“A Time to Heal,” Ensign, Apr. 1989, 56
Me—a divorcée? Even the word made me wince. I had been calm the night before as I lay thinking about the coming day, calm as I had said my morning prayers and gone through the motions of morning routine with the children. I was even calm when I was sworn in and as I answered questions from the formal, seemingly uninterested judge who scarcely glanced up. I was only one of many who passed through the courtroom each day.
Then, it was over—after nearly twenty-three years of marriage that had begun in the holy temple, after five beautiful children, and after months of litigation and thousands of dollars in legal fees.
I was alone in that courtroom and felt a terrible, wrenching tearing inside that was physical and emotional and spiritual. A flood of memories came back to me of the father of my children, the companion of my youth, and of the years we had shared. With those memories came a blinding sense of pain and loss.
The experiences of our family over the past three years have ranged from shock that anything could so disrupt our family, disbelief that divorce could happen to me, fear of the future, and anger, to numbness, and finally to acceptance and healing. I have held my sobbing children in my arms in the night, trying to comfort their broken hearts. Typical of their reactions is that of one of my daughters who carefully hid in her room a white envelope filled with the tiny pieces of a photograph of her mother and father, shredded by the hands of a heartbroken child.
Though the depth of my pain has been profound as I have witnessed my children’s heartache, it has numbed with the passage of time—and though there is sadness in my heart, I now feel a sense of peace. My heart has been broken, but now is the time to heal. I have resolved to dispel thoughts of bitterness and hurt, to move ahead, to forgive and forget.
Though challenging moments continue, taking one day at a time makes them manageable.
At the time of my former husband’s and my marital separation, our four daughters and one son were eight, twelve, fourteen, eighteen, and nineteen. Knowing that emotional, physical, and spiritual stability was crucial for them to successfully weather the challenge of family change, I knew I could not let adversity destroy their lives or our family unit. I had to be strong for them.
The following principles have provided me a stable and sure foundation of emotional and spiritual strength. There is peace in our home as we move ahead on the course our Heavenly Father would have us take.
Maintain a Secure Family Identity. Our motto has been, “We are still a family.” We have worked together on family projects such as our garden. We have continued important family traditions including sharing Christmas Eve with the missionaries. We have maintained family routines such as family prayer, scripture reading, family home evening, “sit-down-together” mealtimes, and church attendance. We have counseled together. We discuss what we have achieved individually and as a family, what we can learn from certain experiences, and how to bolster family spirit. We maintain consistent discipline and honor family rules.
As we have served each other through expressions of caring, our love has increased. My children have shown compassion toward each other and toward both of their parents. Through family service projects, we have taken the opportunity to reach out to others, whether they are our extended Church family or our nonmember neighbors and friends.
Spend Time with Each Family Member. One of my maternal goals has been to spend a few minutes each day really listening to each child—freely dispensing hugs and meaningful praise. I have scheduled a “date” once a month with each child to focus on him or her only—a private time when we can discuss feelings and thoughts, priorities and goals.
One of our most memorable times together happened shortly after the divorce. Though my idea of camping is to be as far away as possible from a tent in the woods, I decided to honor a commitment that had been made and take the children camping for a holiday. We ended up crowded together in a small tent, laughing and giggling, and wondering why we had decided to do such a crazy thing. After everyone quieted down that night, I told them a story about courage. When their grandmother was expecting her sixth child, the doctor said that she had only six months to live. Her husband was devastated—how he could ever get along without her? She looked him squarely in the eye and said, “Wait a minute—I’m not dead yet!” This reaction was typical of the “sunshine girl,” who continued to live for six more years despite the prognosis. We talked about our experiences and felt that we, too, certainly weren’t “dead yet.”
Foster Self-Reliance in Family Members. I have tried to find balance in my relationship with the children, respecting their opinions but not pushing them into adulthood prematurely by over-relying on them. I have encouraged them to maintain friendships and activities and to bring their friends to our home. I have also supported age-appropriate independence while encouraging a sense of shared responsibility for our family.
Focus on Physical Health. In addition to our efforts to have well-balanced meals and to keep our bodies healthy through regular health checkups, we have a regular exercise program of family walks. This has proved to be especially helpful for one of my daughters. An introspective, self-contained child, she can “get lost” in a family if someone doesn’t watch out for her. Through our crisis, I have tried to make sure that her needs were met as well as those of her more vocal siblings. Though she was quiet at home, on our one-on-one walks she would open up and tell me how she felt—about adjusting to change, about school, about faith and happiness. One day, she asked me how the divorce would affect us as an eternal family. When I reviewed the promises of our Heavenly Father about the life hereafter and told her that our eternal reward comes as a result of personal righteousness, she paused for a minute as if to sort it out. Then she hugged me, smiled, and said, “Thanks, Mom.”
Use Appropriate Support Systems. An important part of coping with change has been to appropriately use our support systems. Priesthood leaders and home teachers have graciously exercised their priesthood in behalf of our family. Our home teachers have laid their hands on my head and the heads of my children many times, giving us inspired direction from our Heavenly Father in blessings of comfort, healing, and counsel.
