Heartbreak Hotel for healing broken spirits

A typical half-way celebration in a 10-week course for Widowed, Separated, Divorced in Wellington and Lower Hutt

It’s 11.30 Friday night and the joint, as they say, is jumping. The joint is Sally’s place*. She’s finally saved enough money to buy it. She and her husband split up three years ago but as Sally says they probably always were split up. She just didn’t realise it.

She’s fiercely proud that she’s managed to leave him and just as proud of her new house. It’s hers. It represents her new life. She’s got all sorts of plans for doing it up just the way she wants it—the way she’s doing up her own life and no one’s going to stop her. You can tell by the look on her face—determination if ever I saw it.

She says to me, ‘I’m bloody strong; I’ve had to be.’
Sally’s one of our facititators. I give her a hug, grab another glass of water and get back to the action.

Twenty-six of us in her lounge moving and grooving to ‘Dancing Queen’.
Good old Abba—an invincible golden oldie—a bit like most of us. No longer only 17. But who cares? We’re dancing like there’s no tomorrow and we’ve forgotten those rotten yesterdays. Music and movement—marvellous therapy.

I must remember that for the next course. More music. Music when they walk in the door for that awful first session of the 10-week course.
‘The first night is the worst,’ we tell them and hope like hell they’ll come back because we know it’ll get easier but they don’t. Not yet.And music afterwards at supper.

But you have to be careful with music. We don’t want silly love songs. Not for a while anyway.
Cathy said she didn’t dare turn on the radio. She never knew what would be playing—specially not in the car. It’s hard to see where you’re going with your eyes full of tears. And harder still to blow your nose.
And dancing—dancing calms the mind and frees the spirit. These people have got spirit. Also you don’t need a partner. And these people don’t have partners. Not now they’re on their own.

That’s what we have in common. We’re single and most of us live alone. That’s why we look forward to these events. This is our first pot-luck dinner together.
We’re halfway through the course—we’ve met for two hours once a week for five weeks so far and already we’re behaving like we’ve known each other for years.
Now we’re onto ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. We’re laughing and making melodramatic gestures at each other.

Arthur flops on the sofa and puts his head in his hands. His wife walked out with their two young sons. They’re in Christchurch. He’s in Wellington and can’t afford to visit his sons. She won’t bring them to Wellington. He misses them—a lot.
I want to go and comfort him but something stops me. Another facilitator once said to me,
‘Mary-Jane, don’t care so much. It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help you.’
She was right. But I struggle mentally.

Arthur looks up. It’s moving to see a man cry openly in public, even these days. Mary goes to sit beside him.
Mary’s husband went off with a woman half her age. He hasn’t seen her or spoken to her since. She couldn’t have children. Was that why? She’s a primary teacher.She’s great with kids.
Now it’s ‘Waterloo’. Even Mike is up and grooving. His wife of 50 years died of breast cancer. He’s 72 and bereft. He can’t imagine life without her.
Barry’s had a bit much to drink. Can’t blame him. His wife committed suicide. Wouldn’t make you feel that good. Yep, they’ve all met their Waterloo. Perhaps we all have. You know these people. You know their stories. Only the names are different.

Those of us who run the courses have been there, too. That’s why we belong. We’re family, whanau. We’ve heard each other’s stories. We’ve seen each other’s pain. We give. We get. We talk. We listen. We accept. We have a common bond. Human contact.
And we hug a lot. It gets to be a habit—a good one.
Suddenly it’s Elvis. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. I cringe inside. Bad choice. Apparently not. The gestures get more exaggerated and amusing.

Cynical at the same time. We’re laughing and crying. It’s hard to tell. It’s a fine line. But the group support is the safety net. There’s always someone at the end of that line—someone to say, ‘Hi, how are you going?’ And you find out and finish up talking for hours.
CD’s changed again. M People and Search For The Hero. Don’t have to search far with this lot. They’re all heroes. They’ll know it before too long.

When we get to the second pot- luck at the end of the course the joint won’t only be jumping, it’ll be taking off like a rocket. Good thing none of these hosts worry about their carpets. Guess they know there are worse things in life than a damaged carpet. We’ve all kicked our shoes off anyway. Uh Oh. Sally wants to go to bed. Damn it. End of the music. For now.

We’ve done the dishes and tidied up. We try each other’s shoes on for a laugh. Mike looks good in high heels. He totters around saying, ‘I should get a mini-skirt. Got the legs for it.’
We walk back to our cars. Jenny puts her arm round my shoulders and says, ‘this course has changed my life’. I grin at her. I’m thinking-’Yeah sweetheart. Mine too.’

Roll on pot-luck number two.

Mary-Jane Ansell is coordinator for widowed, separated, divorced: Wellington and Lower Hutt.
Phone 04-383 4965
* Names have been changed to protect anonymity.