July 3, 2014

I pulled up behind the buildings of Main Street, in the alley, by the dam. I work from the Middle Fork Cafe a lot, and love the food, atmosphere and small town regulars. The owner babysat my sister and I when we were kids, and she’s still a friend, because that’s how it works around here. Hi Heath, she calls from the kitchen when I walk in.

I had pulled up at the same time as Kim did, her truck backed up to the door of her vintage store, The Dancing Goat. (Not a dance studio for goats.)

She asked me if I noticed the blue car by the dam. Then she explained that it is there all the time, an old man in it, homeless. She said no one really knows what to do, but there he is, for the last couple of weeks or so. She knows I was a social worker in a former life, and asks if I can help. Of course, I tell her. I’ll just go talk to him. Later, I walk up to his open window and start talking over the loud rushing water of the dam next to us. He is in his seventies, has an oxygen tank and tells me he needs to live here for now. He has about a week and a half left of oxygen in his tank. He used his social security check for a motel and ran out, so here he sits. He fills a liter soda bottle with water where and when he can, and goes to the Legion at night to eat the free popcorn. I tell him I know some people who could help. He says that he’s been talking to God about that and that I’m an answer to prayer. I hope so, I said.

Later that same night I go check on him. Is your water full? Did you talk to my friend, I called her. He says yes, she’s going to help him, starting tomorrow. It’s a chilly mosquito-filled Minnesota night. He is covered in jackets, his seat leaning back in a sleep position. I sleep good here, he says.

His oxygen tank sits in the passenger seat, the nubs removed from his nose. He’s trying to make it last longer is what he tells me.

People need oxygen to live and he is using his sparingly. People need a home and he doesn’t have one. People need water, and he only gets it when he can.


Divorce is similar to a death, she says. Not the same, but many of the feelings that rush in are that of a grieving person. I am riding these emotions. They rush like the water from the dam, and surprise me with how much louder it all is than I expected. Divorce is one of the many things in life that you can’t understand until you go through it. You think you might have an idea, but no.

The separation of lives tears at us, and we build something new at the same time. Living the feelings and navigating the new patterns is exhausting and just like my new friend by the dam in his blue car, I am waiting. Praying. Hoping for answers. I suppose we both feel like we’re living two separate lives. The one from Before, and the Now. How can this be the Now? How did we get here?

Dominoes, rushing water, gasping…No one feels comfortable coming to help and then there’s a knock at the window. oxygen.


Every few days I step into a new role. Back and forth. Mommy for three, Just Heather for three. I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. Floating, I suppose. It is very uncomfortable to float, especially with no raft. Then someone brings me one, with a kind word or a question that brings me out of myself, finally. That is the sweetest relief.

Just like anyone on this path, I fret over our children. Someone told me recently that an older child of divorce had told her that when her parents split, it split her. That she has never felt whole since. She is two halves. We cried together when she said that.

And yet I see that not all children of divorce feel that way and I wish none of them had to at all. Some tell me they were glad, relieved, finally whole. I wonder how to MAKE THAT HAPPEN, as if I can control it completely. In reality, I can only lead with a positive attitude, kindness toward their father, and as another dear friend said, Cause the least amount of pain in the midst of something already so painful. I can keep talking to them, keep reminding them that we are both whole-heartedly invested in raising them, caring for them, loving them, just like always. We can get them to counseling, spend time with them in a more present way than ever before.

This does happen. For me anyway, this separation and back and forth-ing has resulted in me truly engaging in them when it is my “turn”. I am desperate to make the most of every moment, since there are even fewer of them than Before. Time and these children, oxygen.

The other night, all three of them were in Miles’ bed and so was I…we laughed and tickled and talked. (Mostly about Minecraft, of course, so I had no idea what we were talking about, but whatevs.) I told them that Daddy is getting settled at his new place and isn’t it great how close he is?  (He just moved in July 1.) I told them this will help us create a good routine, less scattered. I asked them questions about what they think of this, and they seemed sincerely….fine. One even remarked excitedly, I like it! 

Maybe we’re going to be okay even though there will always be not-okay parts of this.

If I could do it all over, I would not. They would not be here and that is the worst After. I am reading my friend Anna’s book, rare bird. It comes out in September. I turn the pages with tears in my eyes and wish to bring her Jack back, the son she lost far too soon. I long to sit with her in her grief. I want to knock at the window on the driver’s side and fill her tank. And it hits me that divorce is not at all like a death. They may have grief in common, but it is certainly not the same kind of grief.

In divorce, you can bring something back to life–yourself, your parenting…Anna cannot bring back her Jack. Her brown-eyed God-loving, kind-hearted Jack.

