Tuesday, 16 January 2018


During the emotionally difficult times of my separation and divorce, music was an important part of how I managed my grief. I found several songs that resonated with my grief and even seemed to carry the weight of that grief for me.

One song with that sort of sustaining effect was Josh Garrels' Ulysses.
I’m holding on to hope that one day this could be made right
Cause I’ve been shipwrecked and left for dead and I've seen the darkest sights
Those lines captured my confused state perfectly. Sadly – I think tragically – H and I still hurt each other far beyond what either of us wish. It is still a devastating shipwreck. But I have also held an almost naive hope that redemption was still possible.

Although much of the rest of the lyrics do not reflect my situation, the anguished tone does. He notes that there are false hopes to be resisted, like the deadly sirens in Homer's The Odyssey:
Sirens call my name, they say they’ll ease my pain, then break me on the stones
But after six years, I bring good news. A month ago I remarried!

I will say straight away that we cannot expect that will always be the outcome. Some of you guys will continue alone. Some will embrace and enjoy that singleness and for others it will be frustrating, lonely and like being half a person.

Nevertheless, for me, this is a very exciting new adventure. Also scary. The risk of marriage seems so much greater to those of us who know how badly it can go wrong.

A few months before our wedding I was reminded of one of my favourite songs from the 70's – Steely Dan's Home at Last, which also draws on the imagery of Ulysses, tied to the mast of his ship to avoid the lure of the sirens.
Well the danger on the rocks is surely past
Still I remain tied to the mast
After the brokenness and self-doubt, I appreciated that thought. Perhaps the danger was past and I could relax again.
Could it be that I have found my home at last?
Home at last.
I'm beginning to think I am.

... and so they all lived happily ever after.

I hope.


Sunday, 24 April 2016

Post script

I keep thinking about whether it is worth renewing the domain registration for this site, and then I notice that it is still being read -- I imagine by people in the midst of the same darkness I was in. If this site ever disappears, the archive will probably still be at unobservedgrief.blogspot.com anyway, but nevertheless I will keep it here for now.

I wish I could say to you that all will be OK and that you just need to be patient. But as my own journey continues I know that is neither comforting nor always true. Not being the father I hoped to be, understanding the depth of pain I caused H, a series of false starts as I try to find a new partner, feeling let down by God, missing the touch of a lover ... it all adds up to a continuing sense of doubt and incompleteness.

I have changed and resolved some things. No longer feel stuck. But my own path forward is unlikely to be the same as anyone else's so I won't project my resolutions into this blog. My best advice is to stay fit, eat well, sleep, embrace brokenness rather than run from it, and look up more often than you look down. If you want to chat privately I would be happy to listen and give you a virtual hug or two.

-- Nat.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Perhaps the final one

My lack of recent posting is mostly due to lack of time. But I think this blog has come to an end. My hope that other people would post their experience and insights hasn't come about. I'm dissappointed about that, but nevertheless I hope that something I have written will help someone.

My story isn't over of course, and perhaps it is unfair to end with the negativity of the last entry. Over the past few months I have moved from grief to confusion -- though perhaps confusion is just another stage of grief. I no longer feel so weighed down or tearful or angry. But what dominates my thoughts now is doubt and worry. As I wrote earlier, "I am really lost. I don’t know where I am or where I am heading, and I have lost track of where North is." I have lost the clarity I used to have about who I am. I worry about my children.

It's unlikely that I'll post any more here, though I'll keep the site active and will read any comments you make. I welcome any email, which you can send to the address you'll find somewhere else on this site.


Monday, 12 March 2012

Over a year now

Well it's been over a year now since we were separated and the time to lodge a divorce application draws nigh. It seems inevitable, but still hard to grasp. H is still certain that she does not want to be married, but uncertain whether she wants to divorce. From all I know of her, she will not change that commitment to independence, but she will still feel that I am rushing her into a decision.

