09/19/2011 03:04 EDT | Updated 11/19/2011 05:12 EST

The Heartbreak of Separation

I had a nice family once... a good husband, healthy, happy children, a home, dogs, and a cat.

I had everything, or so I thought. And then one day I discovered that I really didn't have everything. That what I thought was a safe, secure home was no longer. The rug was pulled out from under me, and my world split apart like a meteor fracturing into tiny pieces, hurtling helter skelter through a dark, strange space.

At first it was too unbelievable to grasp. This couldn't be happening to me, the fast-moving, take-charge queen of the laundry room. But it did happen to me, and to my family. It was really no one's fault, but before I had a chance to do anything about it, everything changed.

They call it grief. It's the process you go through when you lose someone or something dear to you. I had to mourn not only the loss of my marriage, but also the loss of my family intact. I had to mourn the loss of my innocence, for I could never again completely trust anything. I had to mourn the family life we shared, the good parts of it anyway, because I knew it would never again be the same. I mourned the physical and emotional intimacy I treasured for so many years, the calm quiet blanket of love I always felt around me. These are monumental losses for anyone, no matter how strong you may think you are.

I never imagined what it would be like. Sure, I'd had friends who had been separated, divorced, even widowed. I'd gossiped about them, about their affairs and how they'd handled these changes in their lives. But I never imagined how much it hurts, how shattered people are, how deep the wounds can be.

I'm a reader, so I immediately went to the library and took out all the books on the subject of marital separation. They are a tough read for someone looking for relief. One book said plan for three years of emotional distress. Another said you never get over it. All the books talked about the black pit of despair that accompanies the uncoupling process, especially if you are the person in the couple who didn't have time to prepare.

The books all tell you to take life one day at a time; to not be concerned by the constant crying that you engage in, fits of tears that erupt in the most unlikely places: in line at the bank, in the bakery section of the grocery store, on the sidelines of the soccer field.

I cried at my computer, while I was running my dogs, and in my car. I cried constantly in my car, wailing and slobbering as I listened to tender songs on the radio. It's a miracle I never had a car accident during that time. In the books they warn you about that.

I cried, too, into the soft flannel sheets of the massage table where I lay myself out for healing hands to rub, knead, and finally soothe my aching muscles. Who would have thought that a broken heart could cause your muscles to tense up to a point where it hurts just to be?

The books all advise you to think positive thoughts and speak to yourself in positive terms. You are not to say things to yourself like "my life is so terrible." No, you are to replace those negative thoughts with self-talk like "my life is pretty terrible right now, but it will get better." When, I wondered for weeks and months, when will it get better?

At one point I went to visit my doctor, to see if there might be some relief there.

"Suzanne," I beseeched her, "surely there is some medicine for this condition. What can you give me?" But she refused to give me drugs.

"The only cure for you is time," she said, putting her arm around me. "Talk to friends, get professional help, take care of yourself physically. In time you'll feel better."

And so I continued to go to bed each night with a tremendously heavy heart, to awaken each morning far too early with a dark, sad cloud above me, and to struggle through my days. I tried to keep my head held high in a small town of thoughtless gossips. I watched my kids for signs of distress, but they watched me even more closely, monitoring my moods and enveloping me in huge, loving hugs when they sensed I needed them.

It's been quite a while now, and I am OK. My family is OK too. We've all learned and grown so much through this experience. And although things haven't turned out the way we all thought they would, we are still a family. We just don't all live in the same house anymore.

Time truly is a great healer. But love really helps too. I believe I was lucky, because even though I'd lost so much in that year my husband and I separated, I'd never felt so loved.