In April of 1996 my family suffered the loss of my sister Collette. In the years that followed, my mom, Cathy, had a difficult time relaying what she was feeling in her devastated soul.
Someone had signed them up with "Compassionate Friends", which is an international support group for parents who've lost children.
The newsletter that arrived in the mail each month was often filled with poignant stories of survival from parents who'd faced such tragedy. Cathy would occasionally refer us to stories that said the things she carried in her heart but could not verbalize.
One such story applies to this blog, and to this topic of divorce and fatherhood.
The story was a piece of prose by a mom who'd lost a child. She likened the experience to getting lost in the forest. She had entered this forest forcibly, not by choice. She was lost...feeling her way along the dark trees and unfamiliar undergrowth. She was finding her way out, strictly by using her instincts and her Faith. She only knew two things for sure about all this new, uncharted, unfamiliar landscape. She was not going to leave this forest from the same place she entered, and she would not be the same when she left.
Entering that landscape of loneliness and sorrow was not a round trip ticket. The entryway was opened through tragedy...a tragedy so horrible that it defies description and precludes imagination. She never asked to take this journey, it was forced upon her. The only option was not really an option; not taking the trip at all. That would involve shutting down and ceasing to live. (A thought many parents consider when a child dies) She had no real choice but to grope along in this darkness looking for a way out. All she really knew was there was no going out the way she went in. The events that brought her here could not be reversed...that door swung only one way.
So she moved along in the blind darkness knowing one thing for sure...this trip was changing her at her core and she would not be leaving through the same door and therefore would not be the same person she was when she went in. She would gain strength in some places and lose it in others. She wasn't sure what she'd look like when she finally emerged into the sunlight again, but she knew she'd be different. She already was in so many ways.
Cathy photocopied that story and gave it to all of her family members (proudly, I am one of them)and hoped we'd understand. We did, although at first it was tough. I wanted the old Cathy back and she was never going to return. It took time and some maturity to grasp what had happened in her soul.
Today, Bob and Cathy are healed and basically pretty whole. You never get over something as devastating as losing a child, but God is good, and He provides healing in ways we never expect. He has been good to them and they have seen His love and grace.
The analogy of being lost in a dark unfamiliar woods is very appropriate for divorce.
I know this is a "Men's Forum" but this is really a universal truth today. Unless you wanted the divorce and had other plans for life once you were divorced, it is thrust on you...you don't go looking for this kind of pain.
You enter this dark forest not by choice but by decree. "You are now divorced...like it or not", and you have no road map and no light for your path. You grope along in the darkness, feeling for a familiar tree stump or a clearing but all you find is more darkness and nothing familiar to adjust your compass to. There is no sun, no moon, no stars in the pitch black night. The compass spins wildly at first and only serves to confuse you further.
So you grope along at a snails pace, stumbling and falling and bruising your knees on the low hanging branches and scraping your skin against the underbrush. One day a light starts to emerge in the distance and so you head towards it. You don't even know if it's where you want to be, and you know it's not where you entered. But it is a way out so you set off towards that faint glimmer in the pitch black darkness of this terrible forest of sorrow. As you work your way closer to the tiny glimmer and you are finally able to see a little, you notice that you aren't the same anymore. You changed back there in all that darkness and sadness. If you had a mirror you'd probably not recognize your own reflection.
One day you finally break through the treeline and into the sunlight and you find out how right you were. You really have changed and not all for the better. Your friends don't recognize you in a lot of ways and a lot of the things you desired and loved when you went in are changed or gone completely. There is a missing twinkle in your eye and your gait is slower...from banging around in all the darkness.
It's a whole new world on this side of that forest and it takes some adjustment. You find out that those who truly love you and really wanted the best for you were waiting patiently on this side of the forest, calling out to you and hoping you'd find your way. They know you've changed but they are so happy to have you back from the woods that they don't mind or even notice any longer. All that matters is they have you back...even in your changed form.
And the others who couldn't hang on and wait for you...they never really cared to begin with.