While I moved beyond grief many years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever come back here again. My daughter would ask and ask but as far as I was concerned, it was off the cards. I’d spent enough time looking back. If she wanted to revisit this gem of a place we last visited just after he left me, he could bring her himself. But then I finally caved.
As I write this, I am overlooking Bella Lake from the screened-in porch of a cozy cabin nestled on a picture-perfect hilltop just a few hours north of Toronto. Lucy and I arrived at Billie Bear yesterday afternoon. It’s a magical place. My ex-husband and I discovered this community of housekeeping cottages while we were on our honeymoon and we swore we’d return when we became parents.
We first came here when Lucy was six months old, then again when she was 18-months-old. And then when she was two, three, four, five, and six. Each year, we reconnected with friends from the previous year. They, like us, had embraced Billie Bear as an annual family tradition. Our children became fast friends with each other, and began to eagerly await the following summer so that they could pick up where they had left off, running from beach to tuck shop and weaving in and out of one another’s cabins with a sense of freedom that we would never have granted them back home in the city.
I associated Billie Bear with bliss – until the pain of divorce took over.
In 2008, my husband – a man so demonstrative with his love and affection that everyone who knew us thought I was the luckiest woman alive – told me that he wasn’t happy. That he didn’t feel like himself when he was with me. And that he had felt that way since we’d met 10 years prior. It was the start of the end. Within a couple of whirlwind weeks, I learned via our phone bill about his interest in another woman. I suggested we get counselling. He said he’d attend but that it wouldn’t change his mind about anything. He was done. So really, what was I to do? I asked him to leave.
Sadly, all of this unfolded (far more dramatically than implied above) just three weeks before we were due to return to Billie Bear. My heart was crushed. My family was broken. I couldn’t see beyond grief. We had dropped the biggest bomb we could have dropped on our darling seven-year-old (mummy and daddy are getting unmarried and we promise it’s not your fault), and I didn’t have the heart to take away her long-awaited Billie Bear holiday on top of everything. And so we came, just the two of us. It was one of the saddest weeks of my life.
Somehow I found the strength to put on a brave face for Lucy while we were here, but the minute she ran out of the cabin to join her friends (which she did often, thank heavens), I would break down and cry. The other parents, while genuinely empathetic, left me to myself, no doubt feeling this was the right thing to do under the circumstances. Yes, we’d chat on the beach, but once I was back in my cabin there were none of the casual porch drop-ins or spontaneous barbecue invites typical of previous years. While Lucy whooped it up with her seven-year-old Billie Bear bestie, I sat there looking back, wondering what it was all for, and crying into my gin and tonic.
I couldn’t imagine life beyond grief
For years following that awful last visit, I responded to Lucy’s ‘let’s go back to Billie Bear’ pleas with, “why not ask your dad if he’ll take you?” But then, last summer, we bumped into the family that used to stayed in the cabin next to ours. They were still making their annual trips, they told me. Billie Bear was still working its magic charm. We’d never been particularly close to this family, but they were lovely people, and nostalgia got the better of me. A few days later, I put down a deposit on a cabin for the following summer. That summer is now upon us, and here we are.
I am no longer grieving the demise of my previous marriage. On the contrary, today marks the sixth anniversary of my second very happy marriage. I’d be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t still nursing a small wound from the first. As I began writing this post, a few tears escaped me. While I have no regrets – I am exactly where and with whom I am meant to be – some wounds run deep.
I will forever wish I could have given my daughter the stability of a loving mom and dad raising her, together. That I was unable to do so still hurts my heart. But I have long moved beyond grief. Life is beautiful, and I am living it without regret. Just 24-hours in to our Billie Bear visit, we’ve partially assembled a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, munched on cold cuts, cheeses and ‘noisy’ crackers that my husband can’t tolerate us eating at home, played endless games of cards, and cozied up together to watch a movie.
Everything has a purpose
Bringing Lucy into my life was the primary purpose of my first marriage. This moment right now – this moment in which I sit here typing while Lucy sits inside the cabin, headphones on, humming sweet melodies as she patiently awaits our next puzzle session – is exactly where I am meant to be.