Identify Strong Role Models. I have found strong male role models for my son in Scoutmasters, priesthood leaders, home teachers, and extended family members. Schoolteachers, visiting teachers, Primary and seminary teachers, Young Women leaders, and family friends have also reached out to us in ways that are heartening.
Define Relationships. Knowing that parental conflict and hostility is more detrimental to the children than the marital separation itself, the children’s father and I have avoided open, traumatic conflicts. Criticism is avoided as much as possible. Although the complexities of adult behavior are difficult for children to comprehend, I have tried to work within the framework of their understanding.
The children are not used as a weapon with either parent. The father-child relationship is between the father and the child; I do not orchestrate it. We fast and pray for the children’s father on a continuing basis.
Time for Myself. Knowing that whatever strengthens me strengthens my family, I have taken time for myself in a variety of ways. Taking “Me and the Lord” two-mile walks, when I talk to my Heavenly Father, shed tears, and express feelings, has provided a release for me. Keeping a personal journal helps endow my challenges with meaning and eternal perspective.
I am grateful for the continuing opportunity to hold Church callings, and I often bear my testimony as I teach my institute class.
I have made the six-hour journey to the Dallas Temple as often as possible and have drawn on the strength of loved ones on both sides of the veil who have succored me when I felt discouraged and downhearted.
I have drawn on the example of my parents and have recalled many lessons of life that I learned as a child. Several years ago, my father suffered a massive stroke and was almost completely paralyzed on one side. The routine of walking became a rigorous process—with a cane, a brace on his leg, a sling on his useless arm, and the steadying hand of a companion. Because of Dad’s incredible self-discipline, he took these walks whether or not he felt like it. One night as we walked, he stopped momentarily and heaved a great sigh as though the effort was a mighty one—which I’m sure it was. I asked sympathetically, “Is it hard, Dad?” He looked at me and, after a moment’s hesitation, said, “Get going!” This was profound counsel with his limited means of communication, and we continued to walk every inch of the route. Dad didn’t indulge in self-pity; he faltered for only a moment, then moved ahead. I draw on the strength of such role models.
Light after Darkness. As I reflect on the past three years, I acknowledge the many blessings the Lord has given me. As I listen to my children sing “Keep the commandments—in this there is safety and peace,” I have an increased testimony that the gospel brings us safety and peace despite trying situations. I have a strong testimony that if we are worthy, we will not be deprived of eternal blessings.
We have learned that, despite our deep pain, we can choose what our attitude will be. We can meet this challenge with bitterness, or we can move ahead in a positive way. One day when our family visited an elderly homebound invalid with many challenges, I saw my son take her hand and tenderly say, “You can make it—you’re a fighter!” Seeing the challenges of others and how they meet them has put ours into perspective.
We have been blessed with strength to meet our challenges. The children have done well academically. I have rekindled my skills as a registered nurse and completed graduate school in order to be self-sufficient and to help with the children’s education and missions.
We have grown closer as we have learned to rely on each other and the Lord. We are learning important lessons about love and forgiveness, and what commitment really means. Pain has made a furrow in our hearts that has provided fertile soil for the growth of mutual love. My children sustain me in ways they can’t even begin to know. When one of them puts an arm around me and says, “How’re you doing, Mom?” or I find a note on my bed that simply says, “I love you,” it lifts my heart and calms my spirit.
We have found that we have both the ability and the obligation to be happy—to find happiness in small things and gratitude for even the smallest blessing. One evening, as I took a walk with my sunshiny youngest daughter, she knelt, cupped a beautiful daffodil in her hands, and said, “Lift up your head and rejoice!” And then she told me that she had talked to those daffodils and told them they needed to stand tall in spite of the Kansas extremes of heat and cold and the strength of the Kansas wind. What a lesson of life that was for me—to meet adversity head-on, lifting up my head and rejoicing!
I see my children fast and pray and reach out to their father and to me with growing sensitivity. They see that their mother isn’t perfect, that she has a lot of growing to do—and I acknowledge my weaknesses and imperfections to them. Recently, as I apologized to my son for being grouchy and sad, he touched my hand and said, “Mom, don’t be so hard on yourself.” I appreciate that vote of confidence.
My testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ has increased, and I am grateful for the clarity, meaning, and security it brings to my life. I have felt great joy and peace and have gained new insights about the sacrifice of the Savior in my behalf. In the lonely days and nights of my own suffering, I have felt his Spirit as if he were saying, “I know—because I have suffered, too.”
I have committed this poem from Christine Rosetti to memory and find it helpful when moments seem dark:
Though my soul may set in darkness,
it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night.
(Sarah Williams, “The Old Astronomer and His Pupil,” in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, sel. Hazel Felleman, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1936, p. 614.)
In a recent visit to the temple, I wept as I again heard the beautiful promises of the temple ordinance, knowing that personal worthiness is the key to the richest blessings of our Heavenly Father. With my head bowed in contemplation, I felt prompted to look up. I raised my eyes to the vaulted ceiling and, it seemed, to the eternities beyond, and reflected on the meaning of that inspired counsel.
I am grateful for the outpouring of the Spirit that has come into my life and express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for my many blessings. After several years I can say, with a measure of peace and happiness in my life, that the best is yet to be.