I’m a little late in posting this not-really-about-funerals piece, but it’s still my former anniversary month.
On July 1, 2001, I got married. We had a very nice, small outdoor ceremony with only eight of our immediate family present, and I think we may have spent an entire $500 on the dress, rings, honeymoon, license and ceremony.
I wore a prom dress (size 14!) and the groom wore one of his own suits. The engagement and wedding rings were pawnshop deals, and I wasn’t even insistent on the engagement ring. I wanted to wear something to show that I was “marked,” but the tiny diamond was his idea. I’ve never been enamored with diamonds; I rarely wear jewelry at all and tend to prefer rose quartz, pink sapphires, garnets, amethysts. We didn’t drink alcohol, so that was one expense we could cut. The minister was my NA sponsor Alice, a very important person in our lives who insisted we not pay her. No cake. No professional photos, no dancing, no catering. We all went out to Izzy’s afterward; the only part of the day that was maybe a little too cheap for my liking. We could have at least gone to Country Kitchen or Hometown Buffet, or gotten some nachos.
The morning of the big day, we went to a local public park on the top of a hill overlooking the valley, and luckily there was no dirt-bike rally or anything like that going on. It was a bit of an uphill climb, so I wore combat boots under my dress and changed into my $10 white heels when we reached the top.
The honeymoon was a simple overnight at the coast in a very nice beach hotel with a kitchen, and we cooked our own food. The following day we went to the aquarium.
We were broke students; he had just finished grad school and I was still in community college. We lived in a little one-bedroom apartment in a small university town and drove vehicles in the $800 range. Over time our financial situation improved, but I never regretted having a small and very inexpensive wedding. Save the money for a funeral.
We stayed married only four short years, enough time to produce two children. Some parts of the “why” and “what happened” are too personal, but I’ll go ahead and accept roughly 75% of the blame for things not working out. I was a different person and I had a lot of problems – the first being I was 22 years old, and the second, severe postpartum depression. It was so bad I was afraid of hurting the kids and I didn’t trust myself with them.
I told no one. I was ashamed. I had a beautiful new baby and an adoring and helpful husband, so why did I feel this way? I wasn’t aware that nearly all new mothers experience rapid hormonal shifts and that a significant percentage of them become depressed enough to need medical intervention, and that an even smaller percentage experience psychoses and become a danger to their own family.
I never became a full-on Andrea Yates, but there were many days and weeks of isolation in my room. I’d be holding the baby and realize I’m squeezing her tighter and tighter, and maybe if I just squeeze really hard the screaming will stop and then a sudden voice of reason seemed to speak to me – put the baby down and walk away.
Luckily I listened to reason, and because of that, the kids were never physically harmed. But my relationship with them was damaged, and I refused to seek help. I wanted to be strong and in control and get a grip. I didn’t know that my mind was different and that I required professional help. I refused to listen to anyone who thought I was losing it, because dammit, I could do this!
I did try, maybe once. I saw a counselor at my university. She was younger than I was and didn’t have a family, and told me that “everyone gets angry sometimes.” I can’t really fault her. I should have gone to an emergency room and not to the student counseling center.
With the second baby, the depression increased exponentially and it led to the breakdown of my marriage and further deterioration of my parenting and my personal life.
Postpartum depression like mine, and like that experienced by countless others, requires more help than parenting classes or having a date night or taking a relaxation trip. You are physically SICK. You need a doctor, and you cannot be alone with your children. You haven’t “got this.” You can’t wait it out, nor can you distract yourself with hobbies. It will not get better when the kids are in school or when you can return to work. It will get better when you seek some kind of intensive treatment.
Shortly after my divorce, while looking for funeral home jobs online, I saw an article about a local woman who abandoned her infant at a Burger King. She brought him there in a carseat, left him on the floor, and ran out. I knew what happened. She had saved her baby’s life. She knew she was losing it, that she couldn’t be around her child, so she left him in a populated area in the middle of her breakdown. In that state of emergency, she knew that she first must get her child to safety, and in that moment it meant being away from her.
This was about sixteen years ago. He’s remarried; I’m not. He picked a good one this time around, and I’m glad that he and my children have someone like her. I came close to remarrying once and bailed. He drank too much and I wasted two years of my life.
As a funeral director, I can see definite advantages to marriage. All too often I see what happens when two people love one another, maybe even live together, but think marriage isn’t necessary. One will die, and the other will find herself having no say in the funeral arrangements. Even if they had children, a distant cousin or an estranged sibling who never liked him will have more say in his final arrangements than someone who was Just Some Girlfriend. Girlfriends don’t get pensions and death benefits and property transferred to them. Girlfriends don’t get a moment alone with the casket, or a chance to speak at the service. Her presence in his life is seen as a mere sexual partner, breeder, roommate.
I don’t regret getting married, or getting divorced. I regret the ways I handled certain situations, and I regret hurting people I love. But if we had not divorced, he would not have met his current wife. I probably would not have started working in funeral service. Doing this work was what I decided on when I realized, after four years of staying home with the kids, I now had to find a way to support myself. I put on a nice suit and walked around to different funeral homes and introduced myself, until one hired me knowing I hadn’t even seen a dead body before.
My ex and I still love each other. It’s not a sexual or romantic love, but it’s a strong love that is no less valid. He’s seen me through very low points in my life. I was recently hospitalized for two weeks and he was my most frequent visitor – and not to bring the kids; he arrived by himself each time.
I’m open to getting married again, and I’d still insist on an equally casual and inexpensive event, or perhaps one even less expensive, but with better food. I’m also open to not getting married again. My job comes first. We had an amicable divorce, with very little arguing over the children and the division of property. He helped me far more than I deserved. I am very grateful that I have not only a friendship with him, but that our families have remained close. We often spend holidays together, with the kids; both our mothers; and his new wife.
I married a good man; I really did.