Grieving a Marriage Many Years Later

By Karen Czuleger Strgacich | January 9th, 2024

To a sisterhood of other women arriving to retirement years alone

“I am just now grieving a marriage that ended 20 years ago.” Writer Karen Czuleger Strgacich writes of ignoring her early divorce only to have the pain hit her later. Image by Fizkes

Surviving life’s challenges may mean suppressing our feelings. Writer Karen Czuleger Strgacich realizes she’s grieving a marriage that ended many years ago, but she draws lessons for herself and for other women in similar situations.

“I am just now grieving a marriage that ended 20 years ago.”

Anyone would respond to that by saying, “Are you kidding me? Good grief, it’s been 20 years! Get over it already!”

And I cannot argue that! It does sound silly. But here’s the rub. I never dealt with it. I never grieved. I just keep moving forward. I was transformed from a mere human to a machine in a matter of minutes and I never found time to address the broken me. What choice did I have? I had a 4-week-old infant who needed me to literally survive, and I had a very confused 4-year-old son when my husband decided he loved someone else and wanted a “Get out of jail for free card.”

We were building a house at the time, too. Not only were we building a house, but we were also suing the contractor for gross negligence. He didn’t just leave me. He left me with a half-built house weeks after giving birth. And I was left to sue the builder.

I came to that conclusion when I found myself sitting alone in our attorney’s office realizing my then-husband was not going to show up. The attorney refused to take the case since it appeared we were no longer on a united front with a united bank account. And I suddenly found myself returning to work, not yet physically recovered from the C-section I had just had. I see the cruelty of that now.

“Isn’t it a pity? Isn’t it a shame? How we break each other’s heart and cause each other pain,” sang George Harrison.

That was the day it hit me. I was watching the Concert for George, and even though I had heard that song hundreds of times before, it landed on me in a way I hadn’t expected. That was the day I realized that I just never dealt with the pain and my loss. Not just the loss of my marriage, but the loss of me. It was indeed such a pity that for two decades I never had a minute to just stop and take in what happened to my family. What happened to me? And it was a real pity that it took me 20 years to finally feel it. Machines don’t feel. People feel. I had found my way back to being a person with a heart; albeit a little broken. Still apparently broken.

Read more insights in other essays from Karen Czuleger Strgacich

I’m now over 60 and nearing retirement and am facing the actual aloneness that should have been dealt with all those years ago. I was on autopilot for 20 years. I was just keeping all those balls in the air and being the tail to the kite of my own life and endlessly holding on to that tail through everything from a slight breeze to a full-on storm within those 20 years. Reacting. reacting to everything, but never feeling. Don’t feel. It’s too hard and you don’t have time for that anyway.

As the years went on, the ridiculousness of my even contemplating my feelings seemed invalidated, as if some kind of statute of limitations had occurred and society no longer allowed a level of understanding, so just chuck any possibility of feeling right into the trash can. Get over it already! The time has surely passed. I was embarrassed that I was just now feeling the loss in my life. So, I kept them safe inside. No need to let anyone know of my late blooming status.

My life has seemed to have always been a game of catch up, keep up, and stand up. I regret adhering to that philosophy as I look back over my shoulder. The energies that I exerted into just trying to keep up appearances. The reality was too hard for anyone to really see. I raised a family by myself, and I made it look easy.

Along the way, some people were brought into my inner sanctum by having a slight understanding of the pressures I was feeling. To them, they thought they were a trusted source of support. They were. But I never shared half of the worries I truly felt. I never wanted to burden anyone or shatter the image. So, I just kept it all in. Everyone would tell me what an amazing person I was for having so much responsibility and yet being so together, so strong. I looked like some kind of Teflon pan that no one could scratch.

But I was a fraud. I had indeed been deeply scratched. And now as a woman over 60 who has lived the past 20 years making sure everyone else was happy, I find myself facing an unsure future. I spent so much time ensuring that my children’s futures were set, that I neglected my own. So here I am once again playing keep up, catch up, and stand up.

Kindred spirits

I know I’m not special. I know there are a million Boomer women who have experienced what I have and more. We sit in a silent sisterhood together as we all approach the age of retirement and endure the silent worry of what lies ahead. I have increased my 401K contribution to try and make up for lost time and money that was needed to go to my family. I have enlisted in as much supplemental health insurance as I can afford to cover any unforeseen health emergencies I might encounter. I still don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

Even though I am a little frightened and I will be working well into my 70s, I know how to play keep up, catch up, and stand up very well. And even though I am arriving a little late for the party of my life, I also know that I will be okay. I insist. Because even though I am indeed a little late to this, I am now taking care of myself! I thought it was about time. I now look forward to my future with cautious optimism and I embrace the challenge because failure is simply not an option. It just never has been.

For all the Boomer women who share in this special sisterhood, I wish us all well. We got this!

Karen Czuleger Strgacich is a national sales director in the hospitality industry, helping to bring meetings and conventions to the city of Los Angeles. She has worked in the industry for over 30 years. She loves her career and paying it forward by mentoring future hospitality and meeting professionals and helping them obtain scholarships. She raised two children as a single mom, a feat that was at times the most challenging thing she had ever done, but also by far the most rewarding. After work, Strgacich blogs her thoughts, experiences, trials, and triumphs to sites focused on single motherhood and professional working women. You can email her at

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