NEW YORK (JTA)—For months leading up to my wedding, I was a bundle of nerves. Sure, I was worried about whether or not my dress would fit and if the swing band would be able to pull off the hora, but that wasn’t it. I was petrified that my fiance would die.
I pictured him being killed by a bus while crossing the street or being blown up on the train by a dirty bomb. I envisioned him in a hospital bed, slowly succumbing to a gruesome terminal illness, or being struck in the head by a fastball at Yankee Stadium. Every morning when he kissed me goodbye, a wave of panic would wash over me as I imagined it would be our last kiss.
I saw myself at the cemetery and then sitting shiva, my friends and family dropping by with kugels, offering their condolences and support. It was ironic. Here I was planning our wedding, but in my head I was planning his funeral.
My anxieties eased a bit the day after the wedding. We had made it through the big event without a major tragedy. I really started to relax the next week as we wandered along isolated stretches of the Portuguese beach and drank sangria in Seville.
Over the next few years, we drifted from the honeymoon stage to the new-parent stage, and the fears I once had about my partner were now replaced with typical maternal anxieties about sleep training and teething. The waltz of worry about my husband slowed until it was merely a quiet background murmur. At some point, I’m not even sure when, I stopped kissing him goodbye as if it were the last time.
A few weeks after we celebrated our third wedding anniversary, it happened. The thing I had feared most came true when the man I knew and loved disappeared. It just didn’t happen in a way I thought was possible. In one moment my husband was my best friend, my confidante, my emergency contact. Then, like something out of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” he became a stranger.
Sitting there on the cappuccino-colored ottoman in our living room, he told me he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. This guy looked like my husband and sounded like my husband, but what he was saying could not be coming out of my husband’s mouth. I had imagined losing him so many times, but never by choice. Though my husband wasn’t killed by a bus or a bomb, he was gone.
That night he went to her house and never returned to our marital bed.
Thankfully, I had a cadre of family and friends who took care of me during this critical time. My mom flew out to New York and stayed with me for a week. She accompanied me to the lawyer’s office to iron out the details of our separation and helped me sort through bills to figure out what my new monthly budget should be. These were tasks that required a presence of mind I did not have at the time.
One of my best childhood friends, Missy, who lived in Mexico, was attending a wedding in Colorado when I emailed her with the news. Within hours she had rerouted her flight home to stop in New York.
“I couldn’t let you go through this alone,” Missy said.
She stayed with me for two weeks, nurturing me with delicious and healthy cooking, trips to the gym and constant pep talks.
Peri and Sara came over every day to help me care for my 16-month-old, entertaining him, changing diapers and giving him baths, and plying me with nourishing meals.
On a weeklong trip to my parents in Michigan, my friend Amy drove an extra three hours to take my son and me to join her in Chicago for a weekend.
Friends living all over the world gave me a sympathetic ear at any time of day. At midnight, I could call Jenny in California. At 4 a.m., I could call Hadass in Tel Aviv.
When I look back, I realize just how much my friends and family sustained me then and keep me going even now, three years later.
Not everyone has that kind of built-in support. For a people who tend to apply ritual to almost every aspect of life, I wonder why we Jews haven’t yet prescribed a set of shiva-like rituals for divorce. When a separation happens, the community should spring into action just like they would after a death. Neighbors should drop over with babkas, and there should be tea and sympathy always at the ready.
For the newly separated, it’s critical to stay busy, healthy and surrounded by supportive friends and family. Due to stress and depression, many newly separated are at risk for developing unhealthy habits and getting sick.
Like mine did for me, friends can help keep the newly separated person healthy by cooking for them, going on walks together, inviting them to the gym or taking them to a yoga class.
They can arrange fun outings for Saturday nights, when everyone else seems to be on “date night” and the newly single feel especially lonely. They could extend invitations for the holidays, and understand if the invitation is declined because sometimes celebrating with someone else’s family is harder than not celebrating at all.
Most importantly, friends and family can listen to the painful, angry, sad and often very repetitive monologues of those who going through a separation.
As with a death, the grieving doesn’t end with shiva; it can take years. I still have my moments.
Recently, as I sat on the subway, I felt the hot sting of tears when I realized it was the 10th anniversary of the day I met my ex. It still hurts to think of those happier times and the loss I feel. But that morning on the train, I heard my father’s voice reciting one of his favorite Solomonic proverbs: “This, too, shall pass.”
In that moment, I sensed his loving embrace from afar and felt a little better.
(Annette Powers is a marketing and communications professional. In her free time, she writes about a variety of topics from co-parenting to Yom Kippur to compulsive texting.)