The weekends were EVERYTHING.
This went on for months and my unhappiness was constant. I sat in it. Took it with me on walks. It laid with me at night making sleep almost impossible.
And then one day I decided to stop. I still hurt. The guilt sat on my shoulders like a blanket.
But this was the longest self-destructive pity party I had ever had for myself and I was done. I wanted to punish myself forever. But how could I?
This would not be our life.
I enrolled in college classes. I stopped partying to avoid the absence of my kids and only went out on occasion – to have fun, not hide inside myself. I quit bringing guys home. I focused on making it better. If I had this time during the week, I could use it or waste it.
I had wasted enough.
And I met people. And I started laughing again. I still hated being home at night but now I had something keeping my mind busy, something purposeful, something to make my kids proud.
Then I did the next right thing.
I looked deep into the judgements made about me and I asked myself, “How many times have you done this exact same thing? With mothers or fathers?You judge. You choose a side.”
Here’s what was made clear.
My kids’ dad loves them JUST AS MUCH AS I DO. Even as a weekend dad. I love our kids JUST AS MUCH AS HE DOES. Even as a weekend mom.
Sometimes there is no bad parent. There are just divorced people doing their very best in a situation they never prepared for.
This was eleven years ago.
For three years after that, we would sit down with the kids and ask what they wanted – to come back to my house or stay with their dad. The first year their answer stung. I wanted to be chosen and I wasn’t. My daughter, twelve years old then, looked at me and with BRAVE all over her face said, “It’s just different Mommy. We have fun with you now. You aren’t so stressed out. And we like where we live. I hope that doesn’t make you feel bad.” And her giant blue eyes held tears and also, courage.
We ask our kids to face a lot of things. We ask them to be brave and be honest and the last thing we should do is have them be quiet because our ego and pride can’t handle the happenings.
So I squeezed her hand and told her “thank you.” I smiled at her and looked at the other two. Wide-eyed, they nodded their agreement.
It’s been eleven years. For five of those I was the weekend parent, making lots of weekday trips to see ROTC drills, dance performances or soccer games. Six years ago, my husband and I moved to the same small town. Instead of being 30-45 minutes away, we are ten. And I became the “every other week” parent.
But really, I am a PARENT. The kids may have physically lived in one place but I was always there. Daily calls. Multiple trips. It is availability and love and I gave it all that I had.
There is no one way to FAMILY nor one way to PARENT. We all have to do the best we can with what has been laid before us. That year – it was hell for me. The loneliness I felt was like slow death that would not come. Everything was ash and rubble and snotty tears.
But the learning came.
The hard work is always the work inside OUR VERY OWN heart.
And then healing. And then the lifting. And then the beauty.
Dear Mama. I was not planning on writing this. I knew I would cry and feel it all over again. But someone needs to hear it, someone needs to know – sometimes our very best is not enough. But that does not mean that WE are not enough. Go through and you WILL come out. It will hurt and you will want to die and give up but don’t. You can do this very hard thing. And you will be a better mother, a better human, and have a kinder, braver, heart for it.