Living Happily Ever After


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NOT Some Kind of Soft Drink

“I can remember a reporter asking me for a quote, and I didn’t know what a quote was. I thought it was some kind of soft drink.” (Joe DiMaggio)

Something happened in my unexpected life I’ve been holding back on. I almost spilled the beans last month the day I blogged that something exciting was happening the next day. (In fact, Bachelor #5′s mom read that post and called him to ask if he was getting married the next day! Sorry, no. It actually had nothing to do with that.)

But I guess today is the day to share.

Last month, a reporter from NBC’s Channel 9 in Denver, CO, Cheryl Preheim, contacted me via email. She had found my blog, read it and wanted to talk to me. My first inclination was a resounding “No Way.” But, in true Andrea Merriman style, I read on anyway. And then I re-read the whole email. And then read it again.

Cheryl told me she was interested in my story from the perspective of my children and helping them through our challenge. She told me about her family, her children and her philosophy of life and motherhood. (Mothers know the way to other mother’s hearts, don’t they?) She said all the right things; and for some reason, I believed her. I was wary but warming to the idea of talking to her.

I turned to my trusty co-workers for advice. They are sharp, smart good men who haven’t led me astray in the 15 months I’ve known them. The comment I remember most came from our Emmy-winning film guy who said, “You’ve worked with media, you know reporters are never your friend.” So I googled Cheryl Preheim to find out what I could. I thought about it. And then I responded to her email.

We talked on the phone, emailed, got to know one another and…I liked her. I trusted her. (Can you believe after all of the lies and deception by someone so close to me I still trust people? But I do.) I had a good feeling about her and what she wanted to do. So we made a plan to meet.

She and a very nice cameraman named Ken flew to Utah and spent a day with my children and me. They were kind, generous and respectful of our family. They were easy to talk to. They became our friends. We were nothing showy or impressive, but they sat around our kitchen table and ate dinner with us anyway–and filmed my 5-year-old eating hot dogs and chips. I begged Ken not to show the unhealthy meal I was serving my young son, so he graciously zoomed in on the carrots my son WASN’T eating! We opened our home, our lives and our hearts to Cheryl and Ken and in the end, were so sorry to see them go.

After they left, I gathered my children together and asked them what they thought and how they felt. They said, “It was fun. They were nice.” It was a positive experience for them.

I was struck by it for different reasons.

The interview brought everything full circle for me. I’ve thought about my experiences, I’ve written about them, but I’ve never verbalized any of it on record. It was also eye opening to see how far we all have come. I observed my children objectively, and I realized they seem completely normal. Healed. The smiles and the laughter are real. (As are the bad manners, unfortunately!) I feel like it was the final chapter to this portion of the unexpected life that was thrust upon us last year.

Afterward, all I could think was, “It was unexpectedly fun and positive, a good experience for me and my children. And I REALLY like Cheryl Preheim. She is a good woman. A genuine person. A caring human being out to make a positive contribution to the world. A friend.” (Not to mention the fact she’s a talented reporter and a great writer.) Regardless of the outcome of putting myself out there, I stand by that.

And now I’m looking forward to seeing what she has done with my story.

Tonight. On NBC’s Channel 9. In Denver, CO.

I just wish I’d had time to have my hair done. Lose 20 pounds. Or maybe get a little Botox.

“I wish my name was Brian because maybe sometimes people would misspell my name and call me Brain. That’s like a free compliment and you don’t even gotta be smart to notice it.” (Mitch Hedberg)

I Didn’t Even Debate It

While we were waiting for the ring…

“I told my therapist I was having nightmares about nuclear explosions. He said don’t worry it’s not the end of the world.” (Jay London)

I have a friend who’s a therapist. He can’t be my “official” therapist due to a conflict of interest because of our friendship, but he makes a fabulous friend. He is always there with brilliant counsel, and I would think twice about ever disregarding his friendly advice. In fact, if I’ve never told him, I don’t know what I would have done without him on March 18, 2009.

My world had fallen apart and the question of the day from everyone–my husband, his attorney, the government, my church leaders, my friends, my family, my children, EVERYONE–was, “What are you going to do?” Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clue.

I don’t remember if he called me or I called him, but my conversation with him was one of the most important and valuable that day. When he asked, ‘Andrea, what are you going to do?” I replied, “I don’t know. All I know is that I want to do what is best for my children. And it seems to be…” I shared my thoughts with him.

