Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Uncategorized

The Art of Splitting Up Together

“This can’t be mine,” he said matter-of-factly as he took a quick glance and passed it over to me.

“No, it’s not,” I said softly as he handed me the dress I wore at our December wedding reception.

It was the third day, or maybe the fourth, of the process of moving his things out of this house we bought, our third home since we got married, the one that we shared for our last six years.

We have had to work in small increments, over several days, in the past few weeks, to get it done. We have made a lot of progress. We are nearly done – only the big items remain now.

On the first day, we sorted through the piles of boxes in the garage that I had put to one side for him so that it would be easier to divide up our possessions. I had spent about three weeks doing the same thing in every room in the house prior to the move. All of his things were placed in drawers that I marked as his so he could find everything easily. It was best for both of us to make it easier, and it was – I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been for us to pack his things if we had to go searching as we went along.

I wanted to make things as easy as possible in the most difficult part of this whole long process – this painfully excruciating process that feels like a slow death – because it is.

My hope was that somehow, some way, it would lessen the pain.

It didn’t, but, at the same time, I think it would have been worse to have done this differently by washing my hands of it, as many people advised me to do – with good reason.  But, in spite of the pain I feel, I’m glad I am doing what feels right to me.

And- just like when I did everything I could to make sure he was with his dogs, when he wanted to be, especially when we had to say goodbye, I am glad I did everything I could to make this move – which has not been easy on either of us – easier than it would have been, had I not divided up our things, and put his things in designated places for him, ahead of time.

That first day, when we were sorting through his boxes in the garage, it was like a treasure hunt – and if we had been going through his things to downsize, or do spring cleaning, or to get ready to sell the house together – something other than splitting apart – it would have been fun, and adventurous – even silly.  Instead of heartbreaking and bittersweet.

For – I found things of his that I wish we’d had in the house, or all of our three homes, I should say, all along. To find them now – when I couldn’t do anything except to carefully pack them in new boxes  – that are not covered with dirt and spider webs and God knows what else from all those years in the garage – well, it felt like its own loss.

In one of the boxes, I found a bunch of photographs and mementos from his past – and I genuinely and sincerely got so excited seeing them, my heart was full of giddiness looking through the memories of his life.

It was an experience of feeling heartbroken and overjoyed, at the same time.

I’ve studied psychology enough to know that dialectical truths happen all the time – there is nothing wrong with them, and when you think about it, some of them make sense. This was one of them – finding photos from his travels and from his graduate school days. I had seen his martial arts photo and his second grade class photo before, but I had no idea he’d acted in a school musical! Why did I have to find these things out now – when it’s too late.

I found his diploma from University of New Mexico and then, the photo from Washington State – when he was robed, receiving his Ph.D. I knew I’d seen that one before, but somehow it looked different this time – I felt my chest well up – as if I’d been there in the audience watching him receive this diploma he had fought so hard for – harder than most people, and it was a long, long road for him, for many reasons.

He’d earned it. And that joy on his face, that smile in that photo – the only other time I’d seen that look on his face was at our wedding – when I was saying my vows. At least, that’s the only time I can remember.

Our wedding day: October 25, 2010 – as I was saying my vows to Audie

I’m certain there must have been other times in his life that he felt the way he looked in that graduation photo, but I am positive that nothing meant as much to him to date as that moment did – I know what he went through to get there – I’ve seen what he’s been through since, but I also know, there were times he wasn’t sure he’d make it – and he did.

That’s true joy.

I was so proud of him all over again. I said, “I wish I’d known we had this, I would have put it up on the wall in our house.”

I had told him many times since we first met that I wish I had known him back then so I could have been there to see him get his Ph.D. in person.

I think back to 2017 when he got his R01 grant and knew he would get tenure – I had wanted that to feel the same, too, but I had done too much damage – and that moment I had watched him work his ass off for – for 6 long years – was not what I had thought it would be.

And it was part of what has led me here – and the emptiness I feel is much like I felt that day when he told me he got the grant, the big one, that meant he was assured tenure – and there was so much space between us – I could not reach out and hug him and tell him – loud and proud – what was in my heart. I had to say it quietly, when I wanted to roar, “You did it! I knew you would do it! I always knew, even when you doubted yourself, I knew you would get the R01 grant and tenure!”

I wanted so much to take him in my arms but all I could do was sit in the passenger seat and tell him, my voice drifting, “I always thought this would feel differently when it happened.”

On the second day,  we put together boxes (he did that part, mostly), and we spent the rest of the day taking the pieces of his part of the life we shared together off of shelves, out of drawers, out of cabinets, and tossing them into cardboard boxes – taping them up, labeling them – as I’ve done so many times – except this time, it felt like I was losing a part of myself with every last thing I packed away.

At one point, he said to me, as he was packing one bookshelf and I was on the other side of the room packing the other, “I’m sorry how things turned out with us.”

