I Got Through a Painful Divorce with the Help of my Jewish Mama
Gratitude is a popular buzzword these days, but it’s a construct I’ve been familiar with since I was a little girl. From a young age, I understood implicitly that life could be fleeting, and that young, healthy people could be here one day but gone the next.
Just two and a half when my father died suddenly, I must have become aware on a subconscious level that loved ones could vanish overnight, and that life was more complicated than the straightforward happy endings of fairy tales.
Paul Schreibman passed away when he was 28. He was a handsome, vibrant man, a loving father and doting husband. Lost within a strange place, my mother and I quickly became anchors for each other, and as I grew older, she became one of my best friends.
When I was in my twenties and thirties, I made a habit of choosing the wrong men to date. And so I went to therapy, like many good Jewish girls living in Brooklyn. Through therapy and long chats with my mother, I realized that I had been choosing men who would, inevitably, leave – a legacy from a childhood spent with an awareness of the fact that my father had, simply, “left.”
I was to be a late bloomer when it came to finding a conventional life, which was difficult for my mother, who, like all Jewish mothers, wanted me to find fulfilment in marriage and in the joys of becoming a mother. I wanted these things for myself, too, more than I actually understood.
At 38, I met the man I ended up marrying, and our courtship was something of a fairytale. I should have known better than anyone that fairytales belong firmly between the pages of books, and that they are rarely grounded in reality. I wanted to believe that here was a man who really would stay around, someone who wanted what I wanted. My mom wanted to believe that too.
I fell for Lou* quickly, and my whole family, including my mother, became swept away in the story that he was telling. He was utterly convincing and I wanted so much what it was that he seemed to be offering. He proposed after five months, and we married after eleven.
Joyfully, I was pregnant at our wedding; it had happened as soon as we’d started trying. The speech my mom brought many in the room to tears; it was a testament to life and how it can always surprise us with beauty, clear out of the blue.
Her spirit of resilience and joy came through. I realized in that moment, as I watched her standing at the podium, just how much of her spirit had been passed onto me over the years. She’s a woman who didn’t let life break her. She knew better.
But life is strange, and sometimes beautiful things don’t last. Sometimes things we think are real aren’t real at all.
I miscarried three days after our wedding. Lou and I started trying for another baby again as soon as we could. I was 39 and we felt that time was not necessarily going to be on our side.
Lou and I had a happy marriage, or so I believed, for seven months. I enjoyed creating a Jewish home and being his partner. That is, until the surreal day he came home from work and ended our marriage. He told me point blank that he’d decided that marriage and children weren’t for him, and that he wanted a more unconventional life. That he couldn’t live a life he didn’t want.
In the space of shock, my mother was the wise matriarch. She’d survived not only losing her husband, but, years later, a divorce from my stepfather. She’s now found love in her late fifties with a man she met online. They’ve been living in a big house by the sea together for the better part of the last decade.
My mother knows the power of the present and the importance of grabbing life with both hands and pushing forward. When your wedding photographs are too painful to look at, relegated to a cardboard box in the wardrobe, and your husband has gone, you have a few choices about where you go from there.
I chose to get up and try again. I knew this was the right way to proceed in my life. How I carried on after such a crushing disappointment is something I attribute in large part to the guidance I received from my mother.
Even after such enormous losses, she’s never had a victim mentality. This is a mindset that has worked its way into my psyche; it’s one of the things I treasure most about my Mom. She doesn’t pine or wallow. She allows for grief but also makes room for happiness. I simply followed her cue, something I’ve been learning how to do since toddlerhood.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt closer to my mother than I have during that odd year after my husband left our marriage. She is a therapist by profession, and she understood implicitly what had been going on with my husband. She helped me make sense of an unusual situation.
Though I had my own therapist, my mom’s knowledge and breadth of understanding about my husband’s jarring behavior was insightful and hugely helpful. More than anything, my mom’s presence and nurturing and chicken noodle soup supported me through that strange year in the interim space between marriage and divorce.
The day I received my get, I remember how she made me laugh, even as I was deciding what to wear to the courtroom. “What do you wear to get divorced?” I asked her as I stared into my closet, exasperated. “You’re beautiful,” she told me. “Wear a dress that you feel great in. The rabbis will be happy to see such a gorgeous young woman. You’ll brighten their day.”
Last year, my Mom turned 65. At her birthday party, I found myself overcome with emotion as I began to make a speech. Trying to articulate my feelings, I didn’t get very far. As soon as I heard myself say: “She’s more than my mother, she’s my best friend,” my voice cracked and tears came.
Just a few days after the party, I received a letter stating that my divorce was finalized. I called my mother, but I didn’t cry. I realized I was all cried out. Something had shifted. I’d spent a year working through the pain of finding out the man I married wasn’t who I’d thought he was, a year thinking hard about what kind of a future I wanted, and about what kind of man I was seeking. I was divorced and 40, but I was not nearly ready to give up on my hopes of becoming a wife and a mother.
With my mom by my side, I signed up for Jdate, JSwipe and JWed, and I gave my mom access so she could help me vet prospective dates. We had fun laughing at the unsuitable men who wrote to me, and we squealed a bit when I’d hear back from a man we both approved of. After every first date, I’d call my mom for a post-date debrief, and we’d laugh. She’d regularly send me emails with men she’d “shortlisted” and we would crack each other up with our observations about these men.
Half a year on, I’m still dating, and I’m still calling my mother afterwards. I feel wildly optimistic despite, or maybe because of, my past. I’m happy living in the present and making the most of each day; I feel intuitively that it’s all we really have. I know how lucky I am that I have my Jewish mama right by my side, along for the ride.