When her marriage imploded, author Stacy Morrison found that the road to her recovery was paved in friendship
There are moments in life where the world opens up underneath you and you think you will be swallowed whole. For me, this moment arrived when my husband of nearly ten years looked at me as I was making dinner one night, while our 10-month old son was playing at his feet, and said, “I’m done with this.” “This” meaning me, and our marriage, and the life we’d built in our 13 years together.
My first response to this news was tears, begging, making deals with God, and several glasses of cabernet. (Looking back, I think I should have gone right to bourbon straight from the bottle.) But after the initial chaos came blank, eerily quiet and lonely months of Figuring Stuff Out: dividing furniture and finances, making endless dinners for one, entering a kind of social hibernation. The heartbreak is hard; the lonely is harder.
I knew my friends wanted to help me — they kept saying so, over and over again — but it was all I could do to stumble home from my engrossing, new job (at the helm of Redbook magazine) and spend a focused 90 minutes with my son before he went to bed. And then I would just sit in my house and stare at the wall, and think, “How on earth can anyone help me here?”
It’s hard for the friends, too, of course. Divorce within any circle drops an H-bomb of doubt and fear over the most settled of couples. And I knew that if I were having a hard time figuring out how my friends could help me with the impossible task of rebuilding my sense of self, that they were probably equally at a loss.
But over time, my friends did find truly amazing — and utterly simple — ways to support me, even without my direction. In the memoir I wrote about my divorce and all the beautiful life lessons it brought me, my friend Kim stands out as a shining beacon: she managed to stay connected to all that was unfolding in my crazy-busy-upside-down life (we worked together, so that helped), and served as my guardian angel, helping me remember to do grinding life tasks that might have slipped my notice — registering my son in summer camp, signing up for flu shots, paying taxes (oh, right, that). And she kept her eye on bigger things, too, asking me if I’d made plans for my son and me to be out of the house on the Saturday that my husband was going to back up a moving van to the front door and take away all of his belongings.
Um, no, actually. I didn’t have plans. So I spent the day with Kim and her husband and daughter, waiting for my husband to call and tell me he was “out.” And then we spent the evening together, too. I truly had the time of my life that night — and not just because I was at a museum with friends, listening to live music, having fun, dancing with our kids and drinking wine. But also because Kim’s actions and love reminded me that even though friends can’t help you with the big stuff — the heartbreak, the financial woes, the sense that everything you ever knew about life is wrong — they’re really, really good at helping with the small stuff. Like active “unlistening,” in which someone witnesses your angriest, most hideous moments of bile, and then promptly relegates any memory of it to the mental garbage can. Or, similarly, spending a few hours with you in shared amnesia, in which the two of you pretend your life is going along swimmingly right now, and you talk about everything but the big, downer elephant in the room. On the other hand, there’s also joyful hysteria, when a nothing joke hits you both at the same time and you laugh as if you were at a slumber party in high school, tears and all. These small acts of company do add up: dozens and dozens of little pebbles of love and faith and support that slowly fill the void that had opened underneath me.
So whenever we find ourselves paralyzed in the face of a friend’s sudden disaster — be it divorce or illness, death or any sudden, unsettling change in life’s direction — we must remember that the first line of “help” isn’t always action. (Lord knows the number of wrongs that have been done in pushing people to make decisions that suit our own sense of outrage and discomfort at all that can go wrong in life). Instead, friends come to their most powerful aid with their mere presence — their stillness when everything else is spinning.
It is in the silence I shared with friends during those many, many hard months that I first heard the me inside — the me they knew, the me who still existed, the me they brought along whenever they came to visit — and at last, come back to life.
Editor’s Note: Stacy Morrison, author of Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce, is the former editor in chief of Redbook magazine. She was formerly executive editor at Marie Claire and editor in chief of Modern Bride, and has appeared as an expert on women, love, sex, money, on Today, CNN Moneyline, and The Early Show, among many other television programs. She lives in Brooklyn with her son, Zack. Visit her at fallingapartinonepiece.com