Sometimes people are terrible, and sometimes those people marry you. (Someone should really put that on a sign to be given out when divorcées sign legal paperwork.)
GAYLE: All the love I gave to you?, I want it back.
LENDALL: I don’t undertand—….
GAYLE: All the love you gave to me?, I’ve got it in the car…. I don’t want it anymore….I’ve made a decision: we’re done.
Act I, Scene iv, “Almost, Maine” (pg. 38)
After my divorce, I felt like there was a chasm in my chest a mile wide—where was I going to put all of the love that I once gave my husband? How could I fill the hole that, at many times, contained the love he gave to me?
Scene 4 of John Cariani’s play “Almost, Maine” (above) illustrates the metaphorical parallel of the love we give to those who hold our hearts. The scene begins with Gayle demanding that all of the love she gave to her ex-boyfriend, Lendall, be returned to her. Gayle then hauls on stage all of the love that Lendall gave her. She literally brings in huge bags of love; bags upon bags are brought on stage in the form of large fabric heaps containing pillows and cotton batting. She then continues to demand that the love she gave be given back to her.
In my real, non-fiction life, I was not so direct. I simply decided to take those “bags” of love and, instead of giving or demanding them back, I would give them away. I had plenty; in fact, I was overflowing. I couldn’t give them anymore, because I had no one to whom I could give them.
It is this conscious decision to give away love that has likely been the best advocate for my healing and grief process.
I will not spoil the rest of Cariani’s scene, but the feeling of love given and lost is a feeling with which many can surely relate. When one loves another, the intangible amounts of love shared are endless; they cannot be measured, but they can definitely be felt. The heights and depths of those feelings are never more prevalent than after a great loss. Cariani simply takes that notion and makes it literal, making the intangible real.
Before I separated from my husband for the final time, I became actively involved with community service. Through both work and civic organizations, I helped organize and co-chair a river clean-up, and I started working with our local United Way volunteer center. In fact, it is likely my involvement in these areas that helped me keep it together in the hellish months leading up to my divorce.
It is important to note that those who have gone through a separation, divorce, or other great loss often feel completely lost. Personally, I felt as if I couldn’t do a whole lot for myself. As do many divorcées, I felt bereft of self-esteem, hope, and direction. I realize now that I am a good person, I have hope for my future, and I am ready and willing to give and receive love, yet please understand that after a divorce no one feels well. As noted comedian Louie C.K. says it best, “No good marriage ends in divorce,” and to that end, most don’t leave a divorce with their heads on straight.
So, in light of my devastation, I did what my personality lends me to do: advocate for others. The first year, I continued investing in a volunteer group at the high school where I was teaching. Students and I organized and performed a Martin Luther King, Jr., presentation for a local nursing home, planned and conducted a used shoe drive in conjunction with the local United Way volunteer center, and created a recognition award for teachers at our school. These were not difficult to create or do; it was merely a matter of making the decision that it would be done, and, yes, I would do it.
Within that same year, I realized that much of what I was doing was social. I didn’t want to do nice things for others to be noticed; I wanted to do nice things for others because they deserved it.* So much of my recent past had been anchored in feeling sorrowful and massively distrusting of pretty much anyone close to me; I definitely did not want to continue to go down that path. Bitterness was not the seed I wanted to sow. What we all need is happiness, and I aimed to make it bloom by any means necessary.
For my past two birthdays, I’ve made this goal personal. Whatever age I’m turning, I do that many acts of charity or kindness in the community. Last year, for example, I mailed a donation to our local P.A.W.S. shelter, left a few random dollar bills in the toy aisle of a local dollar store, and took treats to a few older neighbors. I carried this concept throughout the year, too, by taking flowers or balloons to the local hospital for patients who do are in need of some extra cheer, donating unused items to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, and donating to the local animal shelter.
Generally, those who have been on the receiving end of my good deeds—community wide or individual—have been gracious and accepting. While I did not intentionally do these acts for recognition, the process has definitely helped heal my heart.
I took my bags of love—some of which were quite cumbersome and heavy—and I gave them all away. In doing so, my chasm of loss has shrunk to a small crevice, and one day I know it will be a tiny sidewalk crack. I encourage you to find a way to share your bags of love, however you’ve come to have them. If, like I did, you’re spending a lot of days on the couch staring at the wall wondering what went wrong with your life, well, it is probably that you’re still on the couch.
Share yourself and share your love; the world needs more of you.
*This is still my goal, which may seem counter-intuitive considering I did just write this entire post about it. My goal, however, is to help those in similar circumstances see that there is a way to make the world—and yourself—feel happy again.