The Right Words

As a professional communicator, I’m rarely at a loss for words. In fact, I am what I like to call an “advance thinker” – one who has a plan for every scenario. At work and in life, I try to have a plan for every situation so that I can be sure to have the most appropriate, thoughtful response. So when someone tells me she’s pregnant, getting married, lost weight, had a miscarriage or lost a beloved pet, I trust that I know what to say. It’s no exaggeration to say that I even know how I’ll respond if my kids one day tell me they’re gay.

My list of “proper and sensitive responses” comes from years of paying attention to people’s reactions to news – both mine and others’ – because I never want to say the wrong thing or act the wrong way purely out of shock. You know how it is: Someone tells us something life-changing, or sad, or happy, and our first reaction is always some form of stunned surprise. Even if you knew your best friend had been trying to get pregnant, or were already aware of a colleague’s life-threatening illness, the actual moment when words are formed and reality is confirmed can’t be anything but shocking.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced that moment time and again, when I’ve disclosed that my husband of 12 ½ years and I are separating.

Because I constantly think about how I would want to be told news, and what words would elicit which reaction, I thought I was prepared for everything … but I wasn’t. It turns out I had no expectations of how to tell people or receive their reactions to our impending divorce. With a few good friends, the initial response was a sigh. With others, it was more of a gasp. Some cried; others simply gave me a hug.

But the comment I will tuck away for moments in the future when it may be needed for someone else is this one: “I am sorry for the pain you are currently in.”

That short sentence struck me. The choice of words was just, well … perfect. And of all the mantras I’ve compiled to repeat to myself to get me through the next breath, that one stuck. Because no matter what the back-story is – the details, the who said/did whats – two adults and two children are currently in pain. Pain from change, pain from the unknown, pain for the future suddenly not being what they thought it was going to be.

Our lives will be forever altered by the word “divorce,” but amid the emotions and planning, right now I’m focusing on not letting the word define us. It’s just our current situation.


Note: Next week, I’ll be attending the blog conference Mom 2.0. I wrote this post to be cathartic, but also to give my friends and fellow attendees a heads-up. The blogging community has been a huge part of Jason’s and my lives over the last 8 years, and the decision to go forward with my plans to attend has been an exercise in courage. I will not be sharing details of our separation, but will happily take a hug (or a drink) next week. Being there is just another step to help me move forward and move on from our current situation.