Surely I should be able to "move on" as they say. Surely by now I could start writing something positive in this blog, like how I can see that the pain has been worthwhile, or how a return to singleness opens new possibilities. I am extremely blessed with family and friends. There are people who care deeply for me. Some I can honestly share joys or fears with. Some who I know would drop whatever they were doing to help me when I need it. People praying for me.

But regardless of the wonderful people around me I am desperately alone. I get a few hugs, even some kisses from my wonderful children, but they're not the hugs or kisses of a lover. There's no-one to dream with and I am tearfully broken, lost and crumbling inside, constantly aware of a hunger for sex that has no possibility of satisfaction. Fuck you H. Why have you marooned me in this desolate place? And fuck you God. Why did you arrange for her and I to meet in the first place?

How could I possibly start a new relationship in such a state of brokenness? Who would risk falling in love with such a limping man who's still deeply in love with his ex?


Thursday, 23 February 2012


A sonnet by G. M. Hopkins includes the line "Patience masks our ruins of wrecked past purpose." Patience watches, with bloodshot and tearful eyes, our unfulfilled desires. She protects us from despair but also deceives us with false hope. Patience invites loss and yet persists in obedience.

In the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul claims that "Love is patient … always perseveres ... never fails." On the contrary, I have to say that love has failed to sustain my marriage, that patience has simply masked the failure and that further perseverence is useless.


Friday, 17 February 2012


A few days ago I mentioned Robert Bly’s book “Iron John”. It’s unlike any other book I have read, which makes it difficult me for to summarise or even categorise. Bly is part of a movement that seeks to re-establish a proper sense of manhood and in this book he approaches that goal mythologically.

There is much in that book I do not understand, but also a lot that strikes me as deeply insightful. One of the most relevant sections for me is about naïveté. I have never considered myself to be naïve, but in the sense Bly uses the word it describes me uncomfortably well. Not all that he says applies, but these extracts are both true and distressing (p. 63ff):
The naïve man feels a pride in being attacked. If his wife or girlfriend, furious, shouts that he is a “chauvinist,” a “sexist,” a “man,” he doesn’t fight back, but just takes it. He opens his shirt so that she can see more clearly where to put the lances. He ends with three or four javelins sticking out of his body, and blood running all over the floor.

He feels, as he absorbs attacks, that he is doing the brave and advanced thing; he will surely be able to recover somewhere in isolation. A woman, so mysterious and superior, has given him some attention. To be attacked by someone you love – what could be more wonderful?

The naïve man will also be proud that he can pick up the pain of others. He particularly picks up women’s pain. ... He is often more in touch with women’s pain than his own, and he will offer to carry a woman’s pain before he checks with his own heart to see if his labour is proper in the situation. I think each gender drops its own pain when it tries to carry the pain of the other gender. I don’t mean that men shouldn’t listen. But hearing a woman’s pain and carrying it are two different things.

We all have special relationships but [the naïve man] surrounds the special person with a cloying kind of goodwill. The relationship is so special that he never examines the dark side of the person. ... He accepts responses that are way off, conspires somehow with their dark side.

Sincerity is a big thing for him. He assumes that the person, stranger, or lover he talks with is straightforward, goodwilled, and speaking from the heart. ... He puts a lot of stock in his own sincerity. He believes in it, as if it were a horse or a walled city. He assumes that it will, and should, protect him from consequences that fall to less open people.

A naïve man acts out strange plays of self-isolation. For example, when an angry woman is criticizing him, he may say, quite sensibly, “You’re right, I had no right to do that.”

The naïve man will lose what is most precious to him because of lack of boundaries. ... He confides the contents of last night’s dream to a total stranger. ... He rarely fights for what is his; he gives away his eggs and other people raise his chicks. We could say that, unaware of boundaries, he does not develop a good container for his soul, nor a good container for two people. There’s a leak in it somewhere.

