Thoughts From Afar

When I first consulted a solicitor about divorcing my husband, I did so with great sadness. I’d been married nearly twenty years, and it had taken me nine of those years to make that decision, not least because I had married as a Catholic and we had always known that divorce would not be for us.
Haydn, my husband, was a lovely man, but unknown to us he was suffering an undiagnosed illness, compounded by ever-mounting work pressure. He was self-medicating by consuming ever-increasing amounts of alcohol, and I … well, I was self-medicating the emotional effects of a long-delayed but finally diagnosed gynaecological condition and series of operations that left me unable to have children. My drug of choice was work.
Haydn was an alcoholic, I was a workaholic. The only difference between us was that mine was a more socially acceptable condition. As he drank more, I worked more to be able to cope with what was happening to us. Finally, I knew it couldn’t go on. For the sake of our individual future health and welfare, we needed to be apart.
And so I found myself sitting in the solicitor’s office, listening as he began to give me the wisdom of his years of training and experience.
“You’ve given him the best years of your life, you’re entitled to …”
What a bloody cheek! I was thirty-eight. I was going to decide what were the best years of my life, thank you very much! And, as far as I was concerned, they were yet to come.
He started again…. “You’re entitled to …”
He looked at me and said, “As your solicitor, I must advise you.”
“Okay. Advise me.”
And so he did.
My response was to say, “Now your conscience is clear. You’ve advised me. Now we’ll do it my way. Haydn and I came into this marriage fifty-fifty. We’ve shared everything for twenty years. We’ll go out of it fifty-fifty.”
And so we did. The marital home was sold and everything divided down the middle. Neither of us got very much money as there were mortgage arrears and other bills to pay.
Haydn had been living with his parents for some months. They had a holiday caravan on the coast, and Haydn and I met there to sort everything out, mostly amicably. On only one item was there a sticking point. The amount wasn’t much and I gave in, deciding that we needed to move forward, but the principle still rankles. Though, in the general scheme of things, it was minuscule.
The divorce petition was evidently shaped like a boomerang because it bounced in and out of the divorce court as I twice submitted it and twice withdrew it.
I decided that now that we were separated and there was space between us, all three hundred miles of it, I didn’t need the divorce. It was more important for Haydn to be able to get his health back, not tip him further over the edge.
We’d been separated for five years by the time I finally brought about the divorce, without the need for a solicitor apart from witnessing my signature. And I only did so then because I was about to be made bankrupt, a casualty of a recession during which I had lost my job and then my home in a time of negative equity. I didn’t want any comeback on Haydn—hence the divorce—but by then he was able to cope with it.
Haydn and I remained in telephone contact as he went through treatment for his alcoholism, but it always seemed weird to me that his pattern of behaviour didn’t seem to fit that of what I thought I knew of alcoholics.
Finally, on one of his frequent alcohol-induced inpatient stays in the local mental hospital, the doctor had a light bulb moment: “You’re not an alcoholic! You’ve got manic depression.”
And so it proved to be. Haydn was not an alcoholic. He was suffering from manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder. Once he received the correct medication, he began to live his life again.
And what a life!
For a while he still attended AA but was politely invited to leave (in Haydn’s words, he was thrown out) for daring to suggest that there was life after alcohol. My quiet husband who wouldn’t say boo to a goose had become a rebel.
Haydn was never able to work in a paid position again but did much work in the volunteer sector. He became chairman of the local mental health outpatients group. Haydn had always been able to talk with people from all levels of society and now he took it further. Dressed in his motorcycle leathers he’d arrive at people’s doors in answer to calls for help from drug and alcohol addicts. Haydn never took drugs (other than his prescription medication), but as he said, drugs or alcohol, the causes and effects are the same. No matter how people talked, he could talk the same way, using posh language or the language of the street. He gained their trust and never abused it.
On one occasion, shortly after joining the motorway on his fast motorbike, he was pulled over by a speed cop. Fearing a speeding ticket, Haydn sat there, watching the policeman walk up to him.
“Now, now, Mr Morris …”
“How do you know my name?”
“We know all about you and the work that you do. Just keep your speed down,” and with that admonishment, off went the speed cop, leaving Haydn sitting there bemused. And relieved.
Haydn would get quite upset if, in his words, he “lost” somebody. But he knew that if somebody was really intent on killing themself, they would do so, sooner or later.
He was invited to ride in the funeral procession with a chapter of the Hell’s Angels. It was a great honour. They knew he had tried to help their mate and it was their way of respecting him for it (though they didn’t quite like the way he smelled. Haydn washed. They didn’t!).
And so, for a few short years, Haydn lived the life I’m sure he was destined to live: one of helping people. My only regrets are that he had to go through such hell to get there and that it cost us our marriage.
But he wasn’t really strong enough in himself for all the work he was doing. Finally, there came the Christmas in which there was no card from him. Always, his had been the first card to arrive. I was sure that the absence of a card meant he was ill again.
Haydn died a few weeks later. I’m sure he was worn out, not only by the effects of his illness but also by his efforts to help others when he really wasn’t strong enough in himself.
The crematorium was packed, with people standing at the back. People came from all walks of life and from several organizations to honour the man who gave so much of himself through such a terrible illness.
Haydn and I had lived together twenty years. We’d lived apart another thirteen years. Divorce after five years of separation had simply been a legal device to make things simple. It had never meant the ending of our emotional marriage. Emotionally, he had never been my ex-husband, but now Haydn was my late husband. And I was a widow, not an ex-wife.
Of course, for a long time after he died, I was angry. We hadn’t gone through all of that just for him to die! And it took me a long time to be able to see motorcyclists in black leathers on big red powerful machines without getting upset.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I think so much stems from the attitude of that solicitor.
“You’ve given him the best years of your life. You’re entitled to …”
If I had been caught up in the heartbroken emotional moment of ending the marriage (or a different and not so stubborn type of woman), I could easily have given in to the solicitor. But fortunately I was able to withstand his pressures.
I was lucky. Haydn and I were lucky. We went on to live lives that neither of us had expected, that certainly were not on our agendas so many years before but that were fulfilling in their own way. And, more importantly, there was never any animosity between us.
I have read of so many couples who intended to divorce amicably but who, once the lawyers got involved, finished up at each other’s throats, barely able to live on the same planet, let alone speak to each other, leaving so many men harbouring bitter thoughts against the wives who took them for every penny they had and more.
I have to wonder just how many of those women did so because their solicitor said, “You’ve given him the best years of your life. You’re entitled to …”
It is somewhat ironic that it was a male solicitor. It was some years ago, but I have no doubt that the same attitude still exists, with both male and female solicitors.
What do we do to change that legal mindset?

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