I live in a wonderful community. When someone gets cancer, has a death in the family, or gets ankle surgery, friends and neighbors are there for each other. Upon learning of a tough situation, someone sends an email out, and within minutes, a long list of folks have signed up to deliver meals to that family for weeks, sometimes months. It's amazing. Over the years, I've cooked and delivered my share of casseroles in hopes of lightening someone else's burden. That's what we do. We're human beings, after all.
However, when someone gets divorced, it's a different story.
Last year, my husband of 14 years and I separated, which was in itself miserable, but even more so because we have a child together, one who was just turning from tween to teen. It's already an awkward age, but watching your parents split up and having to move out of your home during this period makes ankle surgery look like a cake walk.
Divorce is horrible. No matter who left whom, or how unhappy a couple seemed to be before they split, it's horrible. In fact, it's more horrible than anything I had imagined. So horrible that I soon began to call and apologize to friends who had been through it. Who knew that it could be so agonizing, heartbreaking, and just mind-numbingly painful, both emotionally and physically?
I knew now. I lost sleep and lost weight, and could barely get my son to school. I had trouble focusing, as my mind would forever drift back to painful thoughts. If I hadn't had work to do, I wouldn't have bothered getting out of bed. As a freelance writer, I began to get multiple assignments for the wedding section of a newspaper, interviewing young brides in love. The universe has a great sense of humor.
I couldn't eat, so obviously, I couldn't cook either, but somehow between crying jags in my bedroom, unpacking a house, and setting up new electric and cable accounts, I was able to get dinner to my son. Thank God for Daily Grill and Chipotle takeout -- and I love you, Trader Joe's frozen section. One morning, after weeks of this, I dragged my exhausted body into the kitchen to make breakfast, checking my email while waiting for the waffle to pop up from the toaster. First up: a mass email asking for casseroles for the family of a relative who had passed away.
Go ahead, crucify me, but the thought bubble that popped up wasn't pretty. My son hadn't had a home-cooked meal in eons, and I was certainly in no shape to be near sharp knives and a hot oven. "Where's my f-ing casserole?" the voice in my head said. After all, I was mourning a death, too: the death of my marriage; the death of my life as I knew it, the death of our family; the death of the happily-ever-after dream.
To add insult to injury (yes, the injury of not getting a f-ing casserole), some of our friends scattered in the wake of our separation. You could almost hear the whooshing sound as they all took one giant step back. Is it possible that divorce is an even more awkward subject than death? Or do some just think it's contagious? One can't help but suspect there is judgment... after all, cancer and death are an act of God, but divorce is, well... a choice, right? Yet those who've never been through it are surely aware that one never gets married to get divorced... that (unless you are a celebrity) it's almost always a last resort.
Of course, not everyone bolted. I do have amazing friends who stepped up to the plate, who wiped away my tears, who peeled me off the floor, who sat with me at that first "single-mom-alone-at-a-bar mitzvah" episode, and who - when the bar mitzvah photographer asked (camera in hand), "who do you belong to?" answered, "Me! She belongs to me!" To be fair, that friend knew what I was going through. She'd been through a divorce herself.
So here's a thought. The next time someone you know is going through a divorce, no matter how awkward it might feel, pick up the phone and maybe just check on them. Check on their family. Check on their former spouse. And for the love of God, bring them a f-ing casserole.
Follow Jennifer Evans Gardner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jenevansgardner