The naïve man often doesn’t know that there is a being in him that wants to remain sick. Inside each man and woman there is a sick person and a well person; and one needs to know which one is talking at any moment. But awareness of the sick being, and knowledge of how strong he is, is not part of the naïve man’s field of perceptions.

The naïve man often lacks what James Hillman has called “natural brutality.” The mother hawk pushes the fledglings out of the nest one day; we notice the father fox drives the cubs away in early October. But the ascender lets things go on too long. At the start of a relationship, a few harsh words of truth would have been helpful. Instead he waits and waits, and then a major wounding happens farther down the line.

His timing is off. We notice that there will often be a missing beat a second or so after he takes a blow, verbal or physical. He will go directly from the pain of receiving a blow to an empathetic grasp of the reason why it came, skipping over the anger entirely. Misusing Jesus’ remark, he turns the missing cheek.

As a final remark about naïveté, we might mention that there is something in naïveté that demands betrayal. ... When a woman lives with a truly naïve man for a while, she feels impersonally impelled to betray him.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

You shall have no other gods before me

This post is way out of time sequence: it’s based on stuff I thought about months ago, but seems more relevant now in the light of my complaints against God. I claimed to have given God my complete allegiance, but to be honest, I have allowed H to displace God. That’s a type of idolatry and has damaging consequences for both her and myself.

When there has been a conflict (perceived or real) between what H wants of me and what God wants of me, I have often chosen H. I have set aside what I took to be a clear call from God to peacemaking in xxx. I set aside my commitment to live simply. I gave God less of my time and money. I stopped putting into practice my understanding of ecclesiology.

In part, I was conscious of the conflict and believed that I was doing the right thing by making our marriage a #1 priority. Over time I just fell into a habit of putting H first. Had I made the opposite decisions, as though my relationship with H was not itself a godly pursuit, would things have turned out any better? How is that balancing act supposed to work? Would God call someone into marriage and then call them towards something incompatible with that marriage? I thought not, and chose to comply with H. Now H is seeing a similar incompatibility and choosing God. Perhaps she is making the more holy choice. But if that is the case, then God is a mean bastard.

My idolatry is shown not only in those compromises, but also, perhaps more significantly, in my expectation that I would find satisfaction/joy/happiness in H rather than God. I have treasured her above all else – and believed that I was doing the right thing. Sadly, rather than making H feel good, those attitudes of mine have made her feel smothered and inadequate.

Sin always has its consequences, and the wages demanded in this case seem to be the death of my marriage.

A friend suggested that the issue may be my elevation of the concept of marriage rather than my elevation of H. That was the case for Sheldon Vanauken, who describes the idealisation of romantic love in his auto-biographical “A Severe Mercy”. He and his wife had the “perfect” marriage that was cut short by her untimely death to cancer. In a letter to Vanauken, C. S. Lewis described the death as a severe mercy, suggesting that if the idol of their marriage had been left unchallenged, the spiritual consequences for both husband and wife might have been something worse. I don’t think that applies to my view on marriage, though certainly may apply to my attitude to H.

I can see how making an idol of H has made me less happy. I have become naïve in the sense that Robert Bly uses in “Iron John” (that’s such an accurate description of me I shall leave the details until the next post). This idolatry has also made me lose track of what I enjoy. I have held as a principle “Glorify God and do what you want”, but the second phrase only works in the light of the first. Having displaced God, I have undermined the ability to seek what I want.

There have been consequences for H as well. To the extent that I thought my happiness depended on her and treated her as an object of worship, I have created an image that she could never live up to. I don’t mean that I have idealised her and then felt let down by the reality of her faults; I mean that placing her at the centre of my life has imposed an unholy burden of responsibility on her. She has felt unworthy in that position but unable (until now) to escape the burden. She says she felt smothered by my affection and judged by my goodness.

One thing that is clear to me is that I must make sure not to fill the hole left by H with anything other than God. I am purposefully keeping myself busy so that I don’t cycle into depression or isolation. But what I must avoid is seeking meaning or happiness in those things, or worse, in other people.