“I’m considering getting a divorce,” 52 year old Evelyn says, starting the session.
Although her marriage has been rocky for some time, this pronouncement surprises me given that her husband recently had a heart attack and by-pass surgery. She seemed genuinely concerned about him and committed to helping him through the rehabilitation process. I remain silent.
“I was listening to this program on NPR, On Point, and there was this doctor on who wrote a book about solving medical mysteries. I don’t remember his name, but it was interesting.”
I heard a small part of that program too, but I wait to hear what led Evelyn from that program to her considering divorce.
“There was a man who had a heart attack who’d had a bad heart so his heart attack was no surprise, kind of like Jack. But then the doctor went on to say that like the very next day or something like that, his wife had a heart attack too. And she had been perfectly healthy. And the doctor said it was the stress, almost like being too close to her husband and having to have a heart attack just like him. Well, I don’t want that to be me. I know this might sound awful, but Jack’s not worth my health. He hasn’t been a good enough husband for me to lay down my life for him.”
Feeling unsure what to say, I continue to remain silent.
“Do you think I’m awful?” Evelyn asks.
“No, of course not, but I am a little confused. I heard a small part of that program too…”
“Do you remember the doctor’s name? I thought I could get his book.”
“No, I didn’t hear much of the program, but what I remember is that he was talking about a couple that was extremely loving and close and that it was that closeness that led to the wife’s distress and her perhaps unconscious need – those are my words, not his – to identify with her husband and go through the same experience he had.”
“Well I guess if that was true, I wouldn’t have to worry about that.”
“Evelyn, am I mistaken or do you feel particularly angry today?”
She shrugs. “I guess.”
“Can you say what’s going on?”
“I’ve been busting my butt taking care of Jack and do you think I even get so much as a thank you?!” All he does is bitch and complain – I’m in so much pain, I’m scared, what if this happens again, why does my right arm still hurt. Complain, complain, complain. I’m sick of it.”
Jack has definitely been a less than ideal husband - inattentive, otherwise preoccupied and, most likely, unfaithful. Still, Evelyn has stayed with him, continually hoping that she could make him different, just as she longed to do with her absent and eventually abandoning father. Still, right after a major scare and trauma seems an unusual time to be considering divorce. Then a thought comes to me.
“Evelyn, do you think this time you especially thought it would be different? Jack was scared and vulnerable. Maybe he’d need you in a different way? Maybe he’d let you in as he hadn’t before?”
Evelyn hangs her head. “Stupid of me, wasn’t it,” she says, her anger now turned on herself.
“No, definitely not stupid. It was you hoping again, hoping you – or something – could make Jack different, just as you hoped with your father.”
“But it is stupid! How many times do I have to go through the same thing to know it’s not going to work? It’s like continually hitting my head against the same brick wall.”
“It’s hard to give up hope. It’s hard to mourn what never was and never will be.”
“I can’t stand when you talk about mourning. Who wants to mourn, who wants to be sad all the time?”
“So you’d rather be angry.”
“Well, it’s reasonable to be angry, but if you’re only angry you can’t ever finish the process of letting go.”
Evelyn’s eyes pierce me with fury.
“And,” I continue, “to end up being angry at everyone – yourself, me, your children, your friends - that doesn’t lead to a very fulfilling life.”
“So should I stay with Jack?”“That’s a decision only you can make, Evelyn. But I do know regardless of what decision you make, you will have to mourn the impossible.”