– I’ll see you for lunch. I love you.
With those words, Cathy and Dan parted. That was the last time Cathy saw him.
During their twenty-three years together, Cathy and Dan had developed a lovely routine of meeting over lunch after their morning’s work. Day in, day out, they would connect. There was nothing unusual about the morning of September 16th, 2011. Cathy went off to her work as a college professor and Dan set out to his photography business after a hug, a kiss and the usual promise of seeing each other at lunch. There was much to look forward to that weekend as they had planned a get-away with friends.
Their younger daughter Natalie met Cathy at the college after her class and asked if she could join in for lunch. They arrived home to find that Dan was not there, nor had he left a note. Cathy called and texted his phone to determine when he would arrive. Uncharacteristically, he did not reply. Fifteen minutes later, Natalie tried to reach her father. Again there was no response. They started lunch without him.
Shortly afterwards the doorbell rang. Cathy instantly said to her daughter “That’s the police.” It was nothing more than a gut feeling and yet somehow she knew that she was right.
Two officers asked to come in. They informed Cathy that Dan had died of a heart attack. He had been pronounced dead on the scene. The impact of those words caused immense shock, so much so that Cathy couldn’t quite process it all. Some people are paralyzed by such news, but Cathy quickly turned to action mode, calling family members and her parish priest. In the meantime, Natalie checked Dan’s phone and saw a text from a woman about coming over in the morning. She didn’t recognize the name but assumed that it was a client. He was, after all, a successful photographer with a long list of clients.
An hour later, a police psychologist arrived and asked to have a word in private. She explained that Dan had been found naked in bed in another woman’s house. Cathy’s world began to unravel.
It’s one thing to lose your husband suddenly, unexpectedly. It’s another entirely to discover after-the-fact that he had been unfaithful to you for years. On top of the grief that comes with loss, Cathy now faced the devastation of betrayal. Five weeks after Dan’s death, Cathy learned that he had been having an affair for eight years with a friend of the woman in whose bed he was found. It had taken considerable sleuthing but she eventually got the answers she sought. Cathy wrote to the woman who was the last person to see Dan alive, to ask if she could get some answers in order for her family to have some closure. She wanted to know how they met and how long the affair had been going on. The answers broke her heart.
During a face-to-face meeting, Cathy learned that Dan had had an affair with the woman’s friend for eight years, meeting two to three times a week the entire time. To add insult to injury, they had met at a strip bar, and Dan had made it clear that he was sleeping with a number of other women. For eight years he had successfully lived a double life.
The pain kept coming: Cathy discovered that roughly $60,000 of their $185,000 debt load came from expenditures on other women, things such as dinners for two at restaurants to which Cathy had never been. Eight years of enjoying other women’s company had added up, and Cathy was now liable for it all.
Was there any life insurance, I asked? No. Several years before his death, Dan had cancelled it without discussing it with Cathy. At that time they had a small child and a mortgage. Cathy was livid but Dan insisted that they didn’t need it.
They also had other debts. Cathy discovered that two weeks before he died, Dan did six years’ worth of back taxes and the result was that he owed money. That amount had yet to be paid. Then there were calls from collection agencies. The financial picture was overwhelming; Cathy was left with a financial mess.
Dan did not have an unblemished record on the matter of fidelity. Roughly thirteen years before his death, Cathy discovered that Dan had had a fling with an old flame. The woman in question, who was a guest in their house at the time of the revelation, told Cathy that the affair had started before Dan and Cathy met and she claimed that it had continued during their engagement and for the first five years of their marriage. It only ended when the woman became engaged and then married herself. When confronted with this information, Dan initially denied the accusation. The following morning he told Cathy that he had been up all night crying and praying, and that he had to admit that he had slept with the woman two weeks previously, but only once since his marriage to Cathy.
The news came as a terrible blow. Cathy turned to her faith for guidance. After some time, prayer and consultation with a counsellor, she decided to forgive Dan in part to keep the nuclear family whole. There were children to consider. Their marriage continued with what Cathy believed to be a renewed commitment. That made the final revelations all the more devastating.
Several weeks after the funeral, Dan’s sister and brother admitted to Cathy that Dan’s first marriage had failed because he had been unfaithful in the first year. Cathy was Dan’s fourth wife, which may beg the question of why his marriages always fell apart. Dan had a great reason for every break up: she wanted children, he wanted to go back to university; they married too young and grew apart – there was always a good, believable reason. After his death the truth began to surface: Infidelity had played a role in at least two of the failed marriages.
The last two years of her marriage had been very difficult for Cathy. She and Dan were supposed to retire soon and travel the world, enjoying their freedom and good health before the inevitable effects of old age set in. Then she learned that Dan was not the brilliant financial manager he has purported to be. He took care of all of the finances and assured Cathy that they were on track to retire as they had hoped. To her surprise she discovered that they had $150,000 in debt (at that time). She had taken several months off work to deal with ongoing issues with depression but now she would clearly have to go back to work to help pay the bills. Her dream of retirement and travel had vanished. Three weeks after she resumed her work, Dan died. She was left to pick up the pieces of his betrayal, both emotionally and financially.
In the last nine months, Cathy has experienced terrible lows and yet despite all the trauma, she has managed to get herself to a much better place emotionally. Her resilience and her emotional recovery are remarkable given what she has experienced.
When I asked her if she has advice for other women, she offered the following:
1. No matter how fulfilling your relationship with your significant other, women draw strength from their female friends. Have a circle of friends who are mutually supportive and totally trustworthy. Then be there for each other.
2. Belong to a community. I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my faith community and my parish. Though only four people in this community know of Dan’s betrayal, the entire community knows of his death. Their prayers, phone calls, cards, hugs, visits and listening ears have sustained me through dark hours and days.
3. Nothing could have prepared and protected me from the shock of Dan’s betrayal. However, here are some thoughts about dealing with the aftermath:
a. When your world has totally fallen apart and shifted to a place you never thought could exist, and when you understand the meaning of ‘heart-broken’, sometimes all you can do is feel the pain. Just let yourself be in that space.
b. When you can’t imagine going on in life and can’t think of a reason to bother, think of an earlier time in your vast life experience when you were extremely sad and know that it will get better eventually, even if it doesn’t seem that way at present.
c. When loneliness and emptiness threaten to overwhelm you, reach out to someone you can trust to hold you and care for you until you can begin to care for yourself again.
d. Keep an open spirit. Don’t become jaded.
My next blog post will be “A Tale of Opposites: The difference preparation makes”