Doing what I felt was best for my children was my #1 goal in the whole unexpected life thing. They had their whole lives ahead of them; and as much as it broke my heart to acknowledge it, I’d had my chance. Regardless of their adversity, they still had lives to live. They needed to learn, grow, overcome, accomplish, and LIVE. It was my responsibility to help them do that.

It’s what my mom had done for me when I was growing up and our family was tried and tested in the adversity of losing our father, lifestyle, life and everything as we’d known it. (Although not to the extent my children lost theirs.) It’s what her mom had done for her when their family was tried and tested in the adversity of losing their father, lifestyle, life and everything as they’d known it. And I knew I owed my children the same thing.

My mother, and her example of rising above adversity and carrying on, and that she taught me to do that, had made all of the difference in my life. When my unexpected life hit, I knew exactly how to act and what to do–to carry on–because she had taught me that.

My friend, the therapist, responded with something that helped me continue the path I had chosen. It set an important course for my unexpected life when he said, “Andrea, if only every woman, every parent, in trauma, adversity, marital stress, divorce, and every other hard thing that comes in life did that, their children would be so much better off! There would be a lot more healthy, happy children in the world.”

So as we’ve lived our unexpected life, I’ve tried to focus on helping my children overcome and be what they should be regardless of the challenging circumstances we’ve found ourselves in. And as I see my children healing and finding happiness and joy again, I believe time has proved my decision to be the right one. After all, it’s not what happens to you, really, that counts. It’s what you do with it. The most important thing to me is that my children grow to become good, kind, responsible, law abiding citizens who contribute to the good of the world. And it’s possible to do that regardless of the obstacles in your path. That’s why I chose to put my children first. It was my therapist friend who backed me up in that decision, too.

So, one of the first people I called after reaching my decision to remarry was this friend.

He’d already met Bachelor #5 (that was prerequisite to me making my decision), and when I asked him what I should do next he recommended premarital counseling. He gave me the name of a therapist he knew who specialized in remarriage and I didn’t even debate it. I called and booked an appointment.

How Do You Get Past…The Past?

But I still couldn’t think about love and marriage. I couldn’t begin to process what I thought I might feel, so I just continued to observe.

It was the “laid back” approach I so excel at (the ability to ignore), although, “Too laid back is to be laid out” at times! Here’s what I saw:

Bachelor #5 offered to tend my younger sons so my daughter and I could do something special. When I returned late at night to pick the boys up, Bachelor #5 greeted me calmly at the door with a smile. He had laundry going, he had baked cookies, my middle son was running around playing and was as happy as he could be and my youngest had contentedly fallen asleep. When he woke up the next morning, my youngest son wanted only one thing: Bachelor #5.

Bachelor #5 had all 8 children (he has four, I have four) and their guests to his home for dinner so they could meet. He prepared the entire meal himself, for 14, while tending his granddaughter, my two youngest children and keeping an eye on his youngest son and his friends. I couldn’t believe it when I walked in the door for dinner; the kids were happily playing, he had everything under control, the meal was ready, and he was calm.

The question for me was, could Bachelor #5 REALLY be everything he seemed to be?

I consulted a trusted friend who always had a wise perspective and had given solid counsel many times in the past. She had some great thoughts and advice.

I consulted my sister. She said (more than once), “Andrea, you need to open your eyes and LOOK at this man. He is everything you need. He is everything you’ve ever wanted and you won’t let yourself see it. Marry him or not, but you HAVE to give him credit for being who HE is.” She told me to quit punishing him for the behavior of my former spouse.

She explained, “I think you are afraid, and I don’t blame you. I’ve been so worried about you, afraid you’d never dare love or trust anyone ever again after all you’ve been through. I’m so relieved that you seem to be open to attempting that. But you can’t hold what your first husband did against this man. I think you thought your first husband was so many things, and then he turned out to be none of them, so you won’t even let yourself see what THIS man actually IS.”

I struggled with that, yet I knew my sister was right. I tried to give Bachelor #5 credit for all he appeared to be, but it was not easy.

I didn’t really trust my opinion. Every person I introduced him to received the same plea from me, “Tell me honestly what you think. I HAVE to be missing something. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, tell me what terrible thing–fault, flaw, lie, problem–am I not seeing?” (You see, I had missed lies and flaws of epic proportions in my first husband and was terrified to be so blind, and not see such important things that would lead to making that same mistake, again.)

