After Divorce, Could She Find Forgiveness?

They were parents of twin sons, but she and her ex-husband couldn't find common ground. How could she change her feelings?

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- Posted on Jul 25, 2017

Nicki Cooper smiles at her twin sons

Mike and I sat side by side in the only two chairs in the hospital’s pre-op room, our arms almost brushing. We hadn’t been this close to each other in four years. Not since he’d left me and our marriage had come to a bitter end.

A guy with a laptop on a rolling cart came in and asked some questions about insurance. “There’s a hundred-dollar co-pay,” he said.

“Can you split it?” I asked as Mike and I each reached for our credit cards. We didn’t share anything anymore. Not finances. Not a bed or a home or a life. All we had in common now were our 11-year-old boys—Breckan, who was fidgeting in his hospital gown, and his twin brother, Brennan.

“Sure,” the guy said, taking both of our cards.

It wasn’t lost on me that 16 years ago to the day Mike and I had been in Hawaii on our honeymoon, snorkeling, hiking, eating shave ice. I’d dwelled on it every November since our divorce, my stomach tightening at the memory of what we’d had between us and how it was now gone.

Breckan was about to have minor surgery, except no surgery is minor when it’s happening to your kid. I was worried and scared. I didn’t find any comfort in having Mike there. But Breckan did. He and Brennan loved their father. They needed him. And I couldn’t deny them that.

A nurse and a tech came to take Breckan into surgery. I kissed him on the head. Mike high-fived him. Then they rolled him away to the OR.

Mike and I went to the waiting room and found seats. There were enough chairs to put a comfortable—or was it uncomfortable?—distance between us. That summed up our interactions these days. Mike had remarried, and the boys spent every other weekend with him and his wife. He picked them up on Friday and brought them home on Sunday. Sometimes we’d say a few words on my front porch. Usually he’d just nod as the boys ran up the steps, which was fine by me.

Now Mike took out his laptop and put in his earbuds. He was three seats and a world away. Kind of like the last years of our marriage.

I’d tried so hard to hold on to him. I’d prayed for things to work out. I’d looked to Scripture, but even the passage I had always quoted to people in crisis, James 1:2–4, didn’t seem to make sense anymore. “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” I wasn’t so sure about that. All this test of my faith had produced so far was anger, resentment, hate. I didn’t think I could ever forgive Mike.

But was it truly all his fault our relationship fell apart? There was plenty I could blame him for—and I did, to my friends and to my mom. She got so angry at Mike that she wouldn’t so much as glance in his direction at the boys’ Little League games. Still, I’d made mistakes too. Maybe it wasn’t possible to fully account for the failure of love. Maybe it wasn’t necessary.

I looked at my watch, wondering when Breckan would be out of surgery. My mom arrived and sat with me. We talked about my aunts and uncles, about my ready-to-conk-out dishwasher and where I might find a replacement, about various other topics Mom brought up to distract me. At last a man in scrubs came out to the waiting room. The anesthesiologist. “Everything went well,” he said. “Mom and Dad can come on back and see Breckan.”

Mike put away his earbuds and laptop, and the doctor led us to the recovery room. Breckan was restless and agitated, coughing and hiccuping, not himself at all. Mike and I sat on opposite sides of the bed, reaching over the rail to try to calm our son, me on the right stroking his hair, Mike on the left rubbing his arm. Finally Breckan relaxed and drifted off to sleep, a peaceful look on his face.

“We made a cute boy,” I said. “Two actually.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Mike replied, looking at Breckan, not at me.

What I was trying to say was, I’m not mad at you anymore. I’m grateful we had our time together because we made our boys—and they’re really neat people. But Mike didn’t pick up on that.

Breckan’s eyes fluttered open. He put his hand on Mike’s. “Dad, I saw really big lights in there, and fish on the ceiling. I closed my eyes, and then I was here.”

Seeing his IV-taped hand on his daddy’s made something melt in me. I took a picture with my phone and texted it to Mike. It was my way of saying, I’m glad you’re his dad, but he didn’t pick up on that either.

Then I noticed Mike’s other hand on the bed rail and the wedding ring on his finger. I’d caught glimpses of it before, at parent-teacher conferences and on my porch some Sundays, when he brought the boys home. But I didn’t ever think it was pretty until now. It looked different somehow.

Actually, a lot of things were different. I’ve learned so much since you left, I wanted to tell Mike. I’m the one who starts the lawnmower now and changes the filter in the air conditioner. I do my own taxes, and I can grill a steak with just the right amount of pink. I’d learned some things about myself too. That besides being an English teacher, I could write stories for the newspaper that people wanted to read. That I loved helping the homeless. That I could find joy in the tiniest of things.

That passage from James...I understood it now. The first part, about finding joy through my trials. And the second part, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I’d grown so much in the past four years. Not only had my world not collapsed, as I was sure it was going to when my marriage ended, but my life was happier and more fulfilling than ever. I felt closer to living out God’s purpose for me than I ever had before.

The nurses let my mom come in. She and Mike and I sat around Breckan’s bed while he drank Gatorade and ate graham crackers, as if he hadn’t eaten all day because he hadn’t.

Mom looked right at my ex-husband and said, “So, Mike, how’s work? Are you doing the same job you were before?”

She hadn’t spoken to him in four years. She’d said plenty about him but not a word to him. Yet here she was, starting a conversation with him as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

“Well, yes and no,” Mike replied. Then he explained what he meant by that.

And I listened. I could do it without having to pretend to be interested because I really was interested in what he said. He was the father of my children, after all—the boys I loved more than I thought it was possible to love anyone on this earth. Somehow, unbidden, forgiveness had come.

I looked at Mom. Evidently she’d had some sort of breakthrough too. “What was that about?” I asked her when Mike stepped out to take a phone call.

“I just don’t feel like hating him anymore,” she said. “It was hurting my soul.”

I knew what she meant. My soul felt lighter too.

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