Is it OK to “celebrate” a wedding anniversary years into a “failed” marriage? This has often surfaced as a question when I look back over the many years of being on my own. Firstly, is “celebrate” the right word, and conversely, is “failed” helping or hindering the remembering process as these anniversaries surface? It is a date that hardly jumps off the calendar, but it still has meaning and it always triggers a period (often quite brief) of reflection and musing on the 3 w’s….. when, why and what if.
Let’s go straight to the “failed” tag. On my wedding anniversary these days I seem to focus irrationally on the wonderful, successful marriages of some of my dearest friends and their long term unions bear testament to the undeniable fact that some people were just meant for each other. A lot of them are marking milestones well along a fifty year journey together and even friends who have notched up twenty plus years as “life partners” are to be lauded and envied as I examine my own situation in these sometimes lonely, senior years. I try to reason with myself that there are plenty of people who have lost a partner and their loneliness must be difficult to bear, while my feelings are the “economy class ticket” in daring to grieve about something that started with such promise and affection only to flicker and falter like a candle robbed of air. Am I allowed to grieve like a widow, am I kidding myself that divorce is even on the same wavelength in terms of loss and isolation?
Losing a partner through accident, fate or choice must have some shared consequences and labelling it according to genuineness is counterproductive in a world where inner feelings are so often assumed to fit a textbook definition. I have seen the pain and despair on the face of a newly widowed mother, holding her children tightly, scared to acknowledge her own grief in an effort to set an example to her bewildered offspring in the face of the inexplicable. Similarly I have seen the resignation and desolation in the eyes of a partner farewelling her soulmate of many years as she realises the emptiness that lays ahead of her in a world without shared light. And I know myself the “sometimes” ache of living the good times and the tough ones, without that other person at your side. Every year as this July date comes around, I go through these sort of questions, and I often feel a fraud because I admit to feeling a sadness and then an envy of friends who can celebrate with joy and fulfilment.
We have a shared calendar on our phones these days – a sign of the times where “notifications” have replaced remembering, and my granddaughter asked about my wedding day this week when she saw I had included my anniversary in amongst the school, social, pony club and pandemic reminders. She has never met her grandfather, and is at the age where curiosity urgently requires satisfaction and the inevitable ten second “news grab” before attention and focus lurch into more important territory in the pre-teen world. We got out the photo album and we even went through my recent blog about crocheting “that” dress, and I was surprised at the emotions that surfaced as I looked at the pictures and unwrapped the dress for her to handle. I realised there actually was something to “celebrate”, forty seven years after that cold but magical day… I have them, I have my grandchildren. My marriage was not a failure, it was an outstanding success and the years and anniversaries have not been wasted.
So my mixed emotions at this time of year are like waves building in the ocean and pushing towards the shore. Sometimes an angry breeze whips the wave tops into a froth of violent spray that surges onto defiant rocks and only dissipates when defeated by an unmoving wall. Other undulations course calmly to the waiting beach and spill their gentleness onto porous sands. Does this mean I regret the past and wish I could change it all and start over again? Does it mean I harbour a resentment that will dash me against rocks as I futilely wish things were different? Does it mean I have grown and accepted my lot as I allow my experiences to seep into the sands of the next generation? Questions, some that will remain unanswered, that emerge each year at this time. And it brings me back to that original thought about grieving or celebrating a marriage that has ended. I would like to think I can do both – I have “lost” a partner and there is a feeling akin to grief that I should not be ashamed of, and there is also an undeniable reason to celebrate as I see the joy and hope in the eyes of those who will embrace a future of their own, because I did say “I do”.