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I just learned this morning that a close childhood friend and his wife have divorced. I live nearly 2000 miles and five states away from them, and we haven’t kept in close contact, so this news was a total shock to me, something totally unexpected. I found out on facebook. There are lots of things that I love about facebook, but this is not one of them. The skies outside today are overcast and we have the typical Northwest rain…my mood matches the greyness I see out my windows. I am broken hearted for this friend and for his children and the pain that they must certainly be feeling, and I am so saddened to see this family broken up.

I read a blog today written by the daughter of one of my best friends. She talked about the fact that in our society today, the family is under attack in so many painful ways. I look around myself and see the evidence of this everywhere. Almost everyone that I am close to has either chosen or been part of divorce in some way, and this is only one way in which families are broken up. Personally, my own family was broken up not just once, but twice. My first birthday memory as a child was shortly after or during the breakup of my parents’ marriage. I remember being given a suitcase for my fourth birthday. It was full of lots of fun toys, so at first I remember thinking nothing at all of the suitcase. I didn’t know what a suitcase was. I thought it was just the box that my presents were in. And then my mother explained it to me. The “box” was the gift. This was so that I would have a place to put my things when I went to visit my dad. I remember being confused; I didn’t understand and couldn’t comprehend this concept. It is only with my adult eyes that I understand this memory now.

My mother re-married, and in the process my two sisters and I acquired another dad and two more siblings…a brother and a sister, and then much later, two more little brothers. I grew up spending alternate weekends with my two families…and explaining to my friends why my last name was different than my parents’ (something that I suspect no longer needs explaining as often in circles of young children). One weekend I would go away to see my dad, the next weekend my new brother and sister would come to see us…later they came to live with us full time…and in time I also stopped going to see my dad. We were a family…until that family also got broken up. It wasn’t divorce this time. This time it was alcohol and drugs…and then the death of my mother and the remarriage of that dad and our subsequent exclusion from his life sealed the brokenness of our family. We children are beginning to recover and put the pieces back together a little at a time…in fits and starts, but we are still a broken family…and after all these years, it still hurts.

My husband’s family is also broken. His parents divorced about the time that we married. I remember his pain. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is always painful when your parents divorce. As my husband has pointed out, broken marriages and families are the result of someone being selfish, and I’ve seen far too many examples of this.

I remember thinking deeply about all of this one day as I watched my children playing nearby. I was feeling the pain of my broken family and it contrasted with the wholeness that my children have. I remember thinking how wonderful for them that they get to be a part of a family which is whole. They do not know the pain of broken families. I realized that this is something that they have probably never thought about at all…it is a totally natural thing for them, and (rightly so) they probably take it for granted. Oh, my husband and I have had our bumps along the way, but thankfully, we’ve always been able to overcome those bumps and have found the rainbow on the other side of any clouds in our life. It continues to be our goal that our children will always have this thing to take for granted in their lives…that their parents love each other and are committed to each other.  I’m not saying that we are something special because we are still together…I know that there are still many years ahead of us, and I’ve been around long enough to know better than to judge. I also realize that divorce is not the only symptom of a broken family. And I’m especially not trying to rub salt into the wounds of those who deal with the pain of a broken marriage or family…I know at least one side of that pain all too well.  I’m not trying to judge…I’m just trying to explain some feelings and thoughts that I have…perhaps I’m trying to make sense of them myself.

I grew up being told that I was special to have two dads to love. It was a normal part of my life. I didn’t know anything different. Perhaps if my second family had not also broken up and I weren’t still dealing with that pain, I would be content…I don’t know. …but somehow I don’t think so. I’ve recently reconnected with my dad whom I stopped going to see all those years ago…Oh how much we’ve lost over the last empty years. I do know that today I wish that I had one whole family…with no one on the outside. In some of my more poignant moments, I wish it with all of my heart.

Our society tries to normalize divorce and say that it is all okay, that the important thing is for both parents to be happy, and yet while I do understand that there are sometimes valid reasons for a marriage to break up, I also know that it always does hurt…a lot…and often  many years after the fact. I’m an adult now with grown children. My family became broken long, long ago. You’d think that any pain associated with it would be long gone…but it is not. No, there is lasting pain associated with the break up of a family and I think that it’s time we stopped brushing that fact under the rug, so to speak. Perhaps it’s time we stopped pretending that it is easier to get a divorce than it is to work through the challenges that come up in every marriage. It’s time to learn or be reminded that there are rainbows on the other side of each cloud and that challenges are just opportunities to find those rainbows. Yes, it is important for both parents to be happy…it’s also important for them both to be committed…and when both parents are truly committed to each other, that commitment goes such a long, long way toward overcoming the challenges that come…and in making a family feel…and be…whole…and happy.

by Eric Ward from WikiMedia Commons

I do have one shining example in my life of two people very close to me who stayed married all the way to the end…my grandparents. I love them for so many things, and I’ve come to feel lately that one of those things for which I love them dearly is that they stayed together, they continued to choose each other, they stayed committed to each other. They did not leave their posterity with the legacy of a broken family. I now love them even more for the gift which that is to me…and for their example to me.

There are others around me whom I’ve been able to see who have stayed committed to each other and are now in their senior years. It’s fun to see them (from the outside looking in) as they gather their families around them during holidays and on special occasions as their children and grandchildren all come home again. Such a simple thing…and yet not such a simple thing…and yet it means so much in a family.

And so with each passing anniversary, I will celebrate (and continue to work on) having a whole family. And I will feel joy and I will celebrate in my heart each time that I see a family which has managed to remain whole.

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