But how do you get past something like that? How do you get past…the past?

Six Degrees

I had an experience last week that reminded me of a unique “phenomenon.” Six degrees of separation. Ever heard of it?

“Six degrees of separation” (also known as the “Human Web”) refers to the idea that everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of ‘a friend of a friend’ statements can be made to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.” (Wikipedia)

I’d heard of this “phenomenon” prior to entering my unexpected life, but it has proven true over and over again as I’ve lived it.

Several months ago, a co-worker of mine was curious about a bachelor I was dating, input the bachelor’s name into Facebook, and up popped a mutual friend my co-worker and the bachelor had! What is that? Two degrees of separation. My co-worker joked, “Should I ‘friend’ the man you’re dating? Wouldn’t THAT be funny?”

Then I met my birth mother only to discover her best friend and college roommate was a friend of mine in Colorado! One degree of separation.

Then last week at my company’s summer party, the COO’s wife introduced herself to me and told me we have a mutual friend. She said her cousin, one of her closest friends, is a friend of mine from Colorado. (And although she was kind enough not to mention it, her cousin is also a victim of my former spouse.)

I hadn’t heard from my friend since the tragic revelations last year, so I was surprised when the COO’s wife told me she had a message for me from her. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe; I didn’t dare breathe. I felt sick. I thought, “Is this how the rest of my life will be? No matter where I go, no matter how much time passes, no matter how much I rebuild my life, am I never going to be free from the tentacles of my former spouse and the crimes he committed?”

I wondered how I was going to be able to endure it. For the rest of my life. I braced myself for the “message.” I’ve received enough of those to worry it wasn’t going to be a positive experience for me. Then I wondered if I was about to be suddenly thrust onto a path that was the beginning of the end to losing my job. (A little paranoid on my part. O.k., a lot paranoid. But such are the scars of blissfully living your life until the day you find out it has all been a lie, that you are left with nothing and are alone to provide for and raise your children.)

Shame on me for thinking that.

Instead, the message was, “She wants you to know she loves you, she LOVES you, she loves you…” and she hugged me.

I honestly don’t know what the rest of the message was, because as soon as I heard that first part, I couldn’t hear anything else. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed, again, at the kindness and goodness of people. And I was chatting with the cousin and friend of one of them.

It’s in the most unexpected places and manifests itself in the most unexpected moments, but it’s there. And I’m so grateful that it is. Another person betrayed by my former husband and yet, instead of reacting with hatred and venom, she has chosen another course. Maybe a harder path in some ways (it seems like the natural inclination might be that it’s easier to give in to anger and hatred and retaliate “an eye for an eye” rather than respond with forgiveness) but such goodness is a better way to live, for sure.

She may have lost her money, but she didn’t lose what matters most; what is truly of value. Ponzi scheme or not, poor economy notwithstanding, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.” (Henry David Thoreau)

There may be “six degrees of separation” (or less!) to any other person on earth. But I believe there is even less than that to get to the heart of the goodness of others. And that inspires me.

“It is not what they profess but what they practice that makes them good.” (Greek Proverb)

So there I sat, tears streaming down my cheeks at a company party at a park in the summertime in Utah. Struck, not for the first time, by the impact our choices have on others. Touched by the effect one woman’s choice had on me. And awed by the strength, courage and example of one who practices what she has professed to be.

It made a difference in my life. At my company picnic. I never expected that.

Things You Never Even Knew

““A good friend is a connection to life- a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.” (Lois Wyse)

There was a lot we didn’t know about each other, but it wasn’t like being with a total stranger. There is some type of connection there. She said, “It’s just so strange having a daughter I have no mother-daughter history with!” That probably said it all.

At one point I noticed I was sitting on her couch with my feet tucked under me and to the side, like I always do. It dawned on me: I was putting my feet on her couch! How rude! I quickly moved to put my feet on the floor, hoping she hadn’t noticed my bad manners. And then I noticed the way she was sitting. With her feet tucked under her to the side. She had her feet on the furniture too.

Meeting a birth mother is like that. You see why you do things you never even knew you did.

A Phone Call

She thought it would be a fun joke for us to call our mutual friend together.

