When The Morning Stars Sang Together, by William Blake

Yesterday was the saddest day of my life: I got divorced. And so, after 23 years, four months and 30 days of being “Mrs. W.” I am back to being plain, old Conner Middelmann.

My reaction took me by surprise. I was expecting to feel relief, energy, and even happiness at the conclusion of this difficult, painful and sometimes scary process.

Instead, I feel sad, so sad, for the hopes and dreams that died yesterday. They had begun dying many years ago, of course; but sitting in that court room, freshly printed divorce decree in hand, an enormous wave of grief rolled over me, and it remains with me today.

On my hike this morning, I was trying to “get out of my head” by focusing on the interplay of light and shadow. (I often focus on my five senses—sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste—when my mind threatens to go into overdrive; I will write about this here soon.)

As I did so, some lines of poetry popped into my head that I had heard many years ago and must have saved in a remote recess of my mind for this very day. They are from a long (and complicated but worthwhile) poem by the English poet, artist, mystic and visionary William Blake (1757-1827), and they go as follows:

“It is right it should be so
Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go

“Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine”

I won’t indulge in a literary, philosophical or theological analysis of these lines; others have done so marvelously (herehere, here or here, for instance). Today, I am simply hanging on to these lines to remind myself that at the heart of deep, dark, raw grief there can be glimmers of light, serenity, gratitude and — dare I say — joy.

Most of us are uncomfortable with ambivalence — we prefer the dualistic thinking of “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong,” “black” or “white” and “happy” or “sad.” It’s easier for our brains to manage polar opposites than to handle subtle paradoxes like “black tinged with white” (a.k.a. countless shades of grey). Or accepting that a person can be both “good” and “bad.” (All of us have the potential to be varying shades of both. See my previous post.) Or that we can be happy and sad at the same time.

So today (and for many weeks to come), I will experience, accept and embrace the deep sadness of my loss. And at the same time, I will allow myself to experience joy, love, pleasure (see today’s comfort breakfast—recipe coming soon) and hope for a brighter future.

featured image credit: Cara Shelton from Pixabay

6 comments on “Joy and Woe. A time to grieve.

  1. Hello Conner, the grieving process is long and difficult but you will get through it. You are now vibrant, independant and powerful Conner, not plain old Conner. That is one of the problems with taking your husband’s name, it redefines a women somehow. Here is Québec we did away with this practice a long time ago and everything is simplified somehow. Good luck to you, it will get better.

    • Thank you, Suzanne — that is a very astute observation. Isn’t it strange how, by giving up our name we lose part of ourselves? It’s “only” a symbol, but what a powerful one! I love “vibrant, independent and powerful” — thank you for that morale boost. All the best to you!

  2. We are defined, I think, by our partners and not by taking on another name. Divorce or death, change is challenging,and “aloneness” frightening. Now you can find out who you really are without attachments. It will be an adventure for sure.

    • Thanks, Lea. I agree. Though wouldn’t it be great if *we* could define — and be — our selves, rather than being defined by partners, parents, culture, media, age, etc.?
      Re. changing names upon marriage, I don’t think that’s a problem if the person actively wants to change their name for whatever reason. Where I do think it can be a problem is when they feel obliged to do so. In my case, it was the German embassy that made me choose — according to the laws at that time, I couldn’t have a double-barrel name, and therefore had to choose between my married and my maiden name. I chose married — figured a public sign of my commitment would be a good thing — but never really got comfortable with it.
      Lastly, alone-ness. That’s a big topic I plan to address in a future post. I’d be interested to know: How did you adjust to life alone? Did you have any “coping strategies” in the early days to help you manage?

  3. When I went through a similar situation I wrote a long letter in my journal, a good bye to all the things I imagined would have come through my marriage. Yes, it is a sad time, and I felt that even though I was leaving an abusive relationship.

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