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It happened 14 years ago, but I can still feel the wooden back of the church pew, my husband’s restless energy on my left, and a memorial program on my lap, wet with my tears. I barely knew the man we were remembering. He was a publishing colleague and friend of my father-in-law’s.

I was attending his service partly out of duty, but also out of a general sense of gratitude. The year before, our oldest son had contracted a rare, life-threatening illness. His care had required my husband and me to drop almost everything in order to be at his side for three harrowing months. Thanks to excellent medical support, he recovered and was back to living life as a normal 10-year-old.

After strains of a Bach suite and the minister’s welcome, the first eulogist stepped to the lectern. He snapped us to attention by telling us that his 85-year-old friend was first and foremost ”a spectacular and elegant lover.” Uneasy laughter bubbled up from the all-ages crowd. “He loved music, his family, literature, his friends, this community, his grandchildren and of course, he loved his wife, Joanna.”

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Then his daughter stepped up and explained there was no discussing her father without mentioning his amazing marriage. “My father found someone who cherished him and whom he cherished so fervently, it floated us all,” his son added. During their 37 years together, he and his wife became “a force of nature carrying many of us in this room through darkness.” The darkness was only touched on. In fact, this family had known extraordinary suffering and loss, including mental illness, suicide, and the death of not one but two teenage children in car accidents. But in response to each painful event, Mark and Joanna “turned toward each other,” said their son.

More people stepped up to the podium—another son, a daughter, nieces, nephews, friends—all describing the way Mark and Joanna had rescued them, sustained them, housed them, and encouraged them during the toughest times in their lives.

Hearing about this dead man’s loving partnership cracked something open in me. My husband and I had just carried our son through the dark, exhausting days of his illness. But in the wake of his recovery, we were growing apart. I was riding a surge of joy at our success. My husband was relieved but afraid that the time spent caring for him had set him back irreparably in his career as a writer and film director. I couldn’t understand his inability to join me in celebrating. He experienced my elation as a dismissal of his loss and felt I had never valued his career in the first place.

We had been fighting bitterly for the past few months—and I finally knew why. I wanted a life in which family came first. He wanted a life in which creative work came first. As I sat next to him that day, I suddenly knew that we would never be the partners that each of us needed.

It was a horrifying moment of clarity. I began to sob right there in the church. Not over the death of this wonderful man Mark. But over the end of my illusions.

There were two more years of drifting apart until my husband and I finally separated. There were another three years before our divorce was final. None of it was easy or painless. He eventually moved in with a woman who became the writing and creative partner he had long wished for. What followed for me was solo exploration; I turned 50, changed careers, made new friendships, dated online, and even ventured into a few relationships. Eventually, I found the partner I dared to imagine back in that church pew. He is the “spectacular and elegant lover” the eulogist spoke of, but one of the truest measures of “us” is that during painful moments, I can turn toward him and feel held. Further, we can help hold family and friends during their terrible times. This year, he and I will host our first Thanksgiving—and at the table, spend a little time offering some gratitude for the funeral that led to our new lives.