In some ways it would have been, but due to the Ponzi scheme perpetrated by my former spouse, I was scared to call. Although he hadn’t been a victim, my friend’s husband was one person my ex-husband had specifically mentioned to me as being unfriendly toward him after his crimes were revealed. I wasn’t sure how a phone call from Andrea Merriman would be received. But I didn’t want to get into all of that my first meeting with my birth mother!

So I made the call. I figured if the husband hung up on me, THEN would be the time to explain. And wouldn’t you know it? Just my luck. The husband answered the phone when I called.

He isn’t a mean man, just gruff, and I am sure a phone call from me was the last thing he imagined for himself that night. He asked me my name a couple of times. When he finally realized it was Andrea Merriman, he said simply, “What do you want?” I asked if I could speak to his wife.

She got on the phone and asked me if everything was all right. We hadn’t communicated for awhile. I told her I didn’t need anything, I was just calling to let her know I’d met an old friend of hers and gave the phone to my birth mother.

They had QUITE a chat. Old friends catching up on their lives in the most unexpected of ways!

The rest of the evening consisted of things you’d expect when reuniting with the mother who gave you life. I showed her pictures of my childhood and life, she showed me pictures of her children. I met one of her five children (and I really liked him.) She told me everything she could remember about my birth father, I told her about my children and divorce and new life; we enjoyed a very comfortable visit.

But at the top of my list of interesting things about our first meeting was the fact that my Colorado friend, a friend of mine since approximately 1994, had not only known my birth mother but had been her best friend and college roommate!

Have I ever said it’s a SMALL world? Because I really believe it is!

Friendly Dating Advice

I have a friend who watches out for me. (Which I appreciate. He is a good man, like my family, and has been there for me in important ways all the years I have known him, but especially in 2009.)

He stayed abreast of the events in my life and my activities and the first time I saw him in person after I began dating he had some advice for me. He knew what I’d been up to and said he thought it was great I was socializing, but told me not to rush into anything. He encouraged me to take my time, not to tie myself down, see who and what was out there, and make sure I get exactly what I want the second time.

Good advice. I followed it.

And to show him I was listening to his counsel and following it, I kept a written list of every man I dated–just to prove to him, if or when the time came, that I had been thorough in my search.

“So many men, so little time.” (Mae West)

Now let me introduce you to some of the men on the list. Get ready to meet the most memorable. (Get ready to laugh.)

You Know It’s Tough When…

You know you’ve been left with a tough lot to hoe when your good friend calls to tell you her husband has another tumor, has already had a stem cell transplant and yet, she’d still rather have her life than yours!

We laughed SO HARD over that one.

No one wanted what I had, including me! My worst fears were my reality.

My friend and I cried together, too. Few cried with me like she did. She had endured many years of trials and challenges she’d never expected; she’d had to adjust her dreams accordingly, and she felt my pain like few could. Interesting, isn’t it? That our unexpected lives have a way of helping us develop empathy and compassion in a way nothing else is able to. Although I would never wish hardship on anyone, what a blessing my friend was to me because of all she had endured and risen above.

And the best part about being with her and knowing her family challenges was that her situation made me simply grateful to be alive. To have a life to live, unexpected as it was. Because not everyone has that option.

“I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” (Agatha Christie)

Grand indeed.

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The Caterpillar Phase

I met one of my “oldest” friends for breakfast this morning. I have known her since I was 15 years old, and although we only lived in the same town for a little over a year, our friendship has endured all these years. She was my college roommate for almost three years and has been with me through thick and thin. No matter how long it has been since the last time we’ve seen each other, we are always able to pick up right where we left off. Today was no different.

We chatted about me. We chatted about her. We discussed our children. We talked about our jobs. We talked about life and the unexpected things that happen. We laughed as we reminisced about some of the good times we have shared. The time passed all too quickly (three hours just didn’t seem that long!) and then we had to part ways to attend the activities of our children. As I was partway home, she called my cell phone and asked if I was heading home. When I told her I was, she said she had something for me that reminded her of me, and was going to meet me at my house and give it to me.

She arrived a few minutes later and handed me a cute wooden plaque that said, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” She told me as we sat and talked, and then when she saw that phrase, it reminded her of me. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. We’d spent the morning together, and she thoughtfully added an extra 1-2 hours to her trip to share that gift with me.

I LOVE that statement on the gift she gave me! (And not just because it is true.)

Maya Angelou said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

If you think about it, we are all caterpillars journeying through life. Each experience adds to what we are and what we are becoming until…we become butterflies. Beautiful butterflies!

