She waves goodbye to him from the front door then turns on her heels to throw herself into my arms, “I missed you, Mama.” I brave a big smile, hoping my cheeks cut off the tear ducts. Oh, how I missed you too, sweet one.
Olive is two, I’m twenty-nine, and two weeks into quarantine my six year relationship to her Father ended.
“I’m not in love” he deposed, and that was it.
The pain caused by these words is still nauseating. My tears are no longer sweet and salted. They are astringent, feeble and laborious. No longer were my four walls protecting me from the apocalypse. I was my own epicentre. I couldn’t breathe. My head ached. I lost senses. Coincidentally, a broken heart looks an awful lot like the symptoms of COVID-19 — to add to the confusion. His rejection of me was so distressing that I lost my appetite. The loneliness was so tormenting, I dreamt of a straitjacket to hold back my spite.
Job uncertainty, isolation from friends and family, suspended social resources and a vibrant city turned ghost town led me down a path of depression I had not chartered before. People know me to be charismatic, affectionate and expressive. I’m an ever-learner, wellness enthusiast, and proud author of my life. I’m open, sensual and creative. I deep dive into the intricacies of the human mind. I love on people hard.
Losing such an important person, my life partner, triggered a depth of emotion I had not been prepared for. No amount of spiritual growth could absolve me from following the spiral downward. In fact, I believe it would have been reckless to my future self, and my future partner, to graze over my darkest emotions in fear of their depth and permanence.
So, I went in.
What I found was no slice of paradise. Way in recesses of my human attic is a wound of abandonment and unworthiness so rehearsed that it takes merely seconds to recall. I can take one unanswered text and renovate my entire self-confidence to service a story by my suffering ego. As I searched within, generational trauma work revealed my Grandmother’s oppression by my Grandfather’s gambling, alcoholism, negligence and domestic abuse. My paternal Grandfather, a war veteran with untreated severe PTSD, making several suicide attempts. My parents inherited all kinds of baggage, much more than their immigrant hands could carry. I had a very decent and privileged childhood, but trigger me and I’m eye to eye with internalized victimhood, rage, and gender inequality. Spinning out into shame, anxiety, and blame. I can see why.
Here’s the silver lining. I am blessed to have a few dear friends who call you the moment you send a “walk-me-off-the ledge” text. They thank you for reaching out when you’re having a tough day. They drop off home-baked goods with “I love you” notes when you’re in a CDC-mandated quarantine from exposure. They take photos of you and your daughter to encapsulate the season. They ask questions and listen. They don’t ask questions, and still listen.
Through their generosity, and my own knack for grace, I have found a space for my honesty, for my pleasure, for my vulnerability, for my creativity, for my depression, for my sadness, for my resentment, and for my rage.
And I do it all for her.
To wake up every morning with Olive and be as thrilled about the day as she is. To not inherit an addiction and instead co-learn creative outlets with her. To be emotionally regulated for her necessary and frequent two-nager feelings. I’ve got 27 years on this little one, so, quite frankly, I should have my sh*t together for her.
Being a full-time working Mother navigating a separation during a global pandemic grows you. I haven’t had all the energy to DIY, learn a language, or bake my own bread every week. But I made some commitments. The first was to be as authentic with her as possible. To be genuine in my joy. To be truthful when I am sad. To set boundaries when I am not able to play that game for the 20th time. To be consistent in my expectations, and compassionate when they aren’t met: “I didn’t like that, but I still love you very much.”
The second has been to protect her understanding of my relationship with her Father. She was witness to a few notable arguments by the age of two, which I have felt deep regret over. However, I intend to transmute those experiences to model what reconciliation and relational maturity looks like — and teach her a big lesson, which I couldn’t say better than Emery Allen:
“Not everything is long lasting. Sometimes people come into your life to show you what is right and what is wrong, to show you who can be, to teach you how to love yourself, to make you feel better for a little while, or just to be someone to walk with at night and spill your life to. Not everyone is going to stay forever, and we still have to thank them for what they’ve given us.”
She will know that we loved each other deeply. So deeply that we decided to bring her earth-side. She will know that we taught each other some of the greatest lessons in life. She will know that the day she was born was the greatest day of our lives. She will know that she doesn’t just get one home, she gets two, so no matter where she is or who she is there will be love for all of her.
She will see that you can love more than one person in your lifetime, and it’s okay if relationships come to close at some point because they have served their purpose. She will see that life after love can still hold more love. Most notably, for herself.
And third, because of me she will know that women can design their lives by what makes them happy. That wives are not defined by their husbands. That your sisters, or your misters, are your evergreen givers of laughter, love and loyalty. You are whole, before you met them, and you will be whole if they pass on.
The simplicity and monotony of quarantine has revealed a handful of things about me that needed to be levelled up. It’s also revealed scores of things that can stay the same, and continue serving my daughter, my family, my friends, my coworkers and my community. My marriage ending has been a hard hit to my self confidence. I have doubted my likability, my ‘goodness’ and my ability to be in another relationship. Nine weeks in isolation put a whole new meaning to the popularized term ‘self love’. I re-contemplated what it meant to me. My cup was always topped up by others’ validation of me. Praise, acknowledgment, tangible success. When I was in home isolation, limited to blurred Zoom calls, faceless group texts, and a whole lot of nothing I had to come into relationship with a form of self-love that took very little external input. I had to relearn self-motivation, self-reliance, and discover markers along the trail to remind me of my own way home to the heart.
While we all start to query when “life will go back” to the way things were, I am not. When wisdom is gained, would you wish it away? When you have found answers, would you wish to unlearn them?
Like a relationship that was not meant to last, neither will our life in quarantine. If it brought you a new found appreciation for your family, hold them close. If it illuminated your impatience, breathe deep and stay the course. If it imparted more awareness for Mother nature, take care of her. If in the belly of uncertainty, you found a morsel of creativity or productivity, keep that channel open. And if you, like me, were wading through the depths of pain from losing someone, either to the virus or from a relationship ending, know the journey from head to heart is the longest. Despite what you may think, you are not alone. Despite what they might say, you are not overreacting. And despite what you may feel, you are most certainly loved.
Fiona Hepher is a Mother, sexual wellness advocate, doula and brand marketer for One & Body. She is based in Vancouver, on unceded Indigenous land belonging to the Coast Salish peoples. She started traveling the world at twenty, and wound up living and working in the Middle East for five years developing an irrevocable passion for psychology, empathy work, social innovation and wellness.
Photographed by Kristine Cofsky