My annus horribilis began some time ago, right at the beginning of the year when I told my husband of 28 years that I wanted to separate.
It was not a sudden decision on my part, but what surprised me, amazed me, was that it came as a total shock to my husband. We had had a good marriage and produced two wonderful children, now grown up and fled the nest. We were still polite and civilised to one another, but for me all feelings of affection and emotional engagement had disappeared long ago.
My kids suspected the marriage was over, as did my friends, without my saying anything. My husband, on the other hand, reacted strangely: first he pretended I hadn’t said anything, then he thought I was joking.
Finally, he became angry and started to make dreadful threats: he would leave the house one day, and I would never see him again. He would drive off into the sunset and nobody would see him again.
I knew I was making the right decision; that the civilised, friendly relationship we just about had would quickly descend into mutual dislike. It was already beginning to happen. We were still young enough – me in my 60s, he 10 years older – to make a future independently of one another. We just had to sell the family house and go our separate ways.
So we thought. We even had a card put through our door by a young couple wanting to buy a house on our side of our particular street. They were cash buyers: they didn’t have a property to sell, and we could do the deal between us without the need for an estate agent and save ourselves a barrel of money.
Having fixed a deal, and haggled a bit as a result of a survey, we arranged a date for exchange of contracts. The date came and went and neither our buyers nor their solicitors were answering our phone calls. A month later they telephoned to say the deal was off because their buyers had pulled out – so much for not having a property to sell.
Throughout all this, I struggled to keep the proverbial still upper lip, to remain calm in all the chaos, above all to steer my husband through the mess and stop him from scarpering.
It wasn’t easy. He mistook my calmness for coldness. He told me I should just leave and surrender the house to him. He told me I would never manage on my own, that I’d be destitute. He said he was too old to begin a new life with a new partner.
Time passed. A further sale fell through. And then finally, 15 months after I said The Terrible Words,
I went to lodge with a friend while I looked for a flat to buy, my husband stayed in a hotel before lodging with a friend of ours and her family; and he spent the last 10 years of his life in a rented flat with his new partner, who nursed him through his final illness.
And turned it into a book, which I called One Glorious Adventure. I showed the manuscript to my agent, he liked it and sent it around to publishers. No one picked it up – it was too short, and crossed genres – but one television company got back to my agent and asked me if I could turn it into a sitcom.
One day at the height of all the drama I turned up at work and said to my colleague, ‘The house sale has fallen through, my husband is threatening to kill himself and I just stubbed my toe.’
And you know what she did? She burst into hysterical laughter.
After a stunned moment, I joined in and I realised, then if not before, that
I had written the book with a light touch, but it wasn’t until I broke the story into episodes, each one featuring yet another unexpected hiccup – such as our neighbour’s satellite dish, which overlapped onto our property slightly and did not bother us in the least but threatened to be a deal-breaker for our buyers – that I began to realise, in hindsight, what a chain of absurdities it had all been.
I wrote a treatment and a breakdown of episodes, but I did not send it to the television company. It was all too raw, and personal. It didn’t feel right.
But it did teach me a valuable lesson, which is
I am not saying that all human tragedy has a funny side, but in this instance, looking back, and knowing we somehow all survived, it was a very good coping mechanism, and one which I have tried ever since to turn to whenever life shows signs of going pear-shaped.
To see the absurdity in our everyday lives, to recognise how easy it is to lose one’s sense of proportion, to agonise over things that are neither life-threatening nor, when you consider them soberly, particularly important.
What was the most recent ‘tragedy turned comedy’ in your life? What would it take for you to see the funny in the difficult times? What is your coping mechanism when hardship comes?
Tags Divorce After 60