My mom focused on inner beauty with her children. She’d always say it’s great if you have a beautiful appearance (and to some degree, we don’t get to choose that. If we have it, it’s because we inherited it from someone else!) but true beauty, the important beauty, the beauty that means something is inner beauty. She always encouraged us to be as “pretty on the inside” as she thought we were on the outside.

Inner beauty is not without price. Life happens, we endure challenges and the changes it brings, and if we handle it right, the changes can positively impact our inner beauty. My mom always told me we can use the challenges that come our way to help us become better than we would otherwise have been; we can let the bad things that happen to us refine us, and help us develop real and lasting beauty–inner beauty–or we can allow them to canker our souls and destroy us.

I truly believe THAT is the most important thing we can do when the going is rough: use the terrible experience to help us become better people. It isn’t easy, but it IS possible.

When the unexpected events of 2009 began, a friend called and reminded me that no matter how bad everything looked at the moment, and no matter how terrible I envisioned my future would be, she wanted me to know it was not going to turn out to be QUITE as bad as I feared. And she was right. On March 18, 2009, I absolutely thought my children and I were headed to live in a cardboard box somewhere. Today we live in a home. I thought the huge, gaping hole in our hearts would never heal. But they are. But we’ve had to look for the good; look for the beauty. And have tried to create new beauty out of a very different set of circumstances.

Life, even an unexpected life, can be beautiful. We just have to endure the caterpillar phase, and the chrysalis stage, and look for the beauty that unfolds as we endure and then triumph over our challenges.

And we must never forget this truth: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

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The Price

That decision, to allow my spouse to stay in our home, had a price.

It gave me time to ask Him questions.  It gave me time to bring closure to the life I thought I’d had but never really had, knowing what I know now:  the truth.

It gave my children time to be with their father.

It gave us all time to “process” the situation. (Or begin to attempt to.  How do you REALLY ever understand something like that?)

The emotional processing of our situation and beginning to deal with our circumstances for my children and I, meant we allowed ourselves to joke about it or look for the positive, in addition to expressing our grief.  You’ll read jokes we made about our situation and the criminal who put us there in future blogs, I’m sure.  To some, it may seem inappropriate.  But I heard a very wise and inspiring woman named Marjorie Hinckley once say something like, “In life, you can choose to laugh or cry.  I choose to laugh.”  I agree.  It’s how I was raised–it’s what my mom taught me as she lived her unexpected life.  So I choose to laugh as often as I can muster the jokes, and my children do too.

For example, that first night, after telling our children of the situation, my oldest went into his basement bathroom to brush his teeth before bed and saw a mouse.  He grabbed some toilet paper, picked the mouse up, threw it in the toilet and flushed, and came right upstairs and told me of his experience.  He couldn’t believe it!  YUCK.  I joked, “Well, that is one thing I won’t miss about this house and living in the country when we move–the mice!” He agreed with me, we laughed together, and found a way to look on the bright side.

But at the same time, it was a tough time for us in every way.  Not everyone outside our family understood my decision to let Him stay…or any other decision I made. And I paid a price for that.

For example, some of my oldest and closest friends (from college, who had become like family to me, the friends I vacationed with, the friends I called right after He told me the news) called throughout the first day, March 18, for updates, to check on me, and also with one burning question:  Where is He staying?  I could tell my answer wasn’t what they wanted to hear, so I offered as much explanation and rationale as I could.

When I shared this with another friend (a friend who stood by me through it all, who still stands by me, the friend who gave input as to what should be written into my divorce), seeking her counsel, she said, “Andrea, it’s not anyone’s business but yours.  You don’t have to tell anyone anything.  You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.” (I quickly learned this friend was right.  But at this point, I hadn’t learned that lesson yet.)

It turns out, the information I offered wasn’t enough.   The college friends then wanted to know WHERE He was sleeping in the house. And when I evaded that question, they had their children text my children and ask the same question!  My daughter innocently offered the private details of our family life to them–which they passed along to one of His victims, which that victim then shared with EVERY victim, and suddenly very private things I had shared with only those closest to me, in strictest confidence, were publicized.

It’s amazing who your true friends are.  And in the worst moments, the largest betrayals, and due to the criminal actions of one, they aren’t always who you think they are.  But those who are your friends are truly golden.  You realize that’s one bonus of the unexpected life.