He said it, like everything else lately, very matter-of-factly, and this time, I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. Not to that. There was really nothing for me to say – I feel it is my fault, and it was the first time I wondered  – am I really the only one who is grieving  the end of our marriage?

I know that sounds unfair, except that I just don’t know what he meant when he said that. So I let it be.

When I was packing up the dishes and glasses and all the pots and pans and utensils in the kitchen that belonged to him (which took the longest of anything I did), he was upstairs in the storage room packing up things of his that were all a hodge podge. I could not figure out what was what when I was sorting his things so I’d put it all in the middle for him to figure out – at least I knew they were his, that was a start.

It was weird – the first day, especially, but the second day, and today, too – we were different. And if we’d been like this our entire marriage – I think we’d still be married. I said something to him along the lines of, “Some people do better with each other when they are not married.”

It was not what I wanted, but it seemed to be what was happening – all of a sudden, we were communicating and it was not hard, or didn’t seem like it. No one seemed angry, and all of a sudden, no one seemed to care if he kept this, or I kept that, or if I borrowed this, or if he left that behind…the stuff didn’t matter. Not a bit.

I can’t speak for him, but for me, I felt that he could have taken every single thing in that house and given it away – if I could have had the man standing there as my husband – forever. If it would make what was happening now, in his life, not be happening.

But, I also promised myself that I have to pay the consequences for my mistakes and for my faults and for what I said, especially, and this – this is the price of that.

I remind myself every day – he deserves to be happy, I want him to be happy.

Even if my insides are gutted out knowing I’ve lost him forever to someone else.

I just wish it didn’t hurt so much. And that it didn’t feel so unfair.

I fought so hard for my marriage, for so many years, and she gets the benefit of all the hard work of it all – everything we both went through, everything we both learned, all of the sacrifices we both made.

It is truly the most painful consequence of all.

Now that all the hard stuff is in his past, now that it’s all easy, does she become my judge and jury?

All I do know is that she fills that space in his life now – in every way.

I never thought it would be this hard – but it is – it is agonizing.

I never thought it would turn out this way. I’m too much of an idealist, I know that, but I thought if I didn’t give up, through the hard years, the good, the bad, and all the in between, that in the end, we would spend the rest of our lives together after all.

The way it all unfolded, and when, hurts worse than I ever imagined. Mainly because I did not ever think I’d have to go through watching it unfold right in front of me in real time.

I wish she had considered my feelings in this situation – I wish she had put herself in my shoes before she made the decisions she did.

But how can I expect her to do that? How can I expect someone who doesn’t know me to do that?

I can’t.

That’s the consequences, and I know that. I just have to live with it, and do my best to remember who I am, who I was, what we had, and that no one can take that away from me.

But more importantly, I want to treat him,  and anyone in his life, including her, the way I’d want to be treated.

She is the luckiest woman in the world – my only consolation is – I believe she knows she is, or at least, I choose to believe the best about her in that way.

I hope that she is a good person who is not enjoying the thought of my being in pain, but either way, I want to be fair.

She makes him happy – I can tell.  I can hear it, I can see it. And seeing him happy is all I want for him.

As hard as this is, I love him enough to let him go.

I’d rather know the truth, than not know. Than be left in the dark, wondering what happened.

For me, knowing the truth is the only way I know how to find radical acceptance, and to move forward.

Just now, I thought we’d said goodbye, and all of a sudden, as I was writing, he texted me to ask if he could take the trash bags out of the garage to take to the dump since he was in the area.

I wondered why he wanted to do that now, with the thunder stirring in the air, and the lightning flashing in the sky – it’s late, and he’s been loading and unloading boxes most of the day.

It would have been fulfilling to have done this at a different time, but now I’m so afraid of the void in the future – what’s next? I have no idea where I want to live, or what’s going to happen, and today, if I had let myself, I would have almost believed that this was not a divorce, but simply a move – just any old move.

But it’s not. And he’s almost done.

In 7 short days, this will all be done.

And then, I don’t know what will happen – I may never see him again.

I can’t imagine the thought of never meeting again – but in the end, I know that there is no way to control that – or even to know if it is true.

My hope is that I will always look back on this time in peace – one day – someday.

It leaves a pit in my stomach when I think about what this means – and it did while it was happening – some of the time: going through the pieces of our life together, his things, my things, dividing up the parts, the possessions one by one, deciding who gets this, do we donate that?

It was us – the best of us – how civil it was, how friendly it was, most of the time. Even while I pretended not to be dying inside, every minute of it, for both our sakes.

And, I will always be glad – glad that when I could have chosen to make it harder, or to do something rash – instead – I faced the consequences – by splitting up together – instead of breaking everything good apart.


Audie and me: our engagement photo shoot in Solana Beach Sept. 2010 by Aaron Feldman


“Comes The Dawn”

After a while you learn the subtle difference

Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t mean security,

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats

With your head up and your eyes open

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today,

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn

That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong,

And you really do have worth.

And you learn and learn…

With every goodbye you learn.

Author: Veronica A. Shoffstall





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