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Story: Passing of a Marriage
On a balmy summer evening, the news that floated into my life changed it forever. My partner of ten years and husband of less than a year had died in an accident. The overwhelming reaction was disbelief. Of course, such things happened to many people but why would it happen to me? I had led such a comfortable, trauma-free life since childhood. I thought I had made wise choices and did not think that any hugely nasty event would mark my life.
That's when the growing up began. I started looking at life outside the fishbowl, the boundaries of which I had never questioned. My husband's death was so final, so unalterable, so unfriendly to what if's, that looking ahead was the only path that stared out at me. I grieved for a long time about my husband missing out on life, one that he loved and lived with much gusto. In the meantime, I had to redesign my life.
Material matters took on an immediacy. I soon came to realize that I had no proof of marriage. We had been married in a traditional Hindu ceremony in India and had returned to the US soonafter. Neither of us had realized the importance of having a marriage certificate. And the American lawyer insisted that before anything, he needed proof of marriage. Surreally, one day a supportive relative dug up information at a library--he came home with a copy of a US legal document that stated that if the marriage is recognized in the country it was performed then it will be recognized in the US. That is what the lawyer used in the legal case. He also kept on file a notarized document with the thumb-prints of the two purohits who had witnessed the wedding. A little relief in knowing that I no longer had to authenticate my own wedding. Then came the other tedious details of company benefits, insurance settlements, etc., whose resolution took much longer than anyone wanted.
In the years that followed, I took much pleasure in discovering myself. I enjoyed the challenges of a new job in a new town. I cherished my financial independence. I took trips alone at home and abroad. I bought a house and learned the pitfalls of homeownership. I decorated the house with much aplomb. I took up piano lessons. I gave up on learning French. I volunteered to mentor a fourth-grader. I joined a book-club on African writers. I socialized and entertained frequently. I had lovers, mostly none that I'd want for a lifetime. I didn't brood for too long about disappointments in budding relationships. I enjoyed my friends' kids and once in a while, re-examined my ambivalence towards parenthood. I felt lucky to have fun-loving, intellectually engaging colleagues and friends. I loved life. Yes, I was happily single for over a decade in a paradigm that I had never imagined for myself.
They say that it is harder to deal with divorce than death. Maybe so, because death brings no recriminations only the unbearable grief. I learned important lessons in the passing of a marriage. That keeping and updating records is important. Because the unexpected may befall anyone, this seemingly superficial task spares many a loved one much misery. Also, more importantly, that life goes on. That if life gives you lemons, you must make lemonade. That if one's lonely, one ought to go out and volunteer with a senior citizen's center or a children's project or join a cause that she believes in. That focusing energies on helping others is infinitely superior to fixating on your own needs. That you should think of what you can do with your life instead of what might have been. That life is full of amazing discoveries.