My parents told me they were getting a divorce on August 25, 2021. I was 17.
Denial, anger, bargaining, and depression—the first four of the five stages of grief—all seemed to blend together. The anger I would feel towards my parents quickly morphed into guilt, thinking that maybe they’d dragged it on this long for me. The hope I had that maybe they could make it work turned into irritation for my own naivety. Depression never hit me all over and all at once but rather in random bursts of sadness that seeped into my everyday life.
In middle and high school, I had plenty of friends whose parents weren’t together. They would tell me how they had to pack to go to their other parent’s house every few weekends, or joke about how they got two Christmases and birthdays. Divorce to me was something that other kids experienced; something that I was so far removed from. It was an unfathomable concept that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend.
Carrying the weight of your parents’ separation to college introduces an entirely new burden. The divorce is like a boulder tied to your body; no matter how long you keep walking or how far away from home you might get, it’s always there, dragging and heavy.
Your parents swear that they'll both be comfortable moving you in together, but they take two separate modes of transport to and from Philly. You feel your heart pang when you have to tell your dad that for fall break you’re going to stay at your mom’s house because his is so far out of the way for only three days at home. You choke out to your mom that you’d rather only one of them come to family weekend, just because it'll be less complicated that way.
When the divorce first happened, I tried to please both of my parents, mostly due to guilt. I switched between houses every two weeks, piling my suitcases into my car and lugging my clothes up and down the stairs to my father’s fourth floor apartment. The change was hard, and living without the other parent was unfamiliar and daunting. At both houses, I filled up my free time with work and friends. Coming home was like a reminder of what used to be. I looked back on my childhood and wondered: at what moments were my parents truly happy, if at all? Sometimes when I walk through certain parts of the house, I can hear my dad’s voice echoing against the walls. He hasn’t lived there for almost a year now.
Over time, I learned that divorce isn’t a breakup between two people but rather a devastating event that affects an entire family. We were all hurting, just in different ways. So at some point, I decided to start choosing myself. Though it was hard to do, this summer, I chose to stay with my mom permanently instead of going in between houses; I saw my dad a few times a month for dinner, or to catch a movie. At college, I try my best to call both my parents frequently and a similar amount. But sometimes life gets busy, or I just need to hear a particular voice. And that’s okay.
The best thing I learned is that the separation of two people doesn’t mean everything is gone forever. With a family, there are always ties that can't be broken. Though the divorce is something I don’t and probably never will understand, I love my parents unconditionally whether they are together or apart. I am proud of them for being brave and firm in their choices and for making a tough decision and sticking by it because they know it is for the best. I mourn the loss of a relationship that I looked up to, but I also find strength in the courage of my mother for continuing to persevere as a single woman in her fifties. I am sad that I don't see my father as much, but I am proud that he is living freely and happily, despite being alone.
After the breakup of a 32 year marriage, sometimes I find myself questioning what love is, or if it even exists. But I must remember that just because my parents love story didn’t work out doesn’t mean that mine won’t. I am allowed to feel sorrow for the dissolution of my parent’s marriage while still feeling hopeful for what my own future might hold. I look back on my childhood fondly, knowing that even though I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes, I was still raised tenderly and with love. I treat my parents' divorce with grace and dignity, constantly reassuring myself that I am a child of two people who loved each other and still love me. The final stage of grief—acceptance—is hard, but I think that I am at peace.