Bittersweet

There is perhaps nothing more American than the guarantee of happily ever after. We’ve become proud owners and champions of Disney’s dream. Old stories that had complicated endings, or sometimes downright gruesome ones, have been shined and tidied up to fit our palate. Our addiction to all things sweet extends from our diet to our taste in entertainment. We like to wrap things up in beautiful packages: simple, elegant, and most of all happy.

We like nothing better than a comeback story. If there has to be sadness in life, it better be rounded out with a glorious story that gets you off your duff and cheering in the stands. Winning a trophy may fill all previous gaps left by pain in a movie, but it does not in real life. Life is much more complex. Sad and happy often are hopelessly intertwined.

Ever since I remarried I feel like I no longer have permission to grieve. No one would tell me this, but its implicit in the excited and hope-filled comments people impart. “I’m so happy that things aren’t hard for you anymore.” “God has redeemed this situation so beautifully.” “What a good thing that you aren’t alone and your kids have a dad again.” Yes, yes, and amen. But also no.

Things aren’t as hard as when I was a single mom. I don’t spend the night awake in an empty bed wishing I could disappear. I don’t spend evenings trying to figure out how I’m going to provide for my family and how I’m going to be in three places at once tomorrow. I have help at home and I have a partner in life. It is good. But seeing others celebrate their anniversaries still sting. Dealing with the fallout of having a broken family still feels painful. My life often still feels like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

My kids are unbelievably blessed to have my husband. His love for them is truly a gift from God. It was given to him full-grown and ready to be active. From the first moment they met, my kids were ready to have him in our lives and the feeling was absolutely mutual. And yet they still don’t know what to call him. I still feel stings when others assume he’s their dad; and daggers when I have to refer to their last name as different than ours. We won’t ever be the Allen Family. We won’t ever have “Allen Family Rules” proudly on display in our kitchen. Their dad will always live somewhere else and need to be explained away.

I still lost eleven years of my life. That hasn’t changed. Some of the happiest memories I’ve ever made have turned sour. I share the most intimate of moments, of making and birthing children, with a complete stranger. Much of my day can feel dishonest. I’m so often reminded of stories and things that I’d like to share with my husband, but I know they can hurt so I keep them to myself. I often think of people or things that I want to talk about, but then remember he doesn’t know because he wasn’t there.

Bittersweet is perhaps the best description for where I am in life right now. People spend a lot of time extolling how happy they are for me, so pleased that all wrongs have been made right and I am whole again. It feels ungrateful to disagree, to remind people that I still have loss. That I will always have loss. I’m an amputee. I’ve lost my arm and no amount of new things will ever cure me of this missing limb. Remarriage isn’t a cure for divorce, any more than a successful pregnancy cures a miscarriage.

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