In late August, Sarah and Todd Palin marked 31 years of marriage together: three decades, five children, five grandchildren and the beginning and end of a national political career — and as many more stints on reality TV.
But this time next year, there may not be a 32nd wedding anniversary.
Or there may, if Sarah has anything to say about it.
The 55-year-old former Alaska governor-turned-2008 vice presidential candidate said recently that while Todd had devastated her by filing for divorce over the summer, days after that 31st anniversary, “It’s not over over.”
It was the first time Sarah has publicly addressed her pending divorce from Todd, which became public in September days after he filed on his 55th birthday. The two first met in high school and eloped in 1988.
Sarah told Dobson she first learned of the split from Todd’s attorney, who emailed her in June about being hired by Todd.
“A week after our 31st anniversary is when he filed,” Sarah told Dobson, adding, “Ugh, yeah” — and then, her voice softening, “It’s not easy to talk about.”
There were few other experiences as painful to imagine and few other bonds in her life as important.
“It was devastating. I thought I got shot,” she said.
“I’m sure so many of you either, maybe you’ve been through it or you have people whom you love, you’ve witnessed how horrible it is,” she told the audience at her interview. “But I just think, Wow, maybe except for the death of a child, I don’t know what could be more… Yeah, it hurts.”
Still, she said, “It’s not over yet.” (Even as she said, “Attorneys are getting rich off of us and I don’t like that whole system. It makes no sense to me.”)
Prayer was appreciated, too, Sarah said — prayer for an end to their conflict, yes, but also a prayer for something that may hint at their larger problems as a couple.
“The prayer would be for, of course, for God’s will to be done,” Sarah told Dobson, “but [also] that God would make sure that we know that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
She took heart that her children were, in her words, on her side about avoiding a divorce if possible.
“My kids are cool because they don’t like it and that that helps me, you know. It helps me. They’re not ones to say, ‘Oh, it takes two to tango,’ ” she said. “No, they’re mad, because they have been brought up with that teaching that you have made a covenant with God.”
Her children, the youngest of whom, 11-year-old Trig, still lives at home, were raised around lifelong unions, she said. “My kids witnessing what’s happening, they don’t like it. And so it makes me feel good because I’m like, ‘Well, good. I didn’t screw up that part of it anyway. I taught them good.’ “
What happens next, however, is less clear. Online court records show that, days after Todd filed for divorce, the case was made confidential. (Attorneys for both Palins did not respond to requests for comment.)
A court official tells PEOPLE that means no further documents are available, but the online docket shows an overview of what has happened since September — including the filings of Sarah’s counterclaim to Todd’s divorce petition and his response to that.
In his initial complaint, Todd cited “incompatibility of temperament between the parties such that they find it impossible to live together as husband and wife.” Such language is reportedly not dissimilar from “irreconcilable differences” in other divorces.
Todd was seeking joint custody of Trig, according to his complaint, and fair division of their assets.
The Palins celebrated daughter Piper’s high school graduation together in May but spent Fourth of July apart. Friend Dean Cain, who competed with Todd on NBC’s 2012 reality series Stars Earn Stripes, had dinner at their Wasilla, Alaska, earlier this year and told PEOPLE they seemed fine.
“They were so warm and gracious and completely normal,” Cain said.
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“They seemed wonderful together,” the actor, 53, told PEOPLE. “I’d hate to speculate on the cause — what happens behind closed doors, and how people grow and change over time, is something no one can ever predict or understand, save those two people.”
“I know that they’re both extremely devoted and wonderful parents,” he continued, “and I’m certain that they’ll both remain dedicated to Trig and their other children.”
Family friend John Coale, who is married to TV host Greta van Susteren, told PEOPLE that “before a couple years ago, they were happy. It was up to three years ago I knew they were happy.”
“From the time I met them, they were a couple in love, a good marriage,” Coale said. “Todd supported Sarah 100 percent, especially the last couple years.”
“It’s been a long road to this,” he told PEOPLE. “The family just had to take so much and couldn’t handle it, I don’t know if anybody could. It’s a tragedy. Sarah Palin is a great person, and now it seems the family is in tatters.”
A status hearing in the divorce was held last month, with another scheduled for December. As of now, a trial is scheduled for April.
Elsewhere in her interview, Sarah reflected on her unsuccessful vice presidential bid alongside the late Republican Sen. John McCain, her years in the spotlight and the central role her Christian faith plays in facing life’s difficulties — including daughter Bristol’s pregnancy when Bristol was a teenager and son Track’s challenges adjusting to life after his military service overseas.
“So many of these things that God brings us through are to be able to empathize and sympathize and do something about the issues, the challenges,” Sarah told Dobson.
“I keep seeing God keeps doing the old, ‘Sarah, are you going to walk the walk or you just going to talk the talk?’ ” she said. “And it’s kind of been one thing after another where it’s like, ‘Okay, give me another one and we’ll walk that walk too, Lord.’ “
• With reporting by DIANE HERBST