Anna is sitting in her car, talking to God, waiting and so am I and so is my new friend by the dam. And we all survive on hope, of a new life to come, but I have a choice. That’s the most striking difference. Anna cannot choose to bring Jack back, and when your right to choose is taken away it is so unfair and terrifying.

It is humbling to have a choice, a thousand choices a day. We all have them, in most everything. And when we don’t, we can’t survive without each other. This is life. Grief and choices or no choices, hope and service. That’s it.

In the middle of the grieving things, we learn way too much about control, or the lack of it. We learn that nothing about the daily grind really matters all that much. What shoes go with that outfit? I don’t know. I wish I were with my child right now.

I wish I had a home.

I’m hungry.

I’m thirsty. 

I’m too cold to think.

It really doesn’t matter how any of us got here. Who’s fault is it? What did you do wrong? Why did you make that choice, that day?  To look to assign blame is as helpful as the oxygen tank sitting unused in the passenger seat.

We all deserve and long for that knock at the window simply because we’re hurting here. We’re looking up through the windshield, asking for help.

And love shows up, if we make the choice to give it without condition.



jana July 3, 2014 at 10:03 am

Oh Heather. This is… well, just what I needed to read today. I need oxygen, but I have so much to give, too. Love to you.
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Ann July 3, 2014 at 10:13 am

Making meaning of our lives–through writing, through service, through dedicating yourself to something that matters–is the one thing that will keep us alive and sojourning through grief and the Worst Times. This is what holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl posits in “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It’s what kept him alive. He had no control over his situation, but he had a choice about what meaning he would derive from it and make from it. It kept him alive.

Heather, this is beautiful. Love you.

Natalie July 3, 2014 at 10:26 am

Gorgeous and painful. Hugs.

Melissa July 3, 2014 at 10:58 am

Sorry for the pain you are going thru but remember God will always be the source of “living water”. I am not an eloquent writer but what I do know is that God’s unconditional LOVE is always there waiting for us no matter what choices we have made.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” Revelation 7:17

I am and will continue to pray for a restored marriage, contentment and filled “oxygen” tank.

Amy July 3, 2014 at 11:40 am

Just beautiful. Thank you!

Diana Trautwein July 3, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Gorgeous, Heather. Heartfelt, true, thoughtful. Just gorgeous. May you consistently find someone at the window, someone to help you breathe, to smooth the way.
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Peg July 3, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Lovely post. touching, painful, but so true. thank you for such writing
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Christine July 3, 2014 at 7:04 pm

And you are doing the hard work. The thinking, the worrying, the wondering. That issuing a difference I hope. I’m sure it is for the little ones. Yes we all need oxygen, and it can sometimes be so hard to breathe, but we all do it the same, one breath at a time. xo

Kori July 4, 2014 at 9:06 am

Oh, Heather. I have not been reading for far too long and I did not know any of this. My heart breaks for all of you, but yes. There IS hope, and peace. Be well and keep breathing.

Tabatha July 4, 2014 at 9:24 am

So heartbreakingly beautiful, Heather.
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Allison Zapata July 4, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Beautiful, Heather. All of it – all of you.

Let me know if I can reach out to my contacts here about the homeless man. They run the Houston Homeless Coalition and interact with organizations across the country. xoxo
Allison Zapata recently posted..My Thoughts On Arizona Senate Bill 1062. Also known as, Arizona Senate Bill: WHAT IN THE HELL?

tracy@sellabitmum July 5, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Oh hon. I love you. As a child of divorced parents – I am glad they did it and I’ve always felt whole. They’ve always made sure of that. Even today at my ripe old age. xoxo
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Robbie July 9, 2014 at 12:45 am

Even when your heart is breaking and you are trying to find your new way you are helping others. Beautiful.
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anna whiston-donaldson July 12, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Love this and love you. Keep on going, Love. xo
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anymommy July 12, 2014 at 6:52 pm

This is life. I’m quietly here for you, Heather, hoping that reading your words is a drop in your tank.
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sisters from another mister July 12, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Heartbreaking. Beautiful.
Parts of my soul in these words.
‘Love shows up …’
And sometimes love walks away, tearing a family apart … sometimes making me believe that death would not have wounded so deeply …
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Mama Mary July 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

This was post was the knock on my window, as I sit in a very similar place to you it seems. I am separated from my husband and actually have a post in draft form on my blog about how similar this time is to 13 years ago when my dad was diagnosed and ultimately died a few months later of cancer. That fog of grief is so similar to the fog I feel now. I’m finding my oxygen where and when I can. Thank you for this burst of oxygen. (also? I’m reading Anna’s book right now too and finding strength in hers).

melinda September 27, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Your wisdom and perspective are gifts. keep writing. I only visit your site occasionally.because your writing pierces me and I.cannot always bear it. But I try, because it is so real and so so.good.

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