And all manner of things will be well
Single parent Maria well remembers when her husband left her – it was late and the mum of seven was feeding her eight-week-old baby girl.
“I was in the lounge room and he came in and said, ‘I don’t want to be married to you any more’,” Maria shares.
“So I said, ‘You had better go then’. He left at midnight. I remember my tears dropping on my baby’s head. When the children woke up the next morning he was gone.
“I have little memory of the first three years after that. I don’t know who was looking after the children or running the house, but they did a pretty good job!”
Maria’s husband left the family home in early 1998. He remarried the following year and has had other children.
Maria has a simple explanation for why their marriage ended. “I thrived and he didn’t,” she says.
“We had seven children and made the best of it. He was a good man and did his best for a long period of time, but then something broke. He became disillusioned.
“We did counselling but his heart wasn’t in it. The counsellor said to me, ‘You have to let him go. He doesn’t want to be there’.
“My world was small: I loved being at home and running the house. But I think he always hoped for more.”
Life has been a real challenge for Maria – six months after her husband left, her mother died of cancer. But this stoic and wise woman does not want this to be a sad piece about a single mum battling the odds.
Instead, she wants to focus on ‘community’, to highlight the fact that so many people – friends and strangers – supported and helped her, which made her realise how much we need one another, and to feel that we ‘belong’.
Today, Maria works as an executive assistant, has a couple of children overseas and some living at home, and is excited about becoming a grandmother for the first time in January.
She is a warm woman who smiles easily and makes time for others. She feels grateful.
“My family and life fell apart in a matter of months,” Maria says. “It was grief. It was overwhelming. But at the same time, the generosity, love and kindness that people showed me was incredible and really helped compensate for my loss.”
Money was always tight. But help came. A friend moving overseas transferred her unused Coles points to Maria which provided a tonne of groceries. At Christmas, a plain envelope was left outside the front door with $500. A lady lent Maria a car on shopping day.
As a casual cleaner, Maria’s employer was able to offer their coast house for two weeks – would she go with her family for a holiday and perhaps clean it while she was there? The kids loved it!
“Some poor women have to do it completely on their own, but I was blessed every day,” Maria says.
“In those days you could live on a single parent pension. It was nothing flash but it wasn’t constant fear. Every year my kids got a new pair of runners and school shoes.
“Our house was falling apart but I used to think, if this old house stays standing long enough to get the last child out the door, then it’s done its job. And it’s our home.”
Apart from the practical help, there was tenderness, understanding and compassion.
“I was in the church one day, just overwhelmed by it all, and Fr Maher came up to me,” Maria says. “He touched my shoulder and said to me, ‘All is well, all will be well’.
“A kind or encouraging word gives you the strength to take the next breath.”
But despite the generosity and warmth of others, there is a tinge of sadness too in this brave lady – who admits to sometimes feeling lonely and isolated.
“I felt completely rejected,” Maria explains. “You feel so unlovable, you never contemplate another relationship and you remain broken.
“It’s like someone dropping a vase. You can glue it together but it will never hold water again.
“You have to immediately repress everything because your kids are your priority, and you don’t have time to grieve or heal.
After her marriage ended, Maria also struggled to find a place for herself in the Catholic Church.
“There is a bias to the Catholic family. Married couples are the desirable in the Catholic Church and it is difficult to be on your own.”