My parents were married for 25 years and it wasn’t your typical fairytale – but, not many are. Contrary to the dramatized ‘happily ever after’ movies I grew up watching as a kid, their marriage was real and at times excruciatingly difficult, requiring grit and a symphony of deep breaths.
They say that when you stand up at the altar, there’s always more than just two people there. In reality, you’re saying ‘I do’ to the many different parts and aspects of your future partner; to their 3 year old who used to protest and stomp around naked, to their teenager who skipped school and stole money, and to their young adult who tried desperately to pretend that everything was ok.
So it’s no wonder that things often become complicated quite quickly – and for them, things already were.
While my Mom endured relentless teasing as a child, which included her brother covertly cutting off one of her braids of hair, my Dad had to shuffle over to the neighbours house whenever he wanted to play with any toys. While my Dad’s parents held back on the number of hugs they gave out, which was none, my Mom’s parents prioritized their social life, which equated to a serious lack of boundaries and limits.
So naturally, my parents turned into wild, rebellious, hitchhiking hippies, and you can imagine how things went on from there, or maybe you can’t? Explosive devices were constructed, and possessions were sold in the name of fun and experimentation, and there may have been some run-ins with the law, negotiations with the police and a moment of being held at gun point – but that’s another story.
Their lives were colourful and multilayered to say the least, with MANY different parts and aspects. And in between the layers, in the tiny spaces, were needs – ones not yet fulfilled or even quite understood at the time.
Most people assume that when they finally meet that special someone, and they’re effortlessly whisked away by love, all their needs will be satisfied and all their voids will be filled – no matter how deep they are – but unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it’s never that easy.
On some level, we all unknowingly choose partners who will challenge us and help us to grow. And depending on where we’ve started, where we’ve come from, and how far we have to go, that growth can be painful and excruciatingly difficult.
For my parents, the parts of themselves that weren’t quite satisfied or fulfilled, the parts that were underdeveloped and even immature at times, became rather loud, and rightfully so. Heels were dug in for hours or days at a time, and some were even planted firmly for years.
And as such, in 2001, they got divorced.
Change and growth can be tricky things, and they usually happen in the hard and uncomfortable spaces of our lives. It takes a generous amount of time and patience to unravel the fabrics of who you are, and sometimes you’re able to do that with someone else by your side, and sometimes you aren’t. And it doesn’t matter how hard you try or how badly you want it, those defining parts and aspects, shaped by upbringing and life circumstances, are extremely powerful forces to tackle.
Self-awareness takes times time and it most definitely goes at its own pace. And ultimately, sometimes things need to fall apart before they can get better.
During their separation, my parents continued to peel back their own individual layers – both consciously and unconsciously at times – and as suspected, there were a lot. They learned new things about themselves, about their time together and they began to understand and appreciate certain parts and aspects of each other that they never did before.
As a kid – since there is never just two people in a marriage either – it was scary and painful, and brutally hard at times. That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of good times as well, because there definitely was. And through their endurance, I peeled back some of my own individual layers as well – which weren’t nearly as colourful or multilayered, thanks to them – and my views and opinions of what happened in their marriage became less black and white. And when I grew up, got married and had kids of my own, I began to recognize how incredibly hard, messy and confusing it can all really be.
“It has been said that time heals all wounds. The truth is that time does not heal anything, it merely passes. It is what we do during the passing of time, that helps or hinders the healing process.” – Jay Marshall
Two years ago, at my brothers wedding, my parents spoke for the first time in almost 20 years. It was beautiful and emotional and something I dreamed of for a very long time. From that day forward, their dialogue was rekindled and their friendship began to grow.
They have reminisced and laughed together over lunch dates and family gatherings, and they have shared with each other the things they appreciated in one another and still appreciate to this day.
A few months ago, my Dad renovated one of the bedrooms in our childhood home – there was still some high-caliber 1980’s wallpaper around the house. When he was peeling back the layers – which I’m sure most of you are aware, is no easy task – he found a couple of handwritten notes underneath.
They were both enclosed by giant hearts, one with an arrow through it, and the first one said, “Gordie loves Nancy”, and the other one said, “Nancy and Gord will definitely live happily ever after!!!”, and without a doubt, in my opinion, that’s exactly what they did.
Just like the wallpaper, peeling back the layers of who you are is no easy task. In their case, it took a marriage, a divorce, and a rekindled friendship, which spanned across 40 years, to reveal what was underneath the wallpaper all along, and what is still there to this day, which is love.
Love is a complicated thing and it most certainly doesn’t follow the familiar recipe or the simple sequence of events we are all so very familiar with and completely saturated by from the movies. There are ups and downs, lows and highs, and smooth and very bumpy terrains. Love comes and goes, gets lost and found, and often times buried below the surface.
To me, a happily ever after means peeling back those layers, no matter how painful and difficult it may be. It means enduring long enough and working hard enough to ultimately reveal that simple and single truth underneath, the truth untainted and untouched by all those other parts and aspects, and that’s exactly what they did, and I couldn’t be more proud.