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Getting a divorce at age 73 helped me turn my life around

facts & arguments

Who gets divorced at 73?

It wasn't my choice, Patricia Kirk writes, but it sure taught me how to take care of things myself

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

'I'm not happy and I'm going to get a divorce" my husband announced one morning as he was crossing the bedroom floor on his way to the bathroom.

I'm not that obtuse, but perhaps I had missed some clues about unhappiness because this pronouncement was like a thunder bolt, a cataclysmic statement of which I had no prior warning. Thus began my journey – at the age of 73 – into singledom.

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We had been married for 23 years prior to his startling announcement (a second marriage for both). My first husband died, so I had no inkling about how one goes about getting divorced and certainly no clue about the lengthy process it is to become unhitched.

At first, I entreated against such an outcome. "What was wrong? Why, couldn't we fix it?" But he was adamant that divorce was the only solution.

My husband had heard the term "collaborative divorce," and suggested that was the route we should take. Unfortunately, his definition of collaborate did not involve respectful back and forth discussion or compromise and we ended up in a 2 1/2-year battle negotiated by two very expensive lawyers.

There is a recently identified phenomenon called grey divorce. Couples who have been together 30, 40, or even 50 years are deciding they do not want to live out their last years together. Some divorce for the usual reasons: infidelity or they are no longer able to live with their partner's drinking or gambling or abusiveness. But many realize they haven't communicated for decades and decide they don't want to continue with the same old patterns for what remains of their lives. I reluctantly found myself a member of this ever-growing group. Rather than feeling on the cutting edge, I was devastated. I felt I was being forced to reinvent my life, a daunting task for a septuagenarian.

I lost weight, couldn't sleep, had anxiety attacks and blubbered profusely on all my friends shoulders as I was utterly hurt, sad and angry all at once. I am no stranger to coping. When my first husband died, I was left with two young teenagers whose hormones were raging and who regarded me, as the now sole parent as a whole new ballgame, where all limits had to be retested. My son, a caring and intelligent individual, died by suicide at the age of 31, after a private battle with bipolar disorder. The loss of a child is the biggest blow a parent can ever suffer, but grey divorce comes a close second.

But I did learn and develop new skills. I learned how to enjoy chopping kindling for my wood-burning stove. Cutting the lawn and taking the garbage cans to the street are not nearly the difficult tasks they were purported to be. My triumph was detecting that an obnoxious smell in the house was coming from the crawl space. Crawl-space investigation was new to me, but who would have thought that retrieving two malodorous dead rats from the depths would feel like a badge of honour. "If I can do this, I can do anything. Yes, I can run this place on my own."

The divorce coach, a counselling specialty previously unknown to me, was invaluable. One day she said, "There are opportunities in this kind of situation." What opportunities could there possibly be in aloneness and depleted finances? And yet, there are. I took a leap outside my comfort zone and signed up for a cycling/hiking trip to Tanzania. I didn't quite make it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, but it was expanding to try.

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A name change can be included at no extra cost in a divorce decree, so I took the opportunity and went back to my maiden name. To celebrate my "coming out" as Ms. Kirk, I threw a party and invited everyone who had been so supportive, inclusive and patient with me over the past 2 1/2 years. It was a blast!

I vowed I would never have another man in my life. Some of my friends (all grannies) were dabbling in internet dating, but it was a process I had absolutely no interest in. However, a member of my cycle club invited me to join him for dinner. I accepted the invitation and then began to fuss. "I don't want a relationship, and besides, I haven't been on a date for 30 years!" A sage friend of mine put it in perspective by saying, "It's only a dinner invitation; for God's sake, just go out and enjoy the evening!" I did, and a year and a half later, he and I are still enjoying each other's company. Having lived with two of the most sedentary men in the world, it is a delight to spend time with an energetic, active person who enjoys cycling and hiking as much as I do. (And besides, he has beautiful eyes.)

Divorce is a difficult process, a roller coaster of emotions, feelings of abandonment, grieving and a questioning of one's worth. I have read that it could take three to five years to recover from a grey divorce.

Three years in, I do feel that I have turned a corner and am well on my way to recovery. I feel more settled and am happy with my own company. There are opportunities out there, bucket lists to ponder and act upon, grandchildren to frolic with and old and new friendships to nurture. It's not a matter of reinventing my life but to keep on living it with verve and enthusiasm.

Patricia Kirk lives in Victoria

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