May Day, celebrating new life, is almost upon us. It is also the day my dad died. Five years before, on that same day – I had also miscarried. May Day was an ancient celebration exactly marking mid-year from November 1st – the end of the fallow winter and celebrating the coming spring. But not to me. I did not anticipate the daffodils and tulips but dreaded the coming Father’s Day with Hallmark banners of fathers and children catching me off guard and unprotected.
Sometimes it passed almost without notice – until I had to sign an agreement. In the presence of clients, I would momentarily pause before dating – May 1st – May Day. Years later, I marveled at the irony of losing a child and a parent on the very day that celebrates life.
But is it really so ironic? Life and death are like partners in a marriage. Both are part of countless beginnings and endings including the death of a grandfather, the birth of a grandchild, a new home, and empty nests. There is balance everywhere – fire and ice, good and evil, night and day. Winter gives way to spring and the sun to rain. Plants remove carbon dioxide to create food, oxygen and water. Dead plants fertilize the soil for new ones. Nature is constantly in balance with predators and prey, supply and demand, man and woman.
Newton’s law says that for every action there is an equal and opposite action. The universe, thought to be static, exploded into being billions of years ago and will cease a billion years from now by slowly contracting. We breathe in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Our heart takes in blood and forces it out. Lungs expand and contract. Marcia Barinaga writes of the life-death balance even on a cellular level. Each act, related to and dependent upon the other. Without the contraction, there can be no expansion.
We have joyful, expansive times in our life and also death, divorce and sadness. Marriage is the birth, a hopeful beginning. Yet, all marriages end – whether by divorce or death. Divorce is the end of our family bringing tumultuous change. The grief is enormous and overwhelming. There is betrayal, anger and mostly fear. Amid all the pain we don’t even realize there is also a beginning.
Litigating the divorce continues the battle causing more pain. Divorce mediation treats that relationship not as a battle but rather the process through which marriages end and people can begin again.
Before or after the divorce, realizing that we cannot change our spouse (or the past) is the death. Still we fight it – trying over and over to exact the change we seek. “I’ll make him be on time.” “I will force her to see she is hurting the children.” Accepting what we cannot change is the beginning of our new life. We all know the friend or neighbor who refuses and instead, wages divorce war – a living death.
Couples who use divorce mediation often begin their new life sooner. Theywork on the details of their loss – the legal realities of this new life – dividing the property, sharing and supporting our children. But mediation also gives people space to think. What are the life lessons to be learned? My face in the mirror will change and my body will age. Where is the part of me that is always the same? What does that person want? Where is the death and where is the new opening?
The answers are within us. We just need to take the time to think. When my father died, I was tired of seeing the deaths that children went through. I saw grandparents take their children out of school to wait in the hallway during their parent’s hearing. They would sit on the wooden bench paralyzed with fear.
I stopped litigating divorces and chose instead to help couples through mediation, a new career. I can choose another as well. This May 1st, I will embrace as a celebration of the father who mentored me, the children I did have, and the fulfilling work